Review: Scroobius Pip, Kate Tempest, Polarbear
Venue: The Duchess, December 3
Totally out of my comfort zone here as I’m used to reviewing bands, and for that matter bands I like. I chose here to check out a spoken word show put on by the headliner, an artist whose musical output as one half of Hip-Hop/Electro duo dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip I am not actually that fond of. But I am a fan of his words.
Bringing with him two highly regarded supports who I know absolutely nothing about, I go into this blind not really knowing what to expect, and that’s quite unnerving yet also exciting – I love a review challenge.
Tonight The Duchess is kitted out with chairs, and candlelit tables, the flickering lights casting shadows that silhouette the room changing the whole atmosphere and creating a much more intimate setting than I am used to in here. I feel I should be drinking wine and not a pint of Strongbow tonight.
When my work mates asked what band I was off to see tonight, my reply of a spoken word show was met with “What, like The Streets?” and I guess in many ways they may be right. But there is no music here tonight, the stage is bare, stripped of amps and instruments. Tonight the artist must face the crowds alone. This is purely a spoken word show arranged by Pip, returning to his roots with a spoken word tour, 13 shows in 13 days before Christmas.
Polarbear is one of the leading lights on the UK spoken word scene and the first to warm the crowd. His rhymes sure are poetic, tales that I can instantly relate to, reminding me of a Brummie Mike Skinner.
He does one poem that is like a snapshot of his life taking us back to the 15-year-old Polarbear, smoking joints in the park and getting his first sexual experiences with a girl called Gemma. Regressing to age ten and his early childhood attempts at rapping.
He explores his relationship with mother and his much loved home town, about going home and meeting up with his past. His stories are personal and introspective and are quite heart warming.
Kate Tempest is much more spiritual and fiery, like a modern day hippified Janis Joplin her poems are slightly more angst ridden, yet uplifting and at times amusing. She sure has fire in her soul, and citing Skunk as a very strong verb was a good example of her sense of humour.
After their respective 15 minutes or so each on the stage Kate invites Polarbear back and takes a seat behind him on the sofa, they then both take it in turns to recite their poetry culminating in a very well rehearsed joint effort to finish.
Obviously both inspired by hip hop roots (Kate refers to hip hop a lot, Polarbear references N.W.A. amongst others) they both have their own style and work well sharing the stage. Personally of the two, Polarbear is the one who I feel I should be checking out first, but both are great to watch and go down a storm with the crowd. A good warm up indeed.
After a short interval Scroobius Pip strolls on in in hoodie and leather jacket, a backing tape starts and – do I believe my ears? – yes, he really does actually sing the theme tune to kids’ TV show Duck Tales as his opening. Now that I was not expecting at all. Yet maybe I should have expected as much, he does have a quirky funny side, check out the staged X Factor audition on YouTube for pure comedy entertainment.
That is the only musical treat for this evening though, as he goes straight into Introdiction, lyrically a good introduction to what he is about, his words I do like, laid bare here with no musical accompaniment there is no choice but to listen and take in what he is saying.
It’s the one-liners, stuff like “You see a mousetrap, I see free cheese and a fucking challenge”. I love his take on life, his observations and his witty way of thinking.
Generally, his words are heavy, dark and thought provoking, yet his banter between these pieces is pure comedy – I never really thought he would be this amusing. He is comfortable talking with the crowd and surely looks at home doing so, grasping and swigging on a bottle of rosé as he does it.
At times it turns into more of a stand-up show, on being asked where his local is he replies it’s 40 minutes walk: he can’t visit the local pubs because they are quite rough, people think he is a terrorist or a Muslim when he walks in.
He tells us he doesn’t need money, is loaded and made his first million doing voice-overs like…”Cashier Number 1 please”, “Cashier Number 2 please”. I don’t think he was serious was he?
Away from the comedy Pip brings on a box of “costume changes” he called them, basically hats and glasses for the hard hitting Angles. One of the most powerful pieces of writing I have heard from Pip, Angles is one story told from four different perspectives, four characters involving suicide, beatings and murder. Here in a live environment it is quite shocking and hits hard.
Letter From God To Man again is lyrically quite thought provoking, Pip’s version of what God would say to man, taking a big step back and judging Mankind. “See I wasn’t the creator, just the curator of nature”, great stuff and all used to great effect. And his perspective sure does make you think.
Finishing his set he addresses the audience that one poem he has been doing on this tour has had bad reactions from certain people, he has been told not to repeat it or he may be arrested. He said there may actually be plain-clothed officers in the crowd ready to arrest him if he does this piece.
He teases the crowd saying maybe as York was a smaller gig they may have not bothered coming and as people shout and cheer in hope, just as it seems like he is going to do it, he says “thank you and goodnight”, and he is gone… a classic way to leave us wanting more.
I entered not knowing what to expect and left wanting more. An interesting, thought-provoking night that proves words can be just as powerful as 100 watts of Marshall amplification – it’s just not as sweaty. Thoroughly entertaining and highly enjoyable, I feel cultured after tonight and look forward to more.