Monday, 18 March 2013

Hammer & Tongue March 2013

Blimey. Well, the setup could probably have started worse. There could have been snakes...

Afterwards, we figured that every area of potential technical issueage had taken a hit. On top of me having a bruised neck joint and being halfway useless at hefting stuff:

  • The car (and therefore the gear) turned up 30 minutes late.
  • Our Chief Technician (let’s call him that - I’m sure he’ll approve :)) had food poisoning.
  • Snow started pelting down as I set out with the gear, and traffic - presumably due to snow - was dire.
  • One of our boxes finally completely broke.
  • The mic stand’s mic clip turned up broken and the spare mic clip didn’t fit the stand.
  • The Hammer & Tongue Cambridge banner was broken as the result of a) someone kindly taking it to bits last month, b) it getting dented in the meantime.
  • The complete lack of sound from the mic turned out to be due to the DJ desk not being plugged into the sound system in any way; it being an unfamiliar one, we’d no idea what to do with the trailing wires.
  • We had to shift the chairs (minor, I know, and there were at least chairs already set out, but let’s complete this whinge!), and there was no merch table available.
  • I forgot to bring the cash box.
  • The Council decided that 9:45pm was the bestest time to start digging up Regent Street, right outside where we were performing and just as our quietest poet started her piece...


  • Wes, who’s swiftly becoming our Chief Technician this year, was there, and Got Stuff Done with admirable cheeriness, speed, and pragmatism.
  • Alex-the-Poetry-Stall hefted stuff, and magically fixed the banner in some kind of intensely Krypton Factor manner. It had long defeated me, so for once I was fine handing over such a problem to someone else (mental note: pride not always useful).
  • I used gaffer taper to Blue Peter the mic stand.
  • Diane came and made everyone feel welcome with a will. She has fast become a past mistress of persuading people to become slammers or judges... :)
  • The lovely Fountain staff (including our dedicated barlady Briony) were cheery and supportive, and manager Jordan sorted out the DJ desk.
  • Alex set up a truncated merch stall as part of the FoH area, and provided a float for the table.
  • We had enough people turn up to cover our fees to the featured acts and return Alex’s float to him (+£8!).
  • Our featured acts turned up on time (i.e. well before we kicked off) and not only turned in great performances but were polite, pragmatic, and friendly off-stage. No divas here!
  • We started only 7 minutes or so after advertised kick-off and everything ran very smoothly after that, despite my brain’s best efforts to trip me up throughout the evening.
  • The last few poets coped admirably with the road-drilling, and it was all over by the time the headliner took to the mic; I was even able to park the car outside the venue when we were loading up after take-down.
  • We didn’t lose or break anything else. (Okay, I left my new tablet charger behind, but hey...)

We had what must have been one of the most brilliantly surreal slams I’ve ever experienced, let alone curated. From the sheer range of the poetry (style, content, delivery) to the sheer range of scores (one person got a 5.2 from Consistently Low-Scoring Judge, and yet there were more Perfect 10s than we ever usually see!) to the guy who didn’t want to be scored at the end of his poem (but did want to distribute his pamphlet) to the drilling, to the polyglottal poet, to the guy who made roughly 97% of his allocated timeslot about the introduction.

Our top three scorers were all from the SKOPT group in Colchester and totally stole the evening! The overall winner was Tess Gardener with one of the meatiest pieces of the night, delivered with increasing confidence and verve throughout the poem, proving once again that you can be as funny or as clever as you like, but audiences really, really like verity. Doesn’t even matter whether it’s your actual story or not, if it speaks the truth, audiences will eat that up. Don’t get me wrong - they love to laugh and they love to hear great voices or be dazzled by terpsichorean vocal prowess, but poetry audiences hunger for the truth.

(Okay, that’s only my theory, but if you look at the people who place high in Slam Finals, meaningful almost always trumps cheap thrills. Don’t get me wrong - if you can do it all you’re on a roll, but still...)

Our features were cases in point - both of them have shouty and easy poems which got them noticed in the early days, but both “Angry” Sam Berkson and Adam Kammerling now specialise in the telling of stories. Sam’s set glittered with observations of the people who stand out from the dark shores of public transport around London, but had time for Hopkins-esque nature poems that literally shimmered. I’d only heard a couple of his pieces before, at the Hammer & Tongue National Final last March, and it went to show yet again that you should not judge poets on the pieces they pull out when hosting nights. My Hammer & Tongue hosty poems are not necessarily the style for which I’m renowned (I tend towards the easier pieces - certainly the shorter ones - when hosting), and Sam supported this notion - his work and his delivery was surprisingly gentle and considered (time to remove the “Angry” from his moniker?!), the set generous and eloquent with some neck-pricklingly pretty turns of phrase. Yes, there were some Tempestuous set-pieces, but my take-away sensation was that of a wide-eyed wonder and the feeling that I was being hugged by words.

I introduced Adam all wrong. ALL wrong. He essentially had to correct me in his introduction since although his website bio talks about his hip-hop roots and his music-and-poetry work it turns out his current style is a kind of darkly hilarious, occasionally surrealistic cinematic raconteurism. Instead of pounding rhythms and devastating put-downs (I once saw him do a piece where he essentially rap-battled his past Grimey self) he steered us through the choppy waters of erudite muggings, service sector revenge, and the problems with obsessive love. Sarcasm (or at least the overturning of expectations) seemed to be the strongest theme, and despite deprecating his own rambling-between-poems style at the beginning, the introductions were among the highlights. The revenge piece was introduced as a story about the time he and a troupe of Sadlers Wells dancers defeated a jewellery heist using a rusty Zippo (for what it’s worth, I’d love to hear that poem, if anyone wants to write it...). The poem Open-Ended Process illustrating the ludicrousness of the anti-gay-marriage camp (hah!) included the phrase “insidious wasp cock” when describing the title-providing MP for Hendon. I am using that. Fair warning, Adam - I am completely stealing that.

Recordings will go up soon. Some kind of podcastery is long overdue for Hammer & Tongue and Allographic nights, and since there’s no time like the present, um, it’ll be soon. Maybe when my annual leave kicks in at the end of the month.

See you all soon, spoken word fans! :)

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