If the novelty t-shirt manufacturers are to be believed, on the seventh day God created Manchester. If this was the case then Monday evening saw the fruits of his labour make the journey down south to Bristol for April’s instalment of ‘Blahblahblah’. After a sell out event last month for the highly experimental scratch of John Berkavitch’s new show ‘Shame’, the Mancunian ensemble of Tony Walsh, Jackie Hagan and the enigmatically named Thick Richard had some big shoes to fill.
Opening the evening up, the few empty seats that flanked the stage were soon explained as resident poet Byron Vincent acknowledged that this month’s event was up against the Bristol Poetry Festival which had no doubt pilfered a few stray audience members. Launching sporadically into the first poem of the night, Byron took aim with his vociferous vocabulary and set the crosshairs on reality television, condemning the ‘interchangeable Geordies’ and forgettable 'wannabees' that facilitate the ongoing demise of 21st century television. Narrating his continual annoyance of Big Brother’s interminable spawn still corrupting the airwaves, Byron gave the subject a good self-indulgent kicking before retreating as Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh ambled onto the stage in a healthy pair of size 13s, negating any previous concerns one may have had about the filling of shoes.
Hailed as “one of the UK’s most renowned performance poets”, Tony Walsh’s work has featured on both television and radio to great acclaim and after nine years of writing rhymes the ‘Longfella’ has just compiled his first book entitled ‘Sex & Love & Rock&Roll’. Clutching his creation, the tall poet opened with a light-hearted warning of the dangers that can arise from mixing sex, the internet and confectionary. Walnutwhip.com found sweets in all the wrong places to produce a lewd and crude poem that playfully manipulated language to great effect. ‘Stop All The Clocks’ followed which stood out as a slam highlight, employing Walsh’s trademark combination of measured pauses and poised elocution to deliver maximum emotional impact. Fluctuating between booming commandments that shook the room to lines delivered with delicate finesse, the set was awash with carefully engineered poignant resonance. Although undeniably powerful in its delivery, this was a card that felt slightly overplayed as the set wore on, diluting the impact of later poems.
Whether it engaged or alienated, the experimental side of Longfella’s poetry, shown most explicitly in ‘A Girl, Like, Y’Know’, was compelling to witness and added another dimension to a performance where muteness often held as much meaning as the spoken word. Walsh’s ability to hang a line out to the scrutiny of silence compelled attention as a pin drop could have been heard during parts of the thought-provoking set. With the crowd fully warmed up from a resounding Tutti Frutti-esque ‘WOP BAM BOO’ that ended a thoroughly enjoyable opening performance, Bryon stepped back into the light to close for the interlude.
Returning fifteen minutes later, Jackie Hagan was welcomed into the lexical arena with a set that careered into the realm of stand-up comedy and her frank, honest personality instantly won the audience over. Hailing from Skelmersdale, Hagan’s first official foray into the world of performance poetry came in 2006 when she was awarded Best Emerging Poet by The Poetry Kit. From the trials and tribulations of family life to bi-sexual ‘covert’ metaphors in ‘Coffee and Tea’, the autobiographical nature of her poetry was fascinating, especially through the thick Scouse accent that padded out the geographical context. Blending conversational digressions with a few ironic readings from a dog-eared erotic novel, Hagan tee’d the crowd up nicely for the main act of the evening that lurked in a duffle coat at the rear of the room.
Shuffling onto the stage as if awaking from a disjointed dream, the somewhat mysterious Thick Richard is often described as the 21st century’s answer to John Cooper Clarke. As his first words rolled out, this compelling comparison soon made perfect sense as a wry and intensely witty Mancunian drawl filled the basement theatre. Surging into a futuristic and seemingly apocalyptic news report, the pace of the night dramatically increased as Richard drilled words out into the stunned audience at breakneck speed. Barely pausing for breath, the gathering was soon transported into the dark mind of this incredibly gifted poet whose biting social commentary was a hard but delicious pill to swallow. From the macabre ‘Indecent Burial’ to the intentionally unromantic ‘Language of Lust’, Richard’s poems were spat out with a sardonic relish that had the audience in stitches one moment before recoiling the next at the viciousness of his words. ‘Bubble Gum Punk’ came as a highlight and was uncompromisingly brash and unapologetic in its delivery, cranking the intensity of the set to its tumultuous climax that had Richard declaring himself ‘scum of the earth’ and the scathing embodiment of social angst. Ruthlessly damning and darkly amusing, Thick Richard closed yet another evening of lyrical delicacies courtesy of Blahblahblah.