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#181: 'Blahblahblah' w. Malika Booker, Niall O'Sullivan + Talia Randall @ Bristol Old Vic, 17th November 2014

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#181: 'Blahblahblah' w. Malika Booker, Niall O'Sullivan + Talia Randall @ Bristol Old Vic, 17th November 2014

       With this latest season of spoken-word events from Blahblahblah now in full swing, it was the turn of Talia Randall, Niall O’Sullivan and Malika Booker to entertain the savvy West Country audience.

       Following a funny introduction from regular host Anna Freeman in which she recounted a (typically quirky) tale of a friend’s newborn baby that smelt of ham, she encouraged the obliging crowd to clap ever more ferociously in a series of warm-ups, before passing the spotlight over to the guests.

       First to the stage was Talia Randall. Opening with a piece called ‘Salt’, she dipped into her past to relay cringe-worthy moments from earlier years which she’s now critically re-examined, dedicating the poem to those that may also have ever been, “a bit of a twat”. Far from exclusive to herself, it seemed to be a widely recognised notion throughout the room, with many both laughing and groaning with familiarity in all the right places, clearly having had to endure similar reappraisals of their own adolescent years. With Talia raising the question of whether we’ll have similarly cringeworthy reflections of our present selves in another ten years time, the crowd no doubt hoped for the best... but only time will tell!

       Much like Anna had mentioned during the introduction, there are some performers that manage to articulate resonant thought processes, notions or ideas better than our own internal monologues, both concisely and eloquently packaging our swirling tides of thought in a manner that’s more impactful and entertaining than we can achieve ourselves. Touching this status a number of times across the course of her set, Talia crafted a rapport and a resonance that made her an accessible and entertaining presence throughout her tales of speaker-shaking raves, light-hearted plugs for her recent EP and voyages into the cassette-tape history of hip-hop.

       As the entertaining result of Anna’s eccentric lucky-dip draw (in which the unique-selling-points of various products were plucked from a hat and repurposed to describe the evening’s performers), it was reported that the next guest, Forward Prize-commended poet Niall O’Sullivan, “has been made with the same passion for almost 1000 years in the heart of the Po River Valley in Northern Italy, using only local milk”.

       Contrary to his alleged rural Italian heritage, the somewhat aloof persona suggested by Niall’s formal suit and slick hairstyle instead hinted at a background more likely to have stemmed from Canary Wharf. However, with the emergence of his affable character instantly dispelling any such prior assumptions, the audience warmed to the relatable charm of his content and the careful precision of his delivery, their animated reactions peppered equally with laughs and knowing nods.

       Whether responding to Jeremy Paxman’s statement that poetry should better engage with ‘ordinary people’, deliberating his morally conflicting invitation to Buckingham Palace or explaining the unfortunate consequences of a Jackie Chan-esque leap from a Transit van, Niall certainly brought variety.

       Comfortably introducing his pieces with interesting back-story and wider context, his performances served as considered, entertaining responses to the questions on his mind. Revisiting the topic of UKIP over the course of his set, politics were certainly present, as were reflections on his own national identity. In an unexpected twist, the usefulness of ridicule as a tool to educate bigots arose in an enjoyable fashion, with the audience regaled by an encouraging tale of eventual moral triumph aboard the Underground carriages of London.

       Closing the evening’s performances post-interval was headliner Malika Booker, who introduced herself to Bristol over a sip of her rum and the careful thumbing through the pages of her book ‘Pepper Seed’. With easy transitions into her recitals, she confidently transported the room into the worlds of her pieces, her softly-spoken tones often exploring her family’s relationships both with each other and with their Grenadian roots.

       Confiding in the Bristolian audience that her greatest ambition is to be an ‘Rn’B rockstar’, she delivered a poetic homage to her Auntie, grounded initially in her delicate lilt before growing with an organic swell like that of a musical piece, bringing Malika closer to her front-woman goal. Finishing with some audience participation in a piece about her Mother, the audience lapped up the final chance to enjoy the exoticism and calm confidence of Malika’s wordplay.
    
