Two weeks ago I did my final review of City Voices and last night came the time for my final review of Bilston Voices and it was a splendid one for me to finish on. The venue, Cafe Metro in Bilston, has always been a friendly place ideally suited to both new and experienced performers and last night gave us both.
To kick off the evening we had Jack Edwards making his Bilston début. Jack, as he told us before he started, has only been writing poetry since September and is still trying to develop his own style. He's doing a fine job of it too. His poems have strong descriptive quality that draws the listener in while describing commonplace, everyday things and events. His opener, The Red Bike was description of an abandoned bike. Clear Crossing was a short poem about a woman too nervous to cross the road. Fog-lights was exactly what it sounds like, a description of driving in fog. He has a fine turn of phrase that lends these descriptions a deeper metaphorical quality. It would be damning with faint praise to suggest that he did a great set for a newcomer because he did a fine set by any standards.
Jack was followed by Lucy Jeynes who described her set as "quite dark" but that was a bit misleading. Certainly bits of it were dark but it was a well structured and varied performance that started with The Invitation a poem about an invitation to a coffee morning in Hades; rattled through The Business of Waiting which perfectly captured the rhythmic boredom of office work; handed us a group of poems that gave a cynical feminist twist to familiar fairy tales; suggested in Den and Angie that we watch soap operas to learn how to behave in domestic situations; described the human heart in what was perhaps the only truly dark poem of the set and finished with a humourous pastiche of the Lord's Prayer in "A Prayer for World Facilities Management Day". It was confident and thoroughly entertaining.
The following act was an old favourite, Ray Jones, who always manages to please the audience with his well-crafted and superbly read short stories. Last night's Thick Barry, a tale of childhood trauma told by an adult who had never learned to read and write kept the whole venue in rapt silence. You could hear the scratching of my pen, so intense was the concentration he was given. The voice of the character was perfectly realised as he recollected the bullying of his history teacher and the taunts of his classmates. Excellent stuff.
After the break Madge Gilbey took us into the realms of Black Country dialect poetry. It's the kind of stuff that can be tricky to pull off but the great secret is that the poems have to be strong enough to work without the dialect element which then just adds a new layer to them. Madge's certainly were. She started strongly with Man Boobs, a funny piece suggesting that men are gradually changing sex. Bare Facts described how shaken her husband was at the sight of someone's naked backside. Other poems took us through the trauma of washing cricket whites with coloureds, a state brothel for pensioners, receiving a first ever Valentine's card in later life and even closed with a farewell to the audience in rhyme. All the poems were clever and funny and thoroughly appreciated by everyone there.
The final act of the night was the remarkable Richard Tyrone-Jones. He gave us a very polished twenty minutes in lively style with wonderful poetry and witty intelligent introductions. His opener was a short and very pithy piece about receiving an odd party invitation. Most of his pieces were similarly short and clever, delivered as the poetry equivalent of fast paced one-liners from a top comedian. He even gave us a few fast and funny limericks.
There were a couple of forays into more serious territory as he described having a heart attack in his thirties and they were intense and powerful and every bit as good as the humour that made up the bulk of his set before he returned to making us laugh for the finish. He is a truly original and excellent performer.
And then it was all over. Before the next Bilston Voices I shall have left the area and before the one after that I shall have left the country. I'll be back eventually and when I am I look forward to visiting it again. For the moment, I couldn't have hoped for a better line-up to send me off.