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       First established in 2007, 'Tongue Fu' has achieved an impressive reputation in recent years for its forward-thinking approach to spoken-word nights in London. Built upon the creative foundation set down by lyrical impresario Chris Redmond and musical composer Riaan Vosloo, the linguistically pugnacious Tongue Fu constantly seeks new ways to experiment with the concept of live performance. Whilst based in its spiritual home at East London’s Rich Mix arts centre, Tongue Fu also invites the very best poets and musicians to venues across the city.

       The first volume in a newly devised ‘Tongue Fu Tapes’ series, this hefty compilation comprises of live highlights taken from the night’s four-year residency at Rich Mix and charts the event’s journey from lexical infancy to the verbal powerhouse it is today. Delving back into unheard archives, sixteen tracks have been carefully selected that feature established performers such as John Hegley, Kate Tempest and Joe Dunthorne alongside promisingyoung talent in the form of Toby Thompson, Indigo Williams, Femi Martin and many more. Enriching in its lyrical content, this fascinating anthology plunges headfirst through a vast array of genres and styles with each poet given improvised musical accompaniment courtesy of the gifted musicians that form the in-house Tongue Fu Band.

       Launching into the fray, resident host and curator, Chris Redmond, opens with the honky-tonk-inspired ‘Fu Man Choo Choo’ which sets the mood, transporting the listener into the recorded audience. With performances taken from a multitude of evenings, it’s clear that a great deal of thought has been put into the sequence of tracks as an organic fluidity exists throughout. This intelligent and considered selection ensures that the album succeeds in capturing the essence of the live shows while embracing Tongue Fu’s roots in poetry, rap, stand-up comedy and storytelling along the way.

       From speed-dating with published raconteur Joe Dunthorne in ‘Future Dating’ to jazz-infused melodies courtesy of MOBO award-winning Soweto Kinch in ‘Stickers & Mic Stands’, diversity and experimentalism reign supreme with gems springing up on every track. In Kate Tempest’s ‘Wise Ones Know’, the fiery preacher urges us to “let our minds roam free” despite the oppressive confines of our CCTV society. Meanwhile, Bristol poets Jonny Fluffypunk and Anna Freeman offer some light-hearted respite with a couple of old favourites in ‘Coffee’ and ‘At The Birth Of My Godson’ that will be recognised by anyone who frequently attends Bristol’s own flourishing spoken-word scene.  Poignant and thought-provoking poems courtesy of Jacob Sam-La Rose’s ‘Never/Drummer’ and Zia Ahmed’s ‘Atlas’ deal with the fear of growing up and missing father figures, both sound tracked by perfectly matched instrumentals that mirror the sombre intensity behind their estranged words. Drawing the digital show to a close, John Hegley’s masterful ‘Unbridled Guillemot’ employs mellifluous narration with plenty of humour and carefully poised diction to great effect.

       Refreshingly unique and all-encompassing in its content, the first in this Tongue Fu Tape series admirably harnesses the spontaneous collaboration and improvised nature of the nights themselves. Showcasing the very brightest talents in spoken-word, the album is the perfect way for newcomers to dip their toes into what is becoming an increasingly popular and culturally important part of the UK’s literary underground.


Alex Saunders