Organiser Bohdan Piesecki is a glutton for punishment. Not content with organising a seven nation dice slam a couple of weeks ago, he still found time to put on the regular monthly Hit the Ode. As usual, it did not disappoint. Bohdan’s pursuit of international stars is relentless and tonight we had Dizzylez from France who delivered a set “au poil”. Speaking in French and English, and utilising a loop and wooden beat-box (for train sound effects), he delighted, teased and entertained in an entertaining, multi-media presentation sometimes with translation on screen, sometimes without. His hip hop fascination was obvious (le Slam) as was his interest in call and response with Sur le Pont. Tonight he performed without musical accompaniment from his frequent on stage partner Skuba, but his energetic performance was never short of interest.
Pret de la mere stood out, cleverly using the loop for an atmospheric sonic background of waves ebbing and flowing to underscore his vocal , reminiscent of the Roxy Music song Sea Breezes from their eponymous debut album. Bryan Ferry ( and particularly Brian Eno) would have liked it. My favourite was Today we are Free, an Orwellian satire,with a pan European appeal as Europe slides from rampant consumerism into the financial abyss.
Tshaka Campbell was second on the bill for an impressive, yet slightly frustrating performance. His roots span London, New York and Los Angeles and his poetry draws from all three locations. Commanding, charismatic, authoritative and lyrically dexterous, he had everything going for him. The problem for me was that the material he chose, fine in its own right, somehow didn’t quite hang together. The third part of a relationship trilogy set in the Bronx epitomised this, I felt that I was being offered a snapshot, when I wanted a film. A battle of the sexes pairing was also uneven, Love Hard for women was strong, You Gotta Know My Name, for men, surprisingly less so. Brimful of energy and ideas it would be interesting to see Tshaka performing a full set in which he had time to breathe and establish his groove.
Third on the headline bill were Type S, a newly formed Brum Supergroup of rising young talent comprising Matt Windle, MstrMorrrison and Jody Ann Bickley. Matt has been around performing for so long, and has achieved so much, that it is easy to forget how young he is. Opening up, he offered the assuredness of a pro with I Predict A Riot, a thoughtful youthful take on the summer disturbances, far removed from the braggadocio of the Kaiser Chiefs song of the same title. MstrMorrison is developing into a substantial arist with his opus April’s Eyes showcasing his talent. Although a performance piece, the more I hear it, the more I am struck by its depth with Springsteenesque explorations of struggle and redemption. Sometimes the rightful precociousness of youth can cause performers to over reach themselves in the subjects they tackle. His understated style make his words and story even more compelling. MstrMorrison is now on the cusp of being able to be more ambitious in the material he attempts as his core craft is so strong, watch out as he does so . Jody Ann Bickley took to the stage for an emotional appearance, made as she only just starts her recovery from a debilitating illness. She is a fantastic voice with a maturity of observation way beyond her years. Her reflections on a lost love, and how she might see things in the future was poignant, her vision of what everlasting love might look like for a couple in their dotage wistful, elegiac and a delight. All the Brum poetic community offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Jody Ann.
And so to the undercard ,which was probably the strongest I have seen at Hit the Ode and featured numerous HTO debutantes . The ever reliable Heather Wastie was given the onerous responsibility of opening the evening, and proved a safe pair of hands with the topical Halloween Nightmare and tales of black country butcher bloodletting sufficient to prompt mass vegetarianism, newcomer Chris Ewing’s staccato style of delivery was confusing, Suz Winspear’s was not. Dressed resplendent in Gothic garb, Suz teased and entertained in A Seduction is Attempted – with an Ostend transvestite, and Dear Bridget , a study on how to commit a murder. Showy, fun, amusing and clever, a bit of an object lesson in how to do this performance stuff really!
Jess Green’s style and Jody Ann’s are quite similar, confident, sassy and hip, she rattled through Beyond the Kettle and Scratchwood Green in some style. My appreciation of her first poem was enhanced by my having misheard the first title, inexplicably, as Bamburgh Castle. This resulted in my mind racing into overdrive as I sought to find a link between the words and title – which didn’t exist! Her explanation, and apology, in the latter poem that she only knows the lyrics to Queens Don’t Stop Me Now as a result of forced indoctrination by a friend’s mother, marked her out as a performer of taste and discernment.
Nathan Williams, who has a remarkable likeness to Simon Bird in “The Inbetweeners,” opened the second half in bold style. A View from the Dock was good, but the judge would have requested greater brevity. Fresh back on the Brum poetry scene after her stay in Syria, Elisabeth Charis lay down a distinctive and impressive marker of poetic intent, her extended piece on the sexualisation of young girls, and ill-judged female aspiration, was in the best feminist traditions, but inclusive with it, carrying everyone with her in a fine piece. Ronnie Dawsey has a catalogue stretching back fifty of her seventy years. Wisely, she eschewed tales of the good old days in favour of Randomness and Without a Door a bawdy and humorous tale which went down well. Amy Rainbow, fresh from her triumph at the Malvern Slam, closed the open mic section in barnstorming style. She combines a reserved, controlled presence, more usually associated with the High Table at a Dons Dinner, with an acid tongue more commonly associated with the ladies toilets in a nightclub at 2am. Taunting suitors, rejecting marriage proposals, and demanding commitment is all in a day’s work for Amy, great fun.
Hit the Ode returns on 24/11 with Matt Harvey, broadcaster host of Wondermentalist, and toast of the broadsheets, headlining. He is joined by the feisty, sassy and flamboyant Catherine Brogan from Ireland in what is sure to be a brilliant night- arrive early.
Gary Longden 27/10/11