IF YOU’RE NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE NAME KATE TEMPEST YOU NEED TO BE! It’s almost a year to this day that I first did a little piece on this 21st century South London wordsmith whose rhythms and rhyme, once heard, are not forgotten.
A One Taste regular, a rap battle veteran, a band member of Sound Of Rum, a playwright whose Wasted debuted last May via the new writing theatre company Paines and Plough, Kate Tempest is a force to be reckoned with. Her latest offerings are a book of poems including a Cd and DVD called Everything Speaks In Its Own Way and Brand New Ancients – a lyrical tour de force that is currently blitzing packed houses at the Battersea Arts Centre.
Dare I say this? This young woman has both content and flow that rivals the great Saul Williams and the name Tempest links her across the ages to that other great London playwright and lyrical master who the late great dub poet Michael Smith described as Shaka’s Spear.
As she steps from the shadows into the intimate space at the BAC she looks deceptively young. She gets the plug for her book over and done with any indication of nerves vanish as she launches into her poetic monologue. Behind her on a raised platform are Kwake Bass, Raven Bush, Natasha Zielazinski and Jo Gibson who are poised to deliver Neil Catchpole’s atmospheric score via trap drums/electronics, tuba, violin and cello.
It’s a scene setting combination and the poet, a born raconteur, wills the audience to visualise the the images she throwing out. It’s a tale set in modern times, out in the margins and a million miles away from the lives of those vacuous but celebrated celebrities who populate today’s culture. We are dropped in amongst the working people… the dispossessed… and we, as listeners, are immediately engaged with the lives of two families as they collide, connect and splinter. It’s a turbulent, violent and tragic journey.
This is not Sixties style social realism. Brand New Ancients transports us into the realms of myth when the gods walked amongst us, when the heroic allowed us to find the god within us.
The gods are in the betting shops, the gods are in the cafe,
The gods can’t afford the deposit on their flat…
Winged sandals tearing up the pavement,
Me, you, everyone, brand new ancients
Her words come in waves and as they slide into the full-on flow of rap she switches mics to offer more mobility and momentum. Alternatively as one lyrical tsunami crashes to a climax she sits, takes sips on a glass of water and listens to the musicians weaving their own spells.
I give thanks for Kate Tempest uncompromising vision and righteous anger. She has a firm grip on the realities that surround her and it’s clear that she is not there to make value judgements, to condemn those scarred knuckled warriors who no longer know who to fight.
The one hour and twenty minutes of Brand New Ancients vanishes into the ether. We were immersed in the fictionalised life others but the mirror of our own lives is never far away. It’s not all rage and rhythm, there is passion blazing at the heart of her writing and her delivery and as I stepped onto Lavender Hill, a copy of her book in my hand, I felt a little taller… talawah….. that’ s the word. I say to Kate Tempest, “Nice one, because like you I know lots of gods and they do indeed walk amongst us.”
PS: Jody! Thanks for the tickets. We owe you!