       Though perhaps this latest event lacked some of the fireworks and fanfare of certain previous edge-of-your-seat, spoken-word blockbusters at Bristol Old Vic, it proved another solidly successful month for the reliably entertaining Blahblahblah. Leaving a satisfying warm glow amongst the crowd on a chilly winter evening, it’s delivered yet another selection of high-quality performers to the West Country whilst paving the way nicely for the forthcoming storytelling special in December.

 

Darren Paul Thompson

Photography: George Dallimore + Darren Paul Thompson

 

Anna Freeman / Malika Booker / Niall O'Sullivan / Talia Randall

Blahblahblah: Website / Facebook / Bristol Old Vic

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#180: Kate Tempest @ The Fleece, Bristol - 12th November 2014

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#180: Kate Tempest @ The Fleece, Bristol - 12th November 2014

       Enjoying her first headline tour as a musician, spoken-word trailblazer and 2014 Mercury Prize nominee Kate Tempest played to a packed crowd at The Fleece in Bristol. A regular visitor to the South West in recent years, Kate's performances have gained a reputation for wall-to-wall audiences, eager to experience her latest creative endeavours.

       After recent standing ovations at Bristol Old Vic for her Ted Hughes Poetry Award-winning show Brand New Ancients and a sold-out run of her play 'Hopelessly Devoted' at The Brewery Theatre, this latest performance (combining both the music from her album 'Everybody Down' and dips into her fiercely passionate spoken-word poetry) proved another great demonstration of her ability both as a writer and a performer.

       For those yet to have experienced a live show (or those eager to get involved again!), tour dates and tickets can be found here - http://katetempest.co.uk/

       Great photos by Nathan Hicks - Tumblr / Twitter / Instagram

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#177: 'Blahblahblah' w. Tim Wells, Rosy Carrick, Keith Jarrett and Richard 'Dingo' Dingwall @ Bristol Old Vic, 13th October 2014

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#177: 'Blahblahblah' w. Tim Wells, Rosy Carrick, Keith Jarrett and Richard 'Dingo' Dingwall @ Bristol Old Vic, 13th October 2014

       Newly published (and critically acclaimed) novelist Anna Freeman introduced this October edition of Blahblahblah as a return to it’s traditional multi-performer format. This follows a successful dalliance with full-length programming having recently hosted 'Anthropoetry', the brilliantly creative Edinburgh show by Mellor & Steele.

       Drawing upon a newly discovered goldmine of comedy found in a mis-translated travel guide for Granada, Anna read its ridiculous descriptions to much laughter from the intimate Old Vic basement crowd. With each preposterous statement from the clueless guide raising ever greater chortles of disbelief from the room, the ice was nicely broken for the evening’s first guest performer, Keith Jarrett.

Keith Jarrett - Blahblahblah - October 2014 - Stamped.jpg

       Stepping into the spotlight, Keith beamed a big smile and spoke of his afternoon as a tourist in Bristol, having travelled west across the country from London. Settling himself into the groove, his first couple of poems explored the story behind his name and his relationship with his own reflection in the mirror, whilst establishing an easily accessible presence, peppered with the occasional, enjoyable pop-culture reference.

       His third poem, ‘A Gay Poem’, saw Keith hit full stride. Assuming the persona of a disconcerted writer whose work has unexpectedly revealed itself to be gay, his bemused responses, frantic analysis of formative experiences and frenzied inquisition as to what may be ‘to blame’ proved an illuminating and frequently funny satirical spin on a parent’s rocky journey of acceptance.

       Finishing up with the altogether different topic of his early rapping days and his first performances at church (with particular homages paid to Redman, DMX and other key names in the history of rap), Keith concluded his varied and entertaining set to a round of applause.

