– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –
@ The Roebuck
THE HYPE – It’s hard not to turn up to Bang Said The Gun! with a heaving sack full of expectations. A hugely popular night, run by a medley of awesome London poets, Bang! regularly garners glowing reviews and has been featured on Channel 4 and Sky. So what makes it so special? And did this Thursday’s edition live up to the hype?
THE REALITY – I turned up. It was loud, and packed. The room was filled with candled tables offset by wall-displays loudly spelling out BANG! in black and white letters, and making the venue feel like some sort of clandestine punk comedy club. Milk bottles apparently filled with chickpeas sat on the tables waiting for the audience to shake them, and I can confirm that doing so is an awesome and weirdly addictive alternative to clapping.
THE AWESOME – This is an event brimming with quirky features to keep you engaged. At the start, an audience member is randomly dubbed the Hatalyst (Catalyst in the Hat), charged with wearing a preposterously large top hat emblazoned BANG! and leading the audience response / milk-bottle-shaking. On this night we got James, single, occasionally employed and not aware of having any STDs. He accepted the hat with gusto. Other fun things: to kick off the second half, Rob the barman read out some delightfully silly bar and/or pub related jokes from an enormous book titled the Bang Bar Staff’s Big Book of Beautiful Banging Banter. Plus, the excitement of competition! This was the Raw Meat Stew – in which seven poets competed for the Golden Gun award and a slot in the following week’s line-up.
THE HOST – DAN COCKRILL – was a fun, charismatic host, projecting the raucous and irreverent spirit of Bang! and giving the performers a rousing welcome.
Speaking of the performers, here are my highlights (and lowlights).
MARTIN GALTON engaged the audience’s attention by giving us a choice of two books he could read poetry from – a red book of love, or a black book of hate. We chose hate: musings on the dystopian failings of past and future policing, on the disturbing ubiquity of yoghurt in supermarkets, on personal flaws and insecurities – a nice blend of the personal, the political and the absurd, engagingly performed, made this a satisfying and enjoyable set.
NIA BARGE ~ POET-IN-RESIDENCE – This was Nia Beige’s final performance as Bang’s Poet-in-Residence. What struck me most about her set was her wonderfully expressive delivery, which brought razor-sharp observations and reminiscences of love and living vibrantly to life. Her piece on discovering that a relationship is an affair was devastating and beautiful, with the phrase “if I knew my memories were borrowed from her happiness…” standing out for me in particular.
ROB AUTON’s surreal tribute to yellow was in keeping with the theme of his upcoming Edinburgh show, Yellow in Colour. This shambolic and odd piece charted the poet’s awakening to the wonder of the colour yellow, and conjured up whimsical vignettes involving… well, stuff related to yellow. The fact that my stomach hurt from laughing throughout this hilarious conceptual journey is testament to the fact that this really, really worked. While other poets went for their own brands of surreal humour and abstract weirdness, Rob Auton was the only one who actually made me broaden my ideas of what performance poetry can be, masterfully navigating the fine line between brilliantly absurd and pointlessly random – something which is particularly difficult to get right in performance.
CRAIG MILLER’s guitar-driven set was uninspiring, reaching a low point when he told the audience that, having been advised to write what he knows, he had written about being a stalker. Describing tiptoeing down someone’s hall, this song’s repeated refrain was “I’ve seen your face, I know your name”, and was as tedious, creepy and irritating to sit through as the concept was trite and unoriginal, written solely for the cheap laugh.
JESS GREEN ~ winner of the previous week’s Golden Gun award – was my favourite poet of the night. A contrast to the cheeky, offbeat tone of much of the night, this set was brimming with the kind of well-judged yet passionately conveyed sincerity that lights a fire in your bones and breaks your heart. The highlight was an angry, powerful poem that repeated “I’m tired of…”, expressing the poet’s frustration with the double standards and restricting expectations young women face, as well as with sexism on the poetry slam circuit. There was an urgency in her delivery, words tumbling out as if it was impossible to keep them in, but controlled and flowing towards an achingly relatable climax. This was beautifully written, mesmerisingly performed, soul-baring poetry that got right to the heart of the ridiculous endeavour that is being a person.
PETER HAYHOE’s exploration of the self-doubt and uncertainty a new relationship can bring, symbolised by a disappointing hole in a Pizza Express pizza, was insightful and funny, and peppered with a characteristic self-deprecating geekiness that I’ve warmed to every time I’ve seen him perform.
Comedian JULIAN DANIEL combined a straight, deadpan delivery with wry wordplay to create fun, quirky little pieces – a slice of ham, sandwiched by bread, wishing it was jam , or a parody of Kipling’s “If” (the original “then you’ll be a man my son”), that married the expected inspirational platitudes to gems like “If you can wear an ill-fitting thong…”. Occasionally I felt the humour got a bit lazy, such as the climax of a love poem ending with the obvious “…now will you sleep with me?”, or his introduction to a love poem for an ex who called him insensitive, in which he relied on banal sexist stereotype for a predictable punchline, “…it was probably that time of the month!” Overall though, this was a fun antidote for anyone who has ever sat through godawful, overwrought love poetry.
LIZ BENTLEY – Accompanied by jaunty ukulele, her poetry was replete with eccentric black humour, steeped in the mundanities and struggles of everyday life in London, as well as in difficult personal issues such as the end of a long-term relationship. Maintaining an irreverent tone throughout, this was a highly enjoyable set that combined humour and depth to compelling effect.
RAW MEAT STEW ~ judged by Nia Barge
The performers in the Raw Meat Stew covered an interesting range of subjects – love, Star Wars, abstract personal reflections – but varied in quality and performance skills. Cecilia Knapp’s piece on young and stupid forays into love was moving and evocative, while Chris McCormick, the eventual winner, had an engaging conversational style and some amusing things to say about Wookies.
So, how did my first Bang! (hurr) live up to reputation? With its exciting catchphrases, “mud-wrestling with words”, “poetry for people who don’t like poetry” – and quirky features – the Golden Gun award, the Hatalyst, the milk bottles – the one thing Bang Said the Gun! promises is respite from mediocrity and pretension. While there were a few poets who failed to avoid one or both of those things, there was more than enough skill, humour, passion and sheer unadulterated awesome from the rest to make up for it. In short: I had fun, and so will you.