Heather Wastie led this May’s instalment of Mouth & Music for which another good sized crowd gathered to see a strong open mic bill, and headliners The Decadent Divas. Heather also took the opportunity to rally support to challenge Kidderminster Council’s proposals to close the Library Art Gallery, proposals which would leave the Boars Head Gallery as the only gallery space in the town. In my experience public bodies are poor at managing arts provision, whilst local activists are good at it. The Kidderminster Arts Federation has been formed to draw together the diverse Arts interests in Kidderminster and the surrounding areas. The Boars Head Gallery is the nerve centre of operations, the KAF’s efforts deserve to be supported.
Co-KAF conspirator Sarah Tamar helped to launch the evening with the drought inspired Rain before moving onto her home turf of contemporary light poetry with a bit of social bite taking in young women who want to be WAGS, and young men called to fight for their country. A feature of the evening is its encouragement for first time performers. Margaret Green gave an assured reading of a trio of poems of which I Am Too Beautiful To Be Waiting was the best. Elena Thomas works as a contemporary visual artist but chose this evening as a platform to unleash the poet in her with a tribute to thirty years of marriage and a lullaby normally set to music. Both worked well. Steve Hughes worked a rehearsed, memorised set of two performance pieces, Shall I Spit or Swallow? and Well Endowed, both were woven with double entendres which would have made Frankie Howard blush.
A Lichfield Poet, Ian Ward has become a fixture on the Midlands performance poetry scene, chalking up the hard yards. From a substantial back catalogue he performed a trio from his 19th Century Cornwall collection, which I think is his strongest, rich in rhythm , rhyme and a sense of place. John Cliff similarly drew on a sense of place, but in his case one much closer to home, the Severn Valley railway, which he explored in Great Longstow.
Worcester has an unusually strong cohort of talented female poets and two were on form tonight. Jenny Hope is a hugely talented poet. Not only is her poetry elegant, lyrical and precise, but she also revels in a dry wit, and a knowing glance. From Petrolhead her 2010 collection, she read from The Man who Married His Car, with the memorable opening : “ He was underneath her most weekends.” Jenny matches ear-catching phrases with a beguiling delivery, Woman included the line: “I seek out the roots of sleeping trees” – and we were hooked. A reluctant Ruth Stacey was dragooned onto stage, fortunately she just happened to have the wonderful Go Round committed to memory, picking up the arboreal theme with :“The deciduous trees are gilded with decay.” Missing from the audience was fellow Worcester Poet Suz Winspear whose signature piece is Evil Trees. I have made a mental note to decline any offer of a walk in the woods with those three.
The evening is also about music as well as poetry and three musicians were on hand to entertain. Kate Wragg reprised her April performance, with Character Building a delight. Colin Pitts had been hunted down after Heather Wastie had seen him performing elsewhere. It was immediately apparent why she went to the trouble. Colin combined the finger work style of Mark Knopfler, and the smooth, gravelly tones of Chris Rea in a very well received set.
Al Barz performed with a keyboard, rather than guitar , to accompany his poetry. Using a sequencer facility, it was not always clear whether Al was driving the technology, or the technology was driving him, but in the great tradition of the likes of Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, Al never flinched from pushing the musical boundaries, even ending Leandra with a flourish that Ray Manzarek would have been proud of. Identifying the adapted musical motifs is part of the enjoyment of listening to Al perform, The Whisper of Her Name definitely borrows from Steely Dan’s ,Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Home Alone from Mouldy Old Dough by Lieutenant Pigeon. The audience loved him, it was great fun.
The main event was The Decadent Diva’s debuting much new material, but retaining the premise that each was speaking from the viewpoint of a woman from one of four decades. The format of the evening offered the opportunity of a device which worked particularly well for them. Instead of simply delivering an ensemble piece, they each performed solo spots first. This offered the considerable advantage of helping to establish individual character before they all appeared together. I like ensemble poetry performance. It offers variety, contrast and an extra dynamic to the poetry itself. It is also interesting to see how this concept is growing and unfolding. In past performances there was a strong sense of the voice of Everywoman representing each decade. Now that solo performances are creating a sense of individual identity, the challenge of whether that identity should be that of the individual poet, or an assumed identity by that individual poet, emerges. This script gave Laura Yates and Maggie Doyle greater opportunities than previous ones, and both seized that chance with relish and style. Charlie Jordan was as smooth as ever, the oil, allowing the wheels to spin easily around her, Lorna Meehan enjoyed showing out as much the audience lapped up her performance – rarely have I witnessed the very mention of Michael Buble’s name invoke such a sense of hysteria! This was certainly their sauciest and raciest set yet, but was still delivered in the best possible taste……………..
Mouth & Music next meets at 8pm on Tuesday June 12th, but a Jubilee special is being held, on Jubilee Weekend Sat 2nd, Sun 3rd, Mon 4th afternoons, with plenty of poetry and music.
Gary Longden 8/5/12