5 December 2014
It’s a while since I’ve been to the Cumberland Arms and so it was a pleasant surpise to return after whatseemed suddenly like a long gap. Even though on a dark winter night, as one approaches, it does put you in mind of something out of The League of Gentlemen. But inside it’s cosy and snug and it can be a great venue, especially for this sort of thing.
The little performance space upstairs was pretty packed when the gig started. The audience was very varied, all ages, a lot of poets, and a few people who looked like they’d wandered in by mistake but they quickly realised they were in for a treat, and they stayed. Everyone stayed, in fact, and at the end we demanded more. And we got it. It was an evening full of generosity and love and sheer gut wrenching emotion. I think it’s fair to say that people got their monies’ worth. At first I thought the opening act an odd choice to kick off an evening’s poetry, but given the high octane content of what followed, they weren’t at all.
Ok, so I’m at a poetry event. But the first act have got amps and a Stratocaster, which seems strange, but I stopped worrying about that almost straightaway. If you’re a fan of late 80’s US indie, and I am, then Miss Danby and the What offered delight after delight. When she lets herself go, la Danby recalls Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon or Siouxie Sioux (on a song called “Who Needs Enemies”) and the material wheeled around Pixies/Throwing Muses territory but somehow managed to do this with an English accent. Perhaps it was the Christmas jumpers they were wearing, or the apology for accidentally spitting on the front row (punk really is well and truly dead), or the apparent shyness of the lead singer. The sound system of a small venue like the Cumberland is necessarily going to struggle with loud guitars and that was problematic sometimes, but when they kicked into a song called “Your Spirit’s still Alive” (I think – and for me the song most reminiscent of Throwing Muses, not a frequent reference point for any band, even some of its original members) it all came together very nicely indeed and for an old softie like me was very emotional. That did become something of a theme for the evening. I very much enjoyed their set, as did everyone around me, although I know that at least one person there was very biased, because the singer’s mum was in. Essentially, if you like old skool rock indie with strong lyrical content and a little twisted edge with a little overdrive thrown in for good measure, you will like these. They can be found on Soundcloud, and I suggest very strongly that you check them out.
Steve Urwin appeared to be in a difficult position since he was coming on after a rock band and before the man who, with the best will in the world, is the main reason everyone is in the room. But Steve Urwin is an accomplished performer in his own right and has some pretty effective weaponry in his little bag of tricks. He gets accused apparently of being all “me, me, me” he told us, but his narcissism, as all art should be, is employed to reveal the conditions under which life exists in the little dark corners (sometimes metaphorically sometimes actually) and so we don’t mind. Steve is a performance poet in the sense that I understand the word. He plays characters, will sometimes use the mic, and sometimes not. He employs his body in ways which sometimes can be distracting if you notice. It sways, or perhaps rocks. If you’re being a critic (shame on me) sometimes you want him to stand still. But if you’re listening to the stories – complex, often dark, lyrical, personal, some of them making you gasp for breath, others making you thank your lucky stars you weren’t there when it happened – you get drawn into the mesmerism of the music and the dancing. Steve’s position wasn’t difficult at all it turned out
Buddy Wakefield doesn’t perform a set a set of poems. Well, he does, but it doesn’t seem like that. There were a couple of occasions when he actually introduced a piece, and that was especially the case at the end and at the encore, for which he appeared as grateful as we were, or the one time when he apologised (unnecessarily) for forgetting a line. Mostly his set appeared as though it were an improvised, stream of conscious, hour-long monologue about his life. And this is the first thing to note, I think; this astonishing feat of technical ability as he delivers a hailstorm of ideas and devices and words strung together in an impossibly long chain and you wonder how on earth his brain is not only remembering it but also delivering it. But you’re not thinking that as you watch. I’m thinking that, occasionally, but only because, sadly, it’s partly my job tonight. I have to remove myself from the place I want to be (engulfed in the stream of this performance) into a place where I can “view it objectively” (ha ha).
These are poems that still have the power later to make me cry the way I did when listening to Buddy tell them on Friday as I discovered when re-reading “Jean Heath” from his book “Gentleman Practice” which I bought from the merchandise table at the back of the space. That I bought “merch” (as he lovingly referred to it) at all is a testament to how much I enjoyed the gig. That he allowed me to take it away without paying for it, on the understanding that I would send the money later via Paypal (duly done virtually straightaway when I got home) is about as good an anecdote about the man as I could probably offer and his poetry, powerful, moving, funny made for a fantastic Saturday night. If you ever, ever get a chance to see Buddy Wakefield live – GO! You won’t regret it. In a small venue like the Cumberland it was a real treat. It turns out this man isn’t three times Poetry World Slam Champion for nothing.
This review wouldn’t be complete without a quick mention for the fabulous Kirsten Luckins of Apples and Snakes and Jenni Pascoe of Jibba Jabba who between them are responsible for this great gig. Thank you ladies!