Oxford Hammer & Tongue: May Mayhem @ The Old Fire Station 08/05/2012

– reviewed by James Webster

The Night

After a few months of ping-ponging between different venues it’s nice that Oxford Hammer & Tongue has found a permanent home at the Old Fire Station. It’s a friendly charity venue, promoting social and creative enterprise that H&T have been happily ensconced in since February. And it made an excellent home for a very enjoyable evening of poetry this past Tuesday.

The Hosts

Tina Sederholm and Lucy Ayrton (both of whom are bringing solo shows toEdinburgh this year) continue to impress with their friendliness, humour and buckets of enthusiasm. Tina’s hosting always seems to come with a smile and a sly wink, quick to take the mick out of herself and the audience, while Lucy’s boundless energy is hard to match; they make a great team.

Tina’s poem ‘Christmas Day: A Miracle’ was about her niece, a 5-years-old ardent feminist. It captures a moment of heady childish freedom and energy, as the feminine girl born into a sporty family lets loose of a Christmas walk and just runs and runs.

The Features

  • Alison Brumfitt gave an entertaining set that at her best was insightful, very funny and impressively rhythm’d and rhymed.
  • Especially good was ‘I Believe’, a fun mix of Alison’s affirming personal beliefs and her takes on more universal issues. From her funny belief that ‘the root of all evil is the road to Milton Keynes’ followed later by more meaningful epigrams like ‘I don’t believe war feels any better if you win’, it’s a well performed and uplifting approach to life.
  • Her poem on Sex Ed was an interesting mix, brilliantly pointing out the floors of poor sexual education and how it fails to warn you that penises are not like broom handles or that sex ‘messes with your head’. But then it descends into moaning about ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends.
  • Indeed, at various less enjoyable points some poems came off as a little trite and obvious, picking on easy targets such as people with allergies or ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends. But even at weaker points, she always did just enough to undercut her own points, making her poems pleasingly 3-dimensional (the Sex Ed poem for example ends with ‘there’s no such thing as safe sex, that’s why I like it so much’).
  • Gerry Potter introduced by the hosts as a ‘Scouse Legend’ this did not begin to do justice to his captivating stage presence, easy banter and verbal wizardry.
  • It may seem over the top to say it, but it was one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. He blends strong performance with phenom-like wordsmanship, the performance always perfectly matching the poetry.
  • ‘And Then the Man Said’ conjured the voice of a warm, friendly and inspiring nonsense-prophet, whose advice spans the ridiculous to the profound and back again (‘negotiate friendship without language or money/ and DANCE, kid!’).  ‘Love Those Frankenstein Guys’ distilled the essence of the ‘shivering fragility’ of the old pub drunk, captivatingly rendering their sad and ugly beauty. ‘Jimmy Bling’ summoned an image of a working class ‘scally’ turned class-warrior-poet (which was great even when he forgot the words).
  • But it was ‘The Magician’ that really blew me away. A ringing indictment of the reality television created by the rich to elevate and laugh at the broken (such as X-Factor), it is at once damning (‘Yes! He eats babies!’) and totally understanding of this magician’s appeal as ‘the magician sinks into the belly of his magic as Disney animation tickles him to sleep’.
  • But the real magician here is Gerry himself, making such magic with his words.

The Slam

If you’ve read any of our H&T reviews before you should know the format: 3 minutes (30 second grace period), one microphone, one sacrificial poet (to get the ball rolling) five judges (marking out of 10), and a final score out of 30 (top and bottom scores knocked off in case the judge is sleeping with the poet). Winning poet goes through to the regional final next month.

  • Davey Mac’s ‘Life, the Universe and Everything For Richard Dawkins and His Students’ had several amusing lines (‘life is a sexually transmitted disease’), but relied a little too much on scatological humour for my tastes. He did clearly and cleverly express how science, the big bang and evolution are all, fundamentally, a bit silly, but didn’t seem to go anywhere definite with it. 24.3
  • Dyedre Just, performing for the first time in English, gave a thoughtful and earnest piece on the multiple meanings of ‘time’ and the different ways it impacts on our lives. But it ran overtime slightly and occasionally fell into the trap of being a little pretentious in her ruminations on death. 19.7
  • Andi McCrae gave us three short, perfectly formed poems. A man bragging about his extramarital exploits on the tube is told the ‘screeching’ sound is not the breaks, but his soul (hilarious). A woman is lovingly described in the warmest terms. And a broken shoe becomes a forlorn symbol of a relationship just too damaged to work. Her poems were skilfully constructed and performed. 25.8
  • Phat Matt Baker’s comedy revenge fantasy of serving his estate agent’s left testicle on a barbeque tapped into a common hatred of a crooked industry. But bitterness, cheap jokes and violence played for laughs seemed to divide the audience and did nothing for me. 24.6
  • Andrew Thomkinson performed a superbly phrased poem painting Oxford as an unwelcoming town: graduation gowns turn to crows and there’s ‘no space for angels to land on Oxford’s prickly back’. Lovely rich language, but his performance could have been stronger. 24.2
  • Anna McCrory’s ‘Wizard of Argos’ is incredibly entertaining, enlivened by Anna’s gift for easy and amusing rhymes, clever use of colloquialisms and intensely likeable delivery. It’s the kind of comedy poem I’d think shallow, if it didn’t get so neatly to the heart of what makes such a common thing as Argos stores a little bit magic. 27.1
  • Paul Fitchett’s ‘Child Soldiers’ drew powerful parallels between the courage and bravado it takes for a teenager boy to approach a girl across the dance floor (with a spray of Lynx as ‘body armour’) and the bravado said teenager takes with him when he goes to war. He brilliantly brought the powerful and terrifying realities of love and war in adolescence crashing together. 26.5

Winner: Anna McCrory

A really strong slam, with great potential from several new faces to Hammer & Tongue. I’m really looking forwards to seeing more of Paul Fitchett, Andi McCrae and Andrew Thomkinson and see how they develop as performance poets.

In the end every poet was at the least entertaining, and at the most they were powerful, charming and borderline transcendent: a very good night from Hammer & Tongue Oxford as they build to their final in June.

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