Blahblahblah steamed ahead with its second outing of 2016, providing yet another night of pit-of-stomach laughs, cerebral musings and captivating verse, as lean and punch-packing as ever. If one were still coming down from Blah's Christmas anti-slam and last month's hilarious and insightful love-themed poetry battle, Blah was primed, ready to deliver its monthly hit of the best spoken-word around both Bristol, and indeed, the world.
Not only were the audience treated to the stellar Inua Ellams but there was also the fresh talent of Solomon O.B, local writer Rebecca Tantony and the award-winning Toby Campion. Setting it off, Blah’s programmer and poet Anna Freeman was at hand with an ode to her Mum, quite apt with Mother's Day having popped up in the intervening period since Blah’s Valentine's special.
Laying down a theme revisited throughout the evening - one of identity - Solomon O.B delivered taut, dexterous verse ruminating on family and origin. O.B has only been performing spoken-word properly for about eighteen months yet his delivery belies this fact; purposeful was his use of the medium as a vehicle for understanding his identity and roots. His second poem looked at family, drawing on his experience of fostering by way of a literary analogy: ‘awesome novels with unorthodox beginnings’, his heartfelt and soul-bearing words leaving the house gripped.
Bristol-based Rebecca Tantony was next, launching into the challenging subject of death with warmth and humour. Her thoughtful and often enthralling style observes the human condition, most notably so in one poem which recalled her mentoring of young people in the United States. Through this piece Tantony celebrated the innate eloquence and strength – ‘king royally crowned’ – of a young person who is rarely listened to, or has never been given the platform to speak. Superbly agile, Tantony’s verse flowed forth, reaching crescendos, holding the audience close.
Toby Campion has earned many plaudits, being first runner-up at the BBC Poetry Slam Grand Finals for two years now. To boot, he has represented the UK at an international level. His set at Blah demonstrated the reason for this - intelligent, forthright and at every turn hilarious, he also injected an element of the political into his witty, vibrant poetry. His poem ‘Make Leicester British’ explored the disconnect between the tabloid-borne image of the Midlands city as culturally fractured, segregated and troubled versus the street-level, real-life experience of a vibrant, exciting community. He comically reimagined the dialogue between government and citizen as that of a potentially toxic relationship. In between the two, he also treated the audience to a piece written whilst drunk – hysterics ensuing.
Everything provided by international touring poet and playwright Inua Ellams points to genius; the accessibility and ease of his demeanour, the melding of his skillful poetry into his wider views of life and his effortless precision. His plays have been performed at the National Theatre, amongst many others and have gained him a Fringe First award at Edinburgh. Rooted in Nigerian storytelling, Ellams explored his origins in Nigeria as well as his adolescence in the UK and Ireland. Wonderfully giddy after a mild case of jet-lag – an hour’s time difference – he was as mellifluous as promised, meandering through territory including love and the meaning behind ‘doing’ poetry.
To see a performer marry his art with more general musings on life and the human condition was indeed gratifying. His verse feels crafted, weaving alliterative phrases like ‘thin feather fractals falling like angel zest’. Experiencing his set as an audience member it almost feels as though Ellams is painting a picture before you with his gesticulations, building textures and layers, making for a masterful performance.
With the motif of identity loosely twining the night’s performers together, once again Blah had assembled some amazing artists, executing as it does so uniquely well – with all its delectable twists and turns. As always, one would be hard pressed to find a space that allows such a plethora of human emotions and subject matter to be experienced in such an accessible, engaging way.
Photography: Darren Paul Thompson