Rosy Carrick - Blahblahblah - October 2014 - Stamped.jpg

       Next to the stage was Rosy Carrick, a strong character with arrestingly bright blonde hair, alert eyes and a big smile, who quickly abandoned the careful, affable air which had underpinned Keith’s set in favour of a presence that was shockingly blunt by comparison, though enjoyable nonetheless. Snatching the attention of the room to relay some unexpected menstrual revelations and kick-start her roller coaster introduction, Rosy continued in her uniquely jarring vein, leading the audience down murky, meandering corridors of unusual yet compelling content. With topics including trainspotters, seduction, Russia, time machines, Twix bars and her PHD topic/crush on poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (“v-sexy… although he’s not alive any more”), Rosie made a markedly memorable impact over the course of a relatively small set. Somewhat stunned though indeed entertained by the poet, the audience clapped appreciatively for her intriguing performance.

       As smooth a presence as Rosy was striking, Richard ‘Dingo’ Dingwall steered the evening in an altogether more chilled direction. With Dingo briefly visiting Bristol as part of the recent ‘Jamaica Rising’ series of events in the city, Blahblahblah host Anna had seized the opportunity to add the travelling wordsmith into the evening’s schedule as a surprise for those attending. Complete with enchanting patois (though at Dingo’s suggestion, somewhat slowed down for the non-tuned ear), he delivered a charismatic and funny performance that earned him an encore. Though occasionally still leaving the audience playing catch-up owing to his accent and occasional colloquialisms, his hypnotic flow, exotic tales and confident presence made his brief appearance an unexpected highlight.

       After a brief intermission, it was the turn of native Londoner Tim Wells to take the helm. Equally strong in both accent and in presence, Tim was an interesting dichotomy to behold. With his short-sleeved, chequered shirt revealing forearms branded with old-skool tattoos and an underlying hint of menace lingering in his demeanour, he seemed an unlikely proponent of wordplay. His able material and sharp wit quickly demonstrated both passion and skill though, and his talent was more than enough to endear him to those present, who enjoyed the quality of his work irrespective of the coercive swagger that interwove his tones.

       Embracing his inner ‘geezer’ (which didn’t seem too difficult a task), Tim performed pieces in which he outlined the gauntlet that’s presented to those that dare to date his daughter, expressed a frustration with the 'hipsters' that personify the gentrification of his adored hometown, and offered a forthright response to poorly-financed invitations to perform at festivals, ‘£20 but I get to watch Mumford and Sons? F*ck off.’
    
       By way of the horrifying reality of festival loos, clashes of class with an early girlfriend’s well-to-do family and a further breadth of topics, tones and emotions in subsequent pieces, Tim eventually gravitated back towards the subject of London. With the bitter theme of gentrification revisited through the remainder of his set, his resentment was clearly evident. Highlighting the actions of the most grating perpetrators (the experimental artists, the trendy burger bars and with particular vehemence, the hipsters), Tim’s performance offered an impassioned and fascinating first-hand insight into the changing ethos, demographic and day-to-day life of his capital city.

       As enjoyable as his set was throughout, it was often the personal investment and authenticity he brought to the London-centric pieces which took the limelight, whether the dark dips into Ray Winstone-esque tales of the underworld or his fiercely concise analysis of the 2011 riots. Receiving a great round of applause from the Bristol crowd, Tim’s next visit will no doubt be an eagerly anticipated one, as will those of his well-received peers.

       Another great evening of impressive diversity, Blahblahblah’s eclectic programming succeeded not just in its achievement of such breadth, but more importantly, it succeeded in the depth of quality that was present throughout.

 

Darren Paul Thompson

Photography: George Dallimore

 

Anna Freeman / Keith Jarrett / Rosy Carrick / Dingo / Tim Wells

 

Blahblahblah: Website / Facebook / Bristol Old Vic

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#171: 'Blahblahblah' w. 'Anthropoetry' by Mellor & Steele @ Bristol Old Vic, 15th September 2014

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#171: 'Blahblahblah' w. 'Anthropoetry' by Mellor & Steele @ Bristol Old Vic, 15th September 2014

       Following a brief summer hiatus, Blahblahblah made a welcome return to Bristol Old Vic tonight, bringing Ben Mellor and Dan Steele in tow to perform a final farewell to their successful touring show ‘Anthropoetry’.

