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Bohdan Piasecki

#217: Blahblahblah presents ‘Love: What’s the Point?’ @ Bristol Old Vic, 16th February 2016


#217: Blahblahblah presents ‘Love: What’s the Point?’ @ Bristol Old Vic, 16th February 2016

Blahblahblah - Feb 2016 - 10.jpg

       It seems far too long since Blahblahblahs’s last outing, December’s jaw-droppingly good anti-Christmas anti-slam. With Valentine’s Day having just passed and no doubt the soon-to-be-seen spring lambs bringing all things procreative to mind, it was Blah’s turn to take on romance with ‘Love: What's the Point?’. Again with a competitive aspect, two teams – eight poets in total – were invited to make the case for or against love. What would happen? Would we see a bunch of lovelorn poets, earnestly pining? Would those tasked with arguing against love be brutally cynical?

       Always on-hand to set the agenda for the evening, Blah’s Anna Freeman started with an uproarious poem that asked a new flame: ‘Can you see yourself with me… in ten years… in therapy?’. As if to underscore the romantic theme of the evening, Freeman accosted members of the audience to choose cut-up cutesy pet names for the performers – listed below in square brackets – the outcomes of which ensured irreverence from the get-go.

       Bohdan Piasecki [Big Chief Creamy-Wobble] first took the podium on the side of love. Offering two poems from different stages of a relationship, he treated the audience with the first poem, which dealt with love through the lens of an urban landscape - ‘I will give you the city as a gift’ – to the same verse in his native Polish, a language that often trumps English in its inherent musicality and in its poetic tradition (witness the towering Adam Mickiewicz). Nothing at all was lost in translation. The aforementioned poem blended seamlessly and spellbindingly, while his second dealt with love of family and was equally captivating, leftfield and abundant with imagery.

       Our first advocate from the anti-love camp was the inimitable Jonny Fluffypunk [Silly Little Cuddle-Pants]. Jonny also gave us a poem set in time – from the beginning of a relationship. Exquisitely cynical about new love: ‘ignite some vile aromatherapy candle’, there was however a discernible undercurrent of yearning. The second piece revelled in seedy loneliness – describing a bachelor neighbouring an amorous couple. Jonny treated the audience later to a bit of autobiography – being moved away from London to the gentile surroundings of Buckinghamshire, a longing for the excitement and edginess of the city with him ever since. It seems for him, it wasn’t so much that love is innately bad, just that there are so many absurdities and unsavory things along the way.

       Malaika Kegode [Admiral Licky-Bear] was the next poet in favour of love. Warm and ethereal, her graceful tones have been showcased at Blah before. Unashamed longing was in her first poem. Her second, meanwhile, talked about love in the broader sense, reminiscing about a friend who has passed. Whether or not jazz-poetry technically, the openness and tenderness, tinged with the slight wistfulness of her delivery and coupled with precise rhythm is at least reminiscent of that strand within said genre.

       Rosy Carrick [Doctor Sticky-Monkey] lent a sardonically witty and often surreal delivery, clever role-play abounding. Carrick is the person you wanted to hang around with at school. Wry, cool, erudite and a bit ribald, here is someone – with respect to the matter at hand – who is wise to the fallacies love sells us; less anti-love, more ‘anti the sort that makes you want to vom’. She offered her kind of love stories – weaving in kooky quotes from politicians about trainspotting, incarceration devices and ankles, suggestive of society’s somewhat niche romantic desires.

       Buddy Carson [Inspector Fumble-Knickers] unapologetically defended love, speaking with authority without fawning over it: ‘even shit love is good’, making a compelling argument.  His first piece with flawless and energetic meter talked about different types of love, indeed different sized hearts. His second was altogether more visceral, indeed biological, providing evidence that the concept is not static, and certainly not one-size-fits-all.

       Furthering the cause of the love-cynics, Danny Pandolfi [Captain Smoochy-Bum] delved into poetic rap, imbued with a spiritualised, redemptive cadence, presumably on the pitfalls of love: ‘nobody wants to see a face on a trainline’; with entreaties from someone who has been there ‘take my advice’, almost as a note-to-self. Gesticulating poetically and animatedly about the frustrations of all things romantic, he ruminated on the interface between love and perfection.

       Poet Curious [Silky-Bunny Old-Beast] again and rightly turned the focus away from romantic love towards familial love and as a riposte to the cynics, that strength of love that develops over time. He offered a musical metaphor as an ode to his daughter which was heartfelt and meticulous – incidentally the first poem he wrote for either of his children. Music analogies peppered poem number two which recounted a romantic affair: ‘hard vibes like bashment’ but also did those of science, with him talking of ‘neurons’ and ‘universes’ alluding to the physicality and totality of love.

       With the only gendered, instantly-generated stage name of the night, anti-romantic Laurie Bolger [Princess Tasty-Bits] gave a brilliantly every(wo)man account of love in her two poems; the first, equally touching as it was unromantic. Her pieces, in terms of content, describing the space and environment of a morning-after and the jaded, single twentysomething experience, typified a common thread amongst many of the performers – an acerbic nostalgia, that if not full of quixotic love, is nevertheless tender and earthy.

       It was great to see the diverse interpretations of love – sometimes obliquely referenced through science or biology, or its relations to and reflections in other media like music or film, always highlighting what an integral part of life it can be. One was in awe and indeed envious on how this talented troupe were able to philosophise in such an entertaining and accessible way. In the end, it was deemed by the audience that love won the day and accordingly the pro-love team were treated to chocolate roses as a token of their victory.

       If – to paraphrase Johnny Cash – you found yourself this February bound by wild desire, ready to fall into that fiery ring, you could have done much worse have some of the finest talent in spoken-word and poetry level with you on such matters of the heart. While Shakespeare implored that if music be its food then we should play on, other would rather the needle was solidly removed from the vinyl. With this in mind, Blahblahblah this month pitted some amazing poets and spoken-word artists against each other with stunning results.

