The 5th Bilston Love Slam, Imperial Ballroom, Bilston

This is now a well established event drawing competitors from as far away as Gloucester and Manchester. That success is down to the alchemy of Emma Purshouse’s pre show organisational skills , and the onstage charisma of co-hosts Marcus Moore and Sarah Jane Arbury. The latter’s routine is a simple one, Marcus plays the grumpy old git, Sarah Jane the flighty glamour puss, it works a treat. They operate under the Spiel Unlimited banner hosting slams around the country and organising poetry workshops and retreats. The road honed experience that brings was much in evidence tonight.

Fifteen entrants fought it out over three knock-out rounds, with the first round demanding a love theme. Curiously this brought out the serious and soppy side in our poets rather than the satirical and waspish edge which you might have expected. Performer Fergus McGonigal was even moved to kiss his wife afterwards!

Overall this was an event for seasoned performers with two thirds well known to me. Special mention should be made of Jackie Evans, the least experienced of the slammers who performed with courage and conviction. The opening compulsory theme had a curiously destabilising effect on the pecking order one might have assumed. Richard Tyrone Jones is a poet of local and national repute, and his poem from a tower block was very strong, but didn’t take him through to the next round. Equally local star Heather Wastie performed an intelligent , sharp and wistful piece about the importance of kisses on e-mails, but met a similar fate.

Louise Stokes writes accomplished poetry both as herself, and as her alter-ego, the street sharp chav, Kimmy Sue Ann. This time she hedged her bets by performing a Kimmy Sue Ann poem as herself .It was good to see her “work” a character and idea which has so much potential a bit harder, taking her character on a Spanish holiday this time. Her partner’s snoring endeared itself to Jane James in a little gem of a poem, Peter Wyton’s word play around his Swiss army wife was possibly a bit too convoluted for its own good. The poet whom I felt most sorry for was Steve Rooney. Greetings Cards was excellent, but as the final poet before the break, he acknowledged that the only thing between a hungry audience and an aromatic curry was him – he didn’t get through.

At this point it is worth mentioning two curious features of Slams. The first is “points creep”. The judges always start low, and as the evening wears on, and alcoholic intake increases, then ramp up the scoring. The first, arbitrarily chosen trio scored 209/200/200 respectively, the final trio 239/254/218. Were the last trio really almost 20% better than the first? Fortunately the highest score from each trio goes through so that even though the lowest score from the last trio was higher than the highest from the last, that low scorer from the first group still went through.

The second curiosity is that five out of the six semi finalists were men, even though seven out of the fifteen contestants were women. Why is difficult to explain. The audience was roughly 50/50 men and women, the six judges an exact 50/50 split. So this was a case of women voting for men . Of course it is possible that the men were just much better than the women. My own judgement is that was not so, and an experienced female performer suggested to me that, for whatever reason, this outcome was quite common. I don’t have an easy answer to this. On my travels I expect, and find, the best female poets to be more than a match for their male counterparts, yet still there is substance to the claim of female disadvantage. I would welcome your thoughts when you next see me – or by message.

Local circuits can be dominated by familiar faces, so it was a particular pleasure when a Manchester contingent appeared for the night, and did so well. Rod Tames’ material was very strong in both rounds, and I suspect would have been amongst the strongest of the evening on the page. Dave Viney oozed smooth Mancunian swagger as trademarked by Liam Gallagher. I gained the impression that the Noisy Neighbours whom he name-checked in his poem would have got short shrift from him. Dominic Berry went one step further and even wore a Noel Gallagher style parka whilst delivering the performance of the night in the first round with his paean to aubergines, and his sharp love poem Time Travellers in the second, but it was Kieren King who made it through to the final. Fergus McGonigal entertained splendidly with his Hangover lament, but it was Lorna Meehan’s experiences as a lesbian extras arm on a television show which carried her through to the final.

One of the pleasures of reviewing the Midland’s poetry scene for some years now is watching talent grow. Lorna has always been a very good poet, but now she is adding polish and a relaxed confidence to her overall performance which manifested itself in a splendid Rock Chick, which was just trumped by Kieren King’s ,Whatever Happened to the Heroes, for the judge’s vote, both working on a musical theme.

Kieren was a worthy winner, and I later learned that all of the Manchester boys were indebted to the inspiration of fellow Mancunian Ben Mellor, who won the Radio 4 National Slam in Birmingham three years ago, and is appearing in Worcester next week. Kieren’s work was pithy, economical, and incisive in an evening where comic poetry, which so often dominates slams, was scarcely in evidence. He has an invite to join the next variety bill at the Imperial on the 28th April which also features Steve Rooney from last night’s performers.


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