       Billed as a “stand-up poetry and music fuelled tour around the body, attempting to get the measure of modern life”, it certainly promised an innovative mix of content and lofty ambition. The existing feedback and longevity of the show has been positive; having debuted at Edinburgh in 2012 it’s since travelled to Australia and returned in an internationally road-tested form to Edinburgh in 2013, before snaking its way south through various venues towards this closing performance in Bristol.

       Mingling amongst the expectant crowd and indeed strolling casually through the ‘fourth wall’ that separates the audience from the performance, Ben Mellor introduced himself to the front rows. Dressed in a medical coat and clutching a stethoscope, he enquired about the general wellbeing of those seated around him. Soon engaging the room en masse, he noted that despite his lack of relevant training or qualifications he should nonetheless be referred to as ‘Dr Ben’, adding that self-appointed medical authority certainly hadn’t harmed Dr Dre too badly in his career.

       Introducing his on-stage collaborator Dan to the audience, a comedic relationship was established with Dan assuming the role of a mute sidekick dressed in skin-tight, full-length black lycra, upon which some ‘pseudo-X-Ray’ imagery offered the chance to peer inside his body. With Dr Ben referring to Dan and his exposed innards like a running order for the show (the evening would chart its way through the body from top to toe), he proved both a great visual reference to revisit during the evening and a recurring opportunity for comedic riffing between the duo.

       Despite this modest introductory role, Dan soon shifted from a speechless prop to a musical maestro, having departed Dr Ben’s spotlight to perch behind an array of instruments and gadgets. From this new position, his level of expression grew dramatically with the introduction of his keyboard playing which he manipulated electronically into a looping pattern, upon which he layered silky-smooth acoustic guitar. Over this mellow, textured soundscape, Dr Ben performed an increasingly complex and comedic spoken-word introduction comprised entirely of body-related puns. This novel introduction captured the interest of the audience and the tongue-in-cheek wordplay raised playful laughter amongst the room, as well as the occasional eyebrow.

       Having shifted focus from an interesting look at the head and mind down to the extensive reach of the respiratory system, the opportunity to cast attention to each individual element of the vocal process was embraced. From the booming bass of the chest to the lofty treble of the nasal passage, each element was amplified down the microphone and looped rhythmically via high-tech kit from which a selection of cables trailed. It wasn't long before fully textured beatbox rhythms were fleshed out in speaker-rattling fashion, infusing further musicality into the evening. 

       This creativity and attention-to-detail was evident throughout their performance in the reverbs, fades and general use of polished audio effects that maintained a smooth gloss over the majority of proceedings. Rare mishaps with the kit and a tendency to indulge (even if ironically) in the extremities of pun usage would rock the boat at times, but the cool-headed recoveries of the performers maintained the show’s intended momentum and often added extra laughter to proceedings, even if preceded by pun-induced groans. 

       Not all laughter and upbeat musical jamming though, there were dips into altogether darker territory. One particular example was the atmospheric description of a loveless dystopia, brilliantly relayed under dramatically dimmed lighting. This sudden gear-change offered a polarising breadth compared to the jovial feel of the evening preceding it. With the mirthless, helpless future being described stemming from a world uncomfortably similar to our own, the piece was both fascinating to watch unfold and at times far more familiar than comfortable. Heavy, dark and resonant, the lingering intensity that lay in the wake of the piece was relieved shortly after with a quip from Mellor, who restored a relieving normality to the room.

