After an action-packed Sunday night at the Fleece - where the bearded bard Scroobius Pip performed alongside a stellar cast of spoken-word talent - I headed over to the Bristol Old Vic on the Monday, suitably warmed up for the final “Blahblahblah” of the year.
Opening the night, Blah’s voluble compere, Byron Vincent, hopped onto the small basement stage, clearly extremely excited about the VIP guests that had convened for this special, year-closing event.
Employing a barrage of caustic witticisms, Byron’s opening poem discussed the generic nature of the name ‘Dave’, warming the crowd up nicely with a new piece penned specifically for tonight’s event. The pseudo-aggressive, but intelligently written poem, commented on the prefixes that people invariably apply to ‘Daves’ to distinguish them from other ‘Daves’, and the relatable observations drew a score of well-deserved guffaws from the benches. The underlying message of “don’t judge a book by its cover” was delivered with the usual style and finesse that I’ve come to expect from this talented lyricist.
Drawing his introduction to a close, Byron soon welcomed the eccentric ‘Urbanian Quarter’ to the stage. This creative collective comprising of four wordsmiths was an inseparable unit in the ‘noughties’, but has since disbanded so they can pursue their own individual careers. Tonight’s ‘Blahblahblah’ was special therefore, as the lively gang rarely perform with one another these days. Unfortunately though, Andy Craven-Griffiths couldn’t make it as he’s apparently, “swanning off around Central America.”
Opening the set, Inua Ellams looked lost as he wandered onto the small spot-lit stage seemingly oblivious of the audience present. This detached facade would come to define his role in this fractured play, his ‘character’ maintaining the pretence that he was still at home preparing for the gig. An award-winning poet, Ellams draws upon a range of influences from Hip-Hop and 18th century Romanticism to deliver striking poems that delve through layers of rich imagery in their content. After an evocative poem which seemed to transcend time and space, Ellams was soon joined by his two counterparts, Polarbear and John Berkavitch.
The format of this month’s ‘Blahblahblah’ was dramatically different from past events with the three lyricists clearly enjoying the reunion and indulging in seemingly unscripted frivolity from beginning to end. Constantly referring to the “fourth wall” that exists between stage and audience, each poet brought wildly different talents to the table. Appearing on stage simultaneously, the motley crew eased into a back-to-back style performance where Haikus (as well as Twaikus – a Haiku published via their live Twitter feed), poems and stories were fired back and forth between one another.
Standing to address the audience, Polarbear’s poems are heavily influenced by his childhood and upbringing in Birmingham. From an awkward encounter with an aggressive girl that smelt of CK1 and flumps to the epic “Jessica Brown”, his poems transport the listener back through time, inviting us into fond, if awkward, childhood memories. His masterful command of tempo and tone is of the very highest standard and to see him perform on two consecutive nights (he supported Scroobius Pip the previous evening) was a great treat.
There was a distinctly organic feel to the evening, which felt more like a gathering of friends than a traditional ‘performance’. With Ellams pontificating in his own imagined world, John Berkavitch seemed intent on derailing the others at every opportunity with his hilariously crude digressions leaving Polarbear at the side, cringing and pleading with the audience that, “this is not what we planned!”
Within all the apparent anarchy though, there were flashes of brilliance from each performer, which reminded us why these poets are held in such high esteem amongst their spoken-word peers.
Rounding off the evening, the elusive Andy Craven-Griffiths closed with a pre-recorded video clip. Apparently filmed in Berkavitch’s living room, this gentle, delicate poem was well shot and narrated a touching tale of young love.
One of the most innovative Blahblahblah’s yet, the Urbanian Quarter closed off a fine year in the Old Vic’s Basement Theatre. This exceptional event has grown from strength to strength in 2012, managing to outdo itself every month in terms of content, originality and most importantly, in entertainment value. Full marks should be awarded to all involved, though as much as this closing event is a cause for celebration, the hard work and momentum must be maintained in order to make 2013 a year as creative and imaginative as the last.
Words: Alex Saunders
Photo: Darren Paul Thompson