ROUND-UP REVIEW: Poetry and Lyrics Festival at Kings Place

Blurred Lines with Cerys Matthews
(L-R) Richard Stokes, Liz Berry, Nadifa Mohamed, Cerys Matthews

Poetry and Lyrics Festival. 
(Kings Place, 10th - 11th June 2016. Round-Up Review by Naoise Murphy.)

‘Poetry and Lyrics’ is an overwhelmingly vast subject. A tough choice for a festival, then – how to choose just ten events to represent the breadth of the topic at hand? Poet in the City, an organisation dedicated to promoting poetry to new audiences, had clearly given a lot of thought and pre-planning to their inaugural Poetry and Lyrics festival, The diversity of the programmed events ensured that there was something on offer for every taste, musical or literary.

The highlight of the festival was undoubtedly its opening event – Blurred Lines with BBC 6Music’s Cerys Matthews, in the roles of performer and chairperson. She proved a witty and engaging panel host, and the well-selected panel of guests, with its wide range of interests, was well-chosen: poet Liz Berry, novelist Nadifa Mohamed and Professor of Lieder at the Royal Academy of Music, Richard Stokes. Each guest had brought along a range of poems to be read – some of their own work alongside an eclectic collection of poetry and song.

Matthews performed an opening medley – a valiant attempt to touch on as much of this broad subject as possible in a couple of minutes – which encompassed traditional Welsh tunes, folk songs and the blues. She then switched easily from performer to presenter, joining the rest of the panel to discuss their selections of poetry, prose and song. Nadifa Mohamed explored elements of the Somali poetic tradition while Liz Berry’s quirky and fantastical performance poems were rooted in the sounds and images of the Black Country. Richard Stokes read some amusing quotes from writers on other writers, and selections from his Penguin Book of English Song. The ‘poem or song lyric?’ quiz was greatly appreciated by a vocal audience, who were clearly having a great time. Matthews's skill as a musician was showcased again towards the end of the event with a beautifully lyrical rendition of What A Wonderful World.

Sorana Santos

Sorana Santos’s workshop ‘The Lyric I Made: Inextricable Links’ was a valuable glimpse into the art of song-writing from a passionate and experienced composer, writer and multi-instrumentalist, working primarily in jazz and contemporary music. Her insights were based both on personal experience and extensive research. Taking Tom Waits’s Alice and Joni Mitchell’s Electricity as examples for deconstruction and analysis, the workshop offered an opportunity to discuss the writing process (both informally and through highly formal spreadsheets!) and to delve deep into what it is that makes a great lyric. Sorana was a knowledgeable and thoughtful guide; the workshop equally welcoming to experienced songwriters hoping to improve their practice and curious listeners wondering how a song gets put together.

Dizraeli

Another highlight was the performance from rapper, writer, singer and BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam champion Dizraeli. This was the event that seemed to best illustrate the fusion of poetry and song championed by the festival. Dizraeli is both a talented musician and an incredibly gifted writer. Fantastically witty and cheekily provocative, his socially-conscious blend of rap, song and spoken word was expletive-laden yet wonderfully poignant. At times confessional, at others almost anthemic, Dizraeli had the audience joining in enthusiastically in participatory moments of his set.

Punk is not known for the clarity of its lyrical delivery. The finale event, Tenderness and Rage: The Poetry of Punk, recognising this, took the lyrics of some of the greatest British punk bands and stripped them of their music, presenting them as poems. The result was a compelling exploration of punk’s often-overlooked lyrical side on this 40 year anniversary, with guests TV Smith of The Adverts, Pauline Murray of Penetration and Penny Rimbaud of Crass. Curated by Steve Abbott and hosted by BBC 6Music DJ Steve Lamacq, the emphasis throughout was on punk’s revolutionary, world-changing possibilities. Despite the fact that, as Pauline Murray put it, ‘Punk wasn’t meant to last. (It was nihilistic. It hated everything),’ this event proved that punk has indeed lasted, and continues to be relevant and challenging 40 years later. Music was not completely absent either – TV Smith treated the audience to some early Adverts songs, proving that the spirit of the ‘Bored Teenagers’ of the 1970s never really left.

All of the events brought something different to the festival, taking audiences on a journey around the world and back in time. Singer-songwriter Gareth Bonello, aka The Gentle Good, fused his Welsh heritage with Chinese melodies to tell the life story of Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai. Folk musician Chris Wood and storyteller and poet Hugh Lupton examined the relationship between poetry and folk with journalist Erica Wagner.

Pianist Iain Burnside and tenor Nicky Spence performed some of the most famous settings of the poetry of Walt Whitman by composers from Vaughan Williams to Charles Ives, Ned Rorem and Ivor Gurney, and discussed his legacy with Lucie Skeaping of BBC Radio 3. The instrumental ‘dream-pop-post-folk-neo-everything trio’ Haiku Salut performed their unique blend of chilled electronic and lyrical sounds on a huge range of instruments. Dub-poet Roger Robinson had bodies swaying and heads nodding in time to his set, bringing his optimistic Caribbean accents to a range of tough subjects, starting from the 2011 Brixton riots.

For the first festival they have organized, this was a triumph for Poet in the City. Every event was well-planned and executed; a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Naoise Murphy is currently LondonJazz News's intern. Poet in the City are close neighbours in the Kings Place Musicbase where LJN is based.

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