– reviewed by Michaela Ridgway –
@ Brighton’s Komedia
“Poets are liars” – Plato (via James Burt)
Standing in the lengthening queue outside Brighton’s Komedia, I’m asked by the couple behind me if this is the right place for hammer & tong. Australian slang for putting your all into something, ‘to go at it hammer and tong’ comes from the world of blacksmiths, who hold flaming metal with tongs and bash it into shape. Hammer & Tongue is a kind of workshop for aspiring poets to bash their poems into shape, so I tell the couple that they are in the right place. I also tell them that it is tongue not tong.
The Komedia’s newly refurbished studio bar is packed as the lights go down and local short story writer, James Burt, takes the stage. Reminding the assembled crowd of Plato’s warning that all poets are liars, he implores us not to be fooled by the fraudulent words of those that are to follow him. His story, on the other hand – about a clown that kicks someone to death on a street corner somewhere in Brighton with outsized, soft-toed boots – is completely true. “The clown’s girlfriend gets bored and wonders off,” we’re told – an example of the drollery that characterizes James’ piece, and which makes up for the just-a-bit-less-than-fizzing delivery.
“The colour of lemons, marigolds, rubber ducks” – Rob Auton
The success of Rob Auton‘s 20-minute elegy to yellow – an abridged version of his Yellow Show – hinges on its boldly limited palette (nearly everything is yellow) and an endearingly gauche stage presence. Standing up there in a bright yellow coat (if I were a country, my coat would be a flag, flapping at the top of a giant biro), he makes a cocktail out of Berocca and lemons, then stuffs the drink with lots of yellow straws pulled from his back pocket. The finishing touch, a yellow cocktail umbrella, transcribes an arc through the air and descends – in slow motion – to the melodramatic 2001 Space Odyssey soundtrack, provided through a mobile phone held by H&T co-host Rosy Carrick, close-up to the microphone. The whole thing is utterly nutty and yellow and mesmerizing.
N.B. It should be said that the Yellow Show owes a debt to the colour maroon, which brings with it some joyously obvious rhymes – noon/room, my room/maroon – and the way it has of defining yellow’s yellowness by its own marooning otherness.
(And Rob Auton will continue the new H&T season at the Oxford slam on Tuesday 09/10/12 at The Old Fire Station Crisis Cafe)
The Slam “No sooner does one door shut, than another closes” – Misquote of an old saying
Next comes the ‘competitive’ bit of the evening that had made my companion, Neil, so reluctant to come. It’s a slam, ergo, some egos will get bruised. And once everyone has ‘passed the clap’ (a difficult thing to get rid of, but it does get the audience warmed up), the ‘sacrificial lamb’ poet is asked to take the stage. The sacrificial lamb poet is not in the actual slam; this is as an opportunity for judging teams in the audience to save the poets’ egos by practicing their judging skills (reliably dreadful, in my view, however much practice they get). Tonight it’s frequent slam winner, Robin Lawley, who runs the Brighton Poetry Society.
The open mic part of H&T is (by nature) very mixed ability; this is what makes it so good. And tonight we have a poem about begetting that began with a horse by Chris Parkinson (Chris is always good value for money); several beige, hip-hop/rap style poems strapped to their rhymes and dragged across three minutes; and a pretty good hip-hop/rap poem from Spliff Richard – delivered at break-neck speed – which wins the slam.
“Folk-rap, you Mother-flippers” – Clayton Blizzard
Guitar slung round his neck, peaked cap worn rapper-style (apparently), Clayton Blizzard sings us a song (he has a nice voice) called Sad Music is Uplifting, stopping abruptly between verses to whisper disturbing nothings in people’s ears, as he makes his way through the audience to the stage. It has a curiously disturbing effect on the atmosphere in the room. What an entrance.
In the pub afterwards, when I tell Clayton that I will be writing this (my first) review, he says that write-ups of acts at evening’s end can tend to get a bit scanty on detail. In this case, though, it is not too many pints, but too few words left to do justice to the fabulous and sometimes poignant middle section of Clayton’s performance.
Here’s how it ends, though: a group of lads that had traveled all the way from Hastings begin to leave in cartoon haste to catch their last train home. Clayton hops off the stage after them, and proceeds to sing them all the way out into the hallway, and maybe even out into the street. We gleefully applaud an empty stage. What an exit.
And so it is that the acts at Hammer & Tongue come and go; but the main reason I keep coming back – as, I suspect, others do – is co-hosts Michael Parker and Rosy Carrick, because they are clever, funny, quarrelsome, querulous, astonishing, sometimes a bit telling-offish (but only when absolutely necessary), and because between them they always, somehow, manage to keep the whole thing together.
(Michaela runs the monthly ‘Pighog Thursday’ poetry night at the Redroaster Coffee House in Brighton. For information on next month’s line-up, visit http://www.pighog.co.uk/events/index.html)