A fitting verb that could be used to describe the current growth of Bristol’s ‘spoken word’ scene would undeniably be 'flourishing', judging by the recent happenings in our fine city. The previous event in August, which took place aboard the Hotwells Grain Barge, saw a huge leap forward by supplying an ambitious and extensive line-up that offered healthy dollops of wordplay for the sell-out audience present. If that evening had been a feast then this was a gluttonous banquet, which saw those bastions of Bristolian poetry over at the Old Vic pulling out all the stops by inviting no less than eleven talented poets to it's lyrical basement. The evening also served to introduce the 'Blahblahblah' moniker, the new love child of the recently deceased 'Word of Mouth' nights and their ever-present maternal figure, the Old Vic theatre.
Bundling onto the stage with his alluring brand of comedic self-degradation - "I'm sorry for my personality!" - resident poet Byron Vincent opened the marathon evening with promises of top-drawer talent and tasty sherbet treats for overly enthusiastic audience members. Realising the scale of the night planned, Byron kept his introduction to a minimum, or did his best to, with a brand new poem of two minds that warmed up the room nicely for the first act of the evening.
Bursting onto the stage to start proceedings was veteran poet Tim Gibbard, whose impressive, high-tempo presence engaged the audience from the offset. Delving into a small selection of poems he wrote in the 90's, he brought drops of acid poetry to the basement setting with a rapid and frenetic delivery, seeming at stages to become so irate that his words appeared to stumble over one another towards a stunned but delighted audience.
The night unravelled into a series of bite-sized creative snippets with each successive poet offering something new to the table, tantalising the audience with a wide range of styles and concepts. Somewhat of a taster session, it invited future investigation - at least in my case - of any one of the fine performers on offer.
The first half of the night, which could have been an event in it's own right, also included a World Slam Champion in the form of Harry Baker, who span the audience into a hysterical frenzy by describing his vividly embarrassing foray into the world of University pole-dancing.
Anna Freeman then made an appearance employing autobiographical poetry to delve into an awkward childhood that was filled with ironical digressions and humorous insights, after which we heard musings on relationship issues with 2Pac from Lydia Beardmore and plenty of hillbilly bops from the "Mississippi metre" master that is Jeremy Toombs.
Finally, the first half closed with a glimpse into the dark, surreal mind of Rosy Carrick, who left the room speechless with a trilogy of thought-provoking, almost harrowing poems that climaxed with sexual glee - and a Twix - aboard a Russian train.
The sheer diversity of these first six acts served as a barrage on the senses, so much so that a ten-minute interlude was a necessity to cool down and regroup before we embarked upon the second half.
After a much needed breath of fresh air, we stormed ahead with a further array of talent from the West Country.
James Bunting's evocative approach to poetical storytelling offered up a touching love letter to the city of Bristol that was delivered with such understated flair and effortless finesse that it may have been my poem of the night. Certainly the audience seemed to agree, exploding from an immersed silence to roaring applause as his final words rolled off the stage.
Another highlight of the second act came in the form of eighteen-year-old Toby Thompson, whose balanced cadence and humble demeanour caused a flood of appreciation to wash over the stifling basement setting. Hailed as “the future” by Kate Tempest, we were treated to a glimpse into the enormously gifted mind of this young poet as we joined him for a twilight taxi tour with only a gurning stranger for company. Setting the scene with consummate ease, his conversational discourse and effortless elocution really brought the characters to life as he bounced between words using expressive arm gestures to juggle the metre before him; he seemed a real star in the making and highly deserving of the recognition he’s getting.
Last but not least, the night ended with the hugely charismatic Chris Redmond, whose wonderful observational poetry raised the roof with laughter - despite being in a basement, which made it all the more impressive - before imploring the audience to 'let the pig out' to end the action-packed night with a real bang.
'Blahblahblah' has been born, and it looks as though it’ll be carrying Bristol's flaming poetical torch towards a very bright future.
Photo: Darren Paul Thompson
Full line-up (including web links where applicable): Byron Vincent, Tim Gibbard, Anna Freeman, Jeremy Toombs, Lydia Beardmore, Harry Baker, Rosy Carrick, Liz Greenfield, James Bunting, Nicky Grant, Toby Thompson and Chris Redmond.