Yesterday was Bilston Voices time again and the five performers on offer played to the usual packed and appreciative house at the Cafe Metro in Bilston. First on the bill was Louise Stokes. I've seen her a few times now and, because she usually performs character comedy in the guise of one of her alter-egos, have often been a little indifferent. Character performances, however well done, are just not my thing. Last night, however she he did only one poem in the voice of Kimmy-Sue Anne, one her most popular characters, but chose to perform most of the rest of the set as herself. I enjoyed it all the more for it. Her poems are often on very serious topics. Whether it is the pain (rather than the pleasure) of love in "Stay" or how mental illness can cause you to push away those who most want to help in "Meltdown", they are powerful and provocative. She finished with a rather self-knowing poem about writing in the voices of those other characters, interspersing verses in different voices with verses in her own. It was all very clever stuff and worked very well. A fine performance that had me warming to her work much more than on previous occasions.
Gary Longden is another accomplished performer, well known on the circuit. He started with an slightly uncharacteristic serious piece that he announced as a short trilogy though I would have been hard pressed to divide into three what seemed to me a single coherent description of an area of parkland and the adjacent motorway. He followed with a couple of pieces that employed a device he often uses - poems that seem to start out very serious but suddenly have a twist that undermines their seriousness. So, for example his poem about Tigers initially seemed as if it was going to be lyrical but changed rapidly with the introduction of Tony the Tiger, the well known cartoon breakfast cereal salesman. He raced through a set of humourous verse on subjects as diverse as new babies, adultery (another poem that gradually warped from sounding relatively serious to something much lighter and funnier), stealing stuff from work and Anne Widdecombe not to mention a new piece about an unfortunate encounter with a pub condom machine. Good stuff.
The first half was rounded out by the gentler and quieter humour of Maggie Doyle. Like Gary, she started with a serious piece, reflecting on her memories, but soon moved on to a set that meandered humorously through her life. We had the ever popular poem about a disastrously bad blind date, the slightly more serious one about someone missing out on life because of living with her mother. She finished with the lengthy and accurately funny "I Want To Retire And Write Poetry".
The second half of the very strong bill started with another favourite, Tom Jenkins who did a set of his best pieces including the witty Iamb Cat, which demonstrates not only the cleverness of his humour but also the sureness of his actual knowledge of poetry theory. He also gave us Chemistry, the poem he performed at the Love Slam and Rockstar about being (rather not being) cool. Like Gary in the first half he included a slightly less characteristic serious love poem which was also very good.
The final performer was David Calcutt who admits that he doesn't write humourous poems so what we got was a serious and lyrical set. Secret Fox is an excellent descriptive and evocative piece. His description of gathering frog spawn from a pond was, he told us, not a poem, but it sounded pretty damned poetical to me. Sword In The Stone was rhythmic and compelling. Zoo Tiger painted a stark picture of how tigers fare in captivity. My favourite piece of the whole night was Gabriel's Hounds, a terrific portrait of mining in the Black Country. How can you not love something with imagery that includes a description of music as "crashing round the room like a crazed bird"?
Bilston Voices never disappoints but this line was one of the strongest yet and all of the performers were at the top of their game. Another great night out.
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