Thomas P. Caddick

Photography: Darren Paul Thompson

Blahblahblah: Website / Facebook / Bristol Old Vic


#198: 'Blah's Big Weekend' @ Bristol Old Vic & The Thunderbolt, Bristol - 30th April to 3rd May


#198: 'Blah's Big Weekend' @ Bristol Old Vic & The Thunderbolt, Bristol - 30th April to 3rd May

       'Blah's Big Weekend' was billed as, "a ground-breaking collaboration between Tangent Books, Bristol Old Vic and The Thunderbolt Arts Pub... a huge and colourful celebration of words and a chance to engage with some of the best and brightest poetic minds in the UK."

       Having attended all the events in the program, we certainly agree with the statements above - it was fantastic!

       Thursday evening saw John Hegley entertain an audience with a selection of instruments, collaborators, spoken-word and song. Following his show, he kick-started a disco which he peppered with a range of activities in-between the audience's enjoyable bopping amongst swirling party lights and a plentiful helping of multi-coloured balloons.

       Friday started with a 'Talking Tea Party' in which the participants (loaded with plenty of soft drinks and cakes), were able to discuss 'The Future of Publishing' in a very open, informal and insightful fashion. Featuring Richard Jones (Tangent Books), Kate Johnson (Agent at Wolflit), Clive Birnie (Burning Eye Books), Stefan Mohammed (Author) and chaired by novelist, poet and performer Anna Freeman, the event proved a great success.

       Friday evening welcomed Bohdan Piasecki and Kate Tempest to Bristol Old Vic in a jam-packed, sold-out exhibit of refined spoken-word talent. A popular previous visitor to Blahblahblah, Bohdan regaled the audience with a selection of enjoyable, impactful pieces, before passing the spotlight on to Kate Tempest. No stranger to Bristol, Kate's performance reminded those eagerly amassed just how talented a performer she is, whilst introducing herself to the uninitiated with a fiercely passionate, exceptionally smart and inspiringly empathetic showcase of spoken-word mastery. Whether snappy snippets, mid-length classics or one staggering full-scale epic that unfolded over the course of what must have been fifteen minutes or so, she provided a truly unique live experience to the delight of the Bristol crowd.

       Saturday morning saw Jonny Fluffypunk entertain and educate an animated group of youngsters with the wonders of language and rhythm, after which award-winning writer Amy Mason commenced a creative workshop with a group of eager adult attendees.

       The afternoon hosted the second of two Talking Tea Party's, this time focusing on the increasing overlaps between the worlds of spoken-word and theatre. Featuring Chris Redmond, Jonny Fluffypunk, Amy Mason, Vanessa Kisuule, Sharon Clark (Bristol Old Vic) and Anna Freeman, it proved another tea-and-cake-fuelled success, in which ideas were discussed, knowledge shared and good times had.

       Mid-afternoon saw Vanessa Kisuule welcoming the public to Bristol Old Vic as the appointed 'Poet in Residence'. Crafting tailor-made poems on request, then committing the newly-formed pieces to paper with a vintage typewriter, she captured snapshots in time and offered them to her audiences gratis, providing an original and lasting memory for those fortunate enough to pass by.

       Also adding a lasting memory was the performance of Chris Redmond's 'Tongue Fu' band, which concluded Saturday's events. Backed by a team of talented musicians (including Bellatrix of 'Dizraeli and the Small Gods' - the double-bass playing, Female World Champion Beatboxer), Redmond launched a rowdy party of incredible energy and superb artistry from those on stage. Inviting poets to the mic, they were to perform a selection of their work with unrehearsed accompaniment from the band. Whilst this improvisational collaboration certainly had the potential to nosedive amidst a chaotic tangle of words and noise, the result was quite the opposite. Matching and evolving the sentiment of the music to reflect the words of the poets, the two art forms intertwined in a way that enhanced the collective impact impressively; the soundscape rose and fell with the poems with a reactive fluidity, morphing between lapping waves or crashing sonic tides accordingly. With Chris Redmond both performing and introducing a wealth of lyrical talent - Anna Freeman, Vanessa Kisuule, Tim Clare and the force-of-nature that was Salena Godden - the line-up proved exactly the catalyst that was needed to fully realise the Tongue Fu premise.

       Not only did Saturday's closing event offer a fantastic execution of an inspiringly unique concept, but it also provided a truly one-off performance, born of in-the-moment magic that will remain exclusive to those in attendance. Clapping and cheering wildly in appreciation, Tongue Fu was undoubtedly a very popular addition for Bristol's beaming and energised audience.

       'Kick-Back Sunday', the final day of programming, saw events shift a mile or two across Bristol to The Thunderbolt Arts Pub. Fuelled by local ales and some tasty home-cooked chilli, Blah's Big Weekend concluded with sneak-peaks at forthcoming Edinburgh shows from Angie Belcher (and her alter-ego Odious Vex), Tim Clare and Harry Baker. A spectrum of styles and content was on display, with plenty for all to enjoy amidst a laid-back, Sunday atmosphere. The odd technical glitch or duff line was present throughout proceedings, but the forgiving, informal context of the event and the eagerness of the crowds to see new pre-Edinburgh material meant they were but small bumps in an enjoyable conclusion to the weekend.

       Blah's Big Weekend was superb. That so much top-quality programming was packed into such a short space of time was both a real triumph for the organisers and a clear joy for both those performing and attending. The snowballing momentum of spoken-word as a medium is fascinating, entertaining, inspiring and indeed thrilling to watch unfold, and once again, Blahblahblah has positioned itself at the forefront of the movement.  


Photography: Darren Paul Thompson