And on the fourth day they celebrated the word and the word was good. The word was better than good, the word was beautiful and courageous, feisty and commanding. A hundred or more people gathered and they did listen and they did dance.
Kate Tempest is here tonight on this stage at Fruit in her own headline show doing what she always dreamed of. Everything has been leading up to this point, fifteen years of hard work fighting Rap battles at 16, begging MCs at raves, doing poetry in libraries, cafes, art centres, on the street to anyone who would listen.
A published poet and playwright from south-east London, she is accompanied on stage by her band: two drummers, keys and a backing singer. Kate launches us into her world of disaffected characters trying to make sense of their environment, their situation in life. Kate puts down songs like ‘The Beigeness’ and ‘Lonely Daze’ taken from her debut album ‘Everybody Down‘ (Big Dada Records) and she’s just getting started. Drug deals with Leon and Harry in ‘The Heist’ and it is cinematic images direct to your brain as you follow the story from the club to the den. The songs have that easy repetition and hypnotic beat and I find myself singing along to the chorus of ‘Stink’ ‘If you love me like you say you would not treat me this way‘ : new love, old love, love wasted, second guessing love. And then there’s Becky who is just trying her best to get through.
The songs take on a life of their own as they are set free to the expectant Hull crowd. ‘The live performance far exceeds the recordings,’ I say to a guy near me. ‘You have to see it to really connect with the emotion.’ There’s wonderful humour throughout ‘Chicken’ when Kate gets to play about with the mic effects ‘…this is the most fun I get,’ she jokes openly, putting massive amounts of echo and reverb on her voice.
During the breakdown in ‘Circles’ she stands and gazes at the crowd for half a minute, maybe more. She is taking it in, she is remembering this moment. Then hands behind her back generous to the end, she moves stage left to give the spotlight to the two drummers and the gorgeous tones of the other singer, and I’m dancing and the girl next to me is dancing and next to her they are dancing. Faster and faster the beats go, reaching a frenzy and Kate is on the other side of the kit, laughing, creating, reveling as the band grab a bit of glory.
It was extraordinary when in between songs, Kate raised her voice and began to rage against apathy. ‘I feel we are in a state of emergency right now,’ and she means it. As she reaches inside herself, she connects with the vibe in the room, they are ready to rage but maybe they need encouragement, maybe they need permission? I don’t want to say, ‘Spokeswoman for her generation,’ because that would be a cliché, and Kate is anything but clichéd. From the street to the page, to the stage she is every bit real. I don’t think the crowd was ready for that kind of vehement appeal for a better world: a bit of a shock to the system.
Kate orates with a contagious passion, about the gentrification of urban landscapes. Often regenerated through creative endeavor, the artists are priced out of the area by their own actions. Funny she should be saying this on a street where the process of ‘regeneration’ is happening right in front of our eyes. Who knows if the grand plan will work, or whether we are in fact sleepwalking into the developers’ hands?
A chap I met outside the venue on Humber Street said that it was fitting to see Kate in a gritty warehouse venue, but I can tell you it’s also good to see her play to the establishment. Tearing down brick by brick, the edifice of pomp and entitlement; knowing all the while that the sycophants would give their right arm for just an ounce of that charisma, that smile, that honesty: that ability, to stop people in their tracks and make them listen, and make them act.
The Tempest Manifesto is simple, it is about valuing each other, believing that everyone’s’ lives are important and have purpose. ‘More Empathy Less Greed,’ she repeats again and again. ‘It’s okay to say you don’t know but it’s not okay not to care.’
I was going to catch her afterwards maybe get a comment or two, a quote for the blog, but as I said outside what question could I ask? I felt she had given all she had to give, she had laid herself bare, all her beliefs, her politics, her feelings about social injustice and oppression had been made very clear. Kate made her rallying cry, her call to arms but she’s not asking us to hate, just not to capitulate.
Poetry is a hard sell, always will be, but you could hear a pin drop as the crowd hung on every carefully chosen word, every skillfully crafted phrase during the Ted Hughes prize-winning epic poem ‘Brand New Ancients.’ Respect Hull, you did yourself proud. You are all Gods. We are all Gods. Now let’s go make something happen, something that has never happened before.