'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