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Metronome Sessions

Live: Kate Tempest

19 February 15 words: Bridie Squires
"This mad mesh of a grimace-inducing nightmare that stabs you in the gut and leaves you hanging onto the edge of a ten-storey building"



I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I get in from a gig, and I’m a bit pissed, I’ll whack on a Kate Tempest video and two hours later, I’m still sat there with gritted teeth shouting “Yes” at the screen on my own. And no, it’s not the drugs. So, as you can imagine, I was a little bit excited to find out she was launching her debut headline tour and hitting Nottingham along the way.

Raw, passionate and eloquent, our Kate thrives on political and social commentary, lacing it with metaphorical prowess and a staunch delivery. She won the Ted Hughes Award for Innovation in Poetry in 2013 for her play Brand New Ancients, and she’s not stopping there. A spoken word poet, musician and playwright, her high calibre skill seeps into every area she works in – no thin spread.

As our entree to the evening, we were presented with the rising buzz of rapper Loyle Carner and his mate Chris on the mic and buttons. They were both on point, producing a hip hop-infused jam of high energy and interesting lyrics, taking it in turns to lead verses, with them both hyping the end of each others’ lines. Towards the end of their set, Loyle Carner recited a poem about the little sister he always wanted, making every woman cry a little inside – shit, the men too. There were some great beats that toed the line of hip hop in every direction – definitely worth a cheeky Soundcloud search.

John Berkavitch jumped on the mic shortly after with Short List of Things We Already Know – a poem about the state of society that uses contradictory idioms to highlight our world’s hypocrisy. The varying pace made it all very chaotic, but gut-turningly clear, prompting shrieks and woops from every direction.

Tempest’s band entered in the form of two MPC/synth players, a keyboard player, and vocalist. After setting up shop ever-so-casually, they broke out in this looming growth of an atmospheric bass sound which, when it was just about to erupt, stopped in the tracks of the poet’s grab of the microphone. And she began.

Bursting into narrative verse, Kate began the tale of her album Everybody Down in a capella. Using various characters from every viewpoint, she painted a story of inner city life – grim, white-hot, and poignant. The gig was unlike any show I’ve been to before, and one of the most innovative. It’s becoming almost cliché to have a rant about austerity, but Kate’s character-based storytelling presents intense venom that’s impossible to brush off.

The beats are somewhere between electronica, hip hop, even gabba, creating this mad mesh of a grimace-inducing nightmare that stabs you in the gut and leaves you hanging onto the edge of a ten-storey building. All that, punctuated with a real, touchable voice of effortlessly wise words.

There were some gorgeous, haunting vocals from Kate’s backing singer and she was properly giving it some the whole way through the set, dance-wise. I found myself torn between eyeing Kate’s head-in-hands, hair-drenched-face passion and the vocalist’s fiery, jutting moves. A duo forced to be reckoned with.

With beats hinting at the reggae vibes of Sleng Teng, and the dreamlike Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip’s Angles, her tunes construct a concept similar to that of The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come For Free, with a cheeky London accent softening the edges of some disturbing truths. It’s fucking genius, weird, awkward and beautiful. And when such epic proportions of creativity are met with the charming modesty of Kate Tempest, it’s hard not to love.

Her final tune was a heartstring-pulling agony of a breakup that stopped every audience member dead in their tracks as a face of pain and a squirm of longing fed into every word. Speaking to anyone who’s ever lost someone and craved their presence, a fair few got choked up.

On top of the tunes, the poetry and conversational punctuation was well-received, with Kate expressing her thanks for finally having a full room to play to after fifteen years of graft. It’s clear how much it means to her to be able to reach out to people. She was honest in her need to express the nagging sense of deep wrongs in the world, and the fact that we can address them by allowing creative arts to bring us together, exercising more empathy and less greed while we’re at it.

Ever the humble soul, she ended her talk by saying:

“I don’t have the answers but if you lot do, please let me know.”

Kate Tempest played at Rescue Rooms on Tuesday 17 February

Kate Tempest website

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