       Though all anchored in the overarching anatomical narrative, over the course of the evening the individual segments of the show covered some vast ground. ‘News in Briefs’ drew upon a mixture of comedy, politics and social commentary in its focus on the negative repercussions of ‘Page 3’ and the farcical political soundbites that were once attributed to the topless models. This was followed with a track of “heavy-dub-metal-step”, in which the acoustic guitar was morphed with FX into a chugging rock sound, upon which Mellor rapped about the nervous system. This in turn was shortly followed by an interlude that drew upon the conveniently rhythmic gurgling of Dan’s gut as an unlikely musical source. Having soon turned the hungry rumbles into a looping backing track, further beat-boxing and a strong flavour of Tory-bashing was introduced in a ‘Pasty Tax’-oriented piece that’d evolved from impressively unusual roots.

       Building on the fiery, politicised momentum, a further stop on the anatomical tour was that of the spleen, which provided a convenient occasion for Mellor to vent his own, launching into another strongly motivated performance that was both angry and relatable (and enjoyably cathartic to watch). His delivery at times reminiscent of Scroobius Pip’s snappy South Eastern twang, the spirited piece concluded with a section stressing the importance of picking one’s battles in life, which proved an impressively resonant finish to an enjoyable segment.

       With the evening having reached its finale in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Dan began playing some dramatic piano sounds over which Dr Ben concluded his performance with a monologue that began its journey in the murky depths of nihilism, before steering an uplifting path towards a hugely more positive analysis of the human condition. Summarised with the loose paraphrasing of the Buddha (‘Don’t be a dick!’), their anatomic analysis was complete. Mellor launched into a final flurry of urban-sounding beat-boxing that both juxtaposed and interwove itself brilliantly with the elegant looping piano, upon which Dan picked up the guitar and let rip with some great rock solos to close.

       Somewhat of a double-edged sword, the intensely varied mixture of ingredients that formed ‘Anthropoetry’ proved both a fascinating strength and a slightly sabotaging weakness. Refreshingly unique, its largely captivating blend of intelligent subject matter was relayed in a fantastically creative, attention-grabbing manner. Yet conversely, the sections which fell short of that benchmark felt slightly hollow and contrived in comparison, particularly under the intensified focus of the choruses.

       Thankfully those sections were rare and when 'Anthropoetry' was in full force, the experience was great. Packed with moments of artistic flair from the talented duo, it was undoubtedly an entertaining evening, owing to the genuinely impressive ingenuity, interplay and execution on display. Perhaps victim to its own ambitions though, the breadth of the narrative left a residual impact that felt a bit too thinly spread, unable to shift the show comfortably past the status of a highly enjoyable ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Whilst the charting of the anatomy offered structural and thematic glue to proceedings, there were times where it felt like the individual chapters wanted to burst free of their overarching context; one wonders if a more strongly focused takeaway could’ve been imparted to the audience if some of the passionate secondary themes were pursued further.

       Nonetheless, it was a typically eclectic and enjoyable event from Blahblahblah, who’ve kick-started their Autumn/Winter programming in fine fashion. Tonight’s audience will no doubt be looking forward to seeing both exactly what Mellor & Steele will conjure up next, as well as what lays await in this brand new stellar series of spoken-word events at Bristol Old Vic.

 

Darren Paul Thompson

Photography: George Dallimore

 

Mellor & Steele: Facebook / Ben Mellor Website / Stream + Buy 'Anthropoetry' @ Bandcamp

Blahblahblah: Website / Facebook / Bristol Old Vic

 

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#164: 'Word of Mouth' w. Angie Belcher @ The Thunderbolt, Bristol - 2nd July 2014

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#164: 'Word of Mouth' w. Angie Belcher @ The Thunderbolt, Bristol - 2nd July 2014

       As big fans of Bristol Old Vic's critically acclaimed spoken-word night 'Blahblahblah', we headed to The Thunderbolt to check out its little brother, live literature event 'Word of Mouth'. A free, monthly event, it caught our attention this month with a pre-Edinburgh, stand-up comedy performance by Angie Belcher. Having left a good impression, we're planning to revisit 'Word of Mouth' in coming months.

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