Friday, July 22, 2011
Speak Up @ Bull’s Head, Moseley, Thursday 20th July 2011
Blimey. What a gorgeous evening. Love, life, sex, suicidal siblings, surrealism...you name it, we covered it. I’ve been getting into this whole spoken word thing a bit recently (prior to discovering Jodi Ann Bickley and friends my last foray into it all was a Murray Lachlan Young gig back in 1868) and I’m amazed by some of the talent around right now. Young spoken word artists (they seem to shy away from the whole poetry tag...wisely I guess as it does sound a bit olde worlde) are popping up all over the place and nights like Jodi’s seem to be getting increasingly popular, especially in that there London.
I was reading a Time Out interview with one of the stars tonight, Inua Ellams, and he was asked why he thought spoken word was taking off. The gist of his answer is that it’s attracting people who may once have been drawn to hip hop back in the day, when it was much more about the lyrics than the image or the sponsorship deals. Think back to Gil Scott Heron (even though he seemingly hated the title ‘Godfather of Rap that’s pretty much what he was), Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, Public Enemy, NWA, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy...they were all about the words. Like any of them? Then the chances are you’ll find something to love in the spoken word scene. Many of today’s spoken word artists, like their hip hop ancestors, write honestly about their day to day lives, covering everything from the mundane to the life changing. Roll up, roll up folks...all human emotion is on display here. That, in a nutshell, is what makes a spoken word evening such a great event. We might all be different colours, religions, ages, sizes etc but, when you strip all the bullshit away we’re all (for better or worse) human. The fact that there’s someone up there capturing the stuff that unites us somehow makes the world seem a better place. Like life some of it’s sad, some of it’s funny and some of it’s downright puzzling, whatever the emotions being conveyed though it’s never anything less than 100% engaging. Actually, that’s a good point too. Whereas a lot of people nowadays treat music as something that goes on in the background spoken word shows demand and, more importantly, reward attention.
Right, now I’ve got all that off my chest, tonight’s show (like the previous Speak Up nights I guess...tonight was my first) was a pretty non-stop flow of scheduled performers and open mic-ers. It seems a little unfair not to mention everyone by name ‘cos they were all rather awesome so, in order (I think...let me know if I’ve missed you out) we had...deep breath...Jodi Ann Bickley, Hayley Francis, Ellie, Jim, Matt Windle, Zak, Mr Morrison, Kim Trusty, Michalia, Inua, Simon and Anna (Tantrums), Poppy Tibbets and Gregory Anchorman. WOW. 14 performers in three hours, each one of whom I could’ve happily listened to all night. After scoring a couple of beanbags and tucking into the free biccies (yes, FREE biccies!) Jodi was, as ever, a slice of loveliness. Kicking off with I’m A Dickhead and modestly promising that the night would get much better (in truth you can’t actually get much better than Jodi) she popped up a couple more times during the evening. Pick of her stuff tonight was No Strings Attached, a witty checklist of the do’s and dont’s involved in having a fuck buddy. Who else could get a laugh out of the words “good vagina” eh?
Hayley Francis took it old skool with Hopskotch, a wistful look back at the days when the web was a spider’s home, Ellie went all surreal on us with a fine piece of dream inspired poetry before Jim gave us a “bit of blue” and an ode to a pig on a spit. Now that’s variety.
Boxer, school visiting poet and all round dude Matt Windle impressed once again with a series of rhymes (Unconventional, Numbers, Never Get A Taxi, Just A Geek, The Crack...) that somehow seemed to echo his pugilistic tendencies, a jab of wit there, some fancy footwork of humour here and the odd killer blow of emotional honesty. A knockout.
Ragga rap poet Zak wowed the crowd with Parents Trap (he’s 11...I think...blimey) before Mr Morrison delivered another standout moment of the night (it was littered with ‘em) with Jenny From The Block, a brutal tale of the life of a Romanian prostitute. Follow that eh? Thankfully Kim Trusty could. I saw her do her epic A Quiet Heart at Bear’s House last year and had to pin myself down from giving her a hug at the end of it. It’s a devastating run through her love life to date and the men who’ve gradually eroded her desire to look for that someone special. If that sounds a bit of a wrist slitter, it isn’t. There are laughs in there too and Kim somehow treads the fine line between strength and vulnerability that makes the words all the more powerful.
Next up Mahalia who Jodi spotted playing at Mostly Jazz recently. With perhaps an echo of Randy Crawford to her vocals she played three fine slices of acoustic soul, like most of the performers tonight dispensing with the microphone and singing au naturel. Beautiful stuff. “She’s 13” announced Jodi as Mahalia left the stage to rapturous applause. A pure and fresh talent with the potential to set the world on fire.
Award winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams had travelled up from London to be here tonight, bringing with him his unique fusion of influences created by his upbringing in Nigeria, London and Dublin. That’s a hell of a mix and he’s a hell of poet as result. Like a number of the acts tonight he clearly LOVES...and I mean LOVES...language, speaking of the impact that Shakespeare (Hamlet in particular) had on him. Who says the bard ain’t relevant today eh? What Inua and a number of other poets are doing right now is bringing the beauty of the English language back. In fact I reckon if you could dig up and reanimate ol’ Billy Shakespeare he’d be right into all this stuff. Yep, Inua’s the afro bard. Check out Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves and you’ll hear what I’m banging on about.
After a quick mini set from Anna and Simon reminded me (as if I needed it) what great tunes Tantrums have produced (Mek Ya Feel Hype, If I Don’t Try...ear nibblingly great) Jodi hooked up with Poppy Tibbets, a collaboration that welds her poetry to Poppy’s lyrics. What’s not to love about that? Still with me? Good. Nearly there. Final act of the night Gregory Anchorman rise eyebrows and smiles with a gallows humour tale of his brother’s attempted suicide using paracetamol and the local railway line. Smiles? Yep. It was dead funny. I’m assuming it’s not true, but either way (seemingly thanks to the general rubbishness of our train operators) his bro was there tonight, so it’s all good.
Tonight was my first Speak Up and Jodi wasn’t lying when she promised it would make my Thursday at least 100% better. It really did. Spread the word people...spread the word.