Setting up shop at the Attic Bar in the depths of Stokes Croft, Phantom Laundry is a new monthly night that seeks to blend the best of spoken-word, music, performance cabaret and live art in a bubbling cauldron of creativity. After its debut event last month when the prolific dope smuggler Howard Marks was invited to share tales of his international escapades, this month saw spoken-word prodigy Kate Tempest take to the intimate, red-lit stage. Fresh off the back of winning the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry in March, it was a chance for those still in the dark to witness this gifted poet and playwright in action.
Unpacking the night, host Sally Jenkinson welcomed the capacity crowd with a charming poem that recalled the ‘beautiful nonsense’ of an eccentric lady she once encountered while riding a Sheffield bus. Setting the scene and settling the crowd in equal measure, the poem warmed the room up nicely for the first act of the evening.
Having seen Vanessa Kisuule perform several times in the past few months - most recently at the March edition of ‘Blahblahblah’ at the Bristol Old Vic – TheSpeakersCorner.co.uk is well acquainted with this talented poet whose immersive material always delights. This performance was no different, with the eloquent lyricist well and truly rising to the challenge of a larger venue and crowd, successfully holding the room with a string of resonant poems. Whether for the extended metaphors of ‘Strawberries’, the guilty ‘MJ’ pleasures unveiled in ‘Walking on the Moon’ or the intimate expressions of family life delivered with a voice of measured nuance in both ‘Incidental Sister’ and ‘Jaja’, loud roars of applause were drawn from the heaving room. Her final poem, ‘The F-Bomb’, boldly confronted 21st century chauvinism by reworking feminist notions in modern day society. What followed was a balanced, rational and well constructed poem whose poignant message served up serious food for thought.
After a twenty minute musical interlude courtesy of ‘dirty blues’ singer-songwriter Howlin’ Lords, the room filled out once again for the imminent arrival of the headline act.
Kate Tempest officially started her spoken-word career when she was 16, rapping at intimidated passengers on public transport by day and hijacking microphones in London’s West End by night. Since then (and by her own admission) she’s learnt the value of patience, refining her skills to become a published playwright, revered poet and sensational performer. The moment she took to the stage, the mood of the room suddenly switched as the crowd surged forward, craning necks and camera phones to get a glimpse of the boisterous yet humble poet as she proved each superlative description of her talents to be worthy.
Bursting forth with an insatiable energy that was sustained throughout the entirety of her set, she launched into ‘13 Commandments’, a piece that served as an inspirational guide to modern-day living. The crowd were enraptured from the offset, listening to the tempestuous gospel with boundless enthusiasm as the feisty raconteur merged intimate tales with moving life lessons.
Highlights came in the form of ‘Renegade’, the epic ‘Patterns’ and her final poem, which acted as a celebration of all things hip-hop. Citing Wu Tang Clan’s GZA alongside William Blake as key influences perfectly encapsulates what makes Tempest so great; her ability to reflectupon the past and draw lessons from the history books to reinforce an understanding of the present gives her poetry real depth. From the fond childhood memories with her sister she recalls in ‘Laura’ to the defining encounters with all walks of life that populate her performance, Tempest speaks from the heart with an intense passion that is unashamedly honest and sincere.
Genuinely inspiring and revolutionary in her rhetoric, Kate Tempest stands boldly in a class of her own.