by Aimee Vickers
Hosted by Jeff Price, the Radikal Words event at The Northern Stage presented artists of unique beliefs, class and race with each individual providing an unforgettable performance.
The event was opened by Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, a quartet of lovely ladies who recently won a battle of the bands to perform at Glastonbury. Their opening piece was beautifully harmonised and acapella. It was raw and real: a description that suitably sums up the evening as a whole. Their set was mesmerizing, ghostly and melancholy. The folk genre told stories of the performers’ personal lives which I couldn’t help but admire for its humour, delicacy and intimacy.
The first poet to take the stage was Andy Croft, who had come from his poetry class in a nearby prison. His work was playful and intelligent with an undertone of deep social criticism, whether it be the need for solidarity against stubbornness or the acceptance of those that are different, Andy supplied us with life’s random and wonderful experiences.
Next up was a personal highlight for me: previous poet in residence at the Glastonbury Festival, Tony Walsh Longfella. His performance truly touched me as his crude and hilariously rude realities brought a new beauty to the mundane. His stories, like ‘Let’s Make a Love’, were erotic as he admitted that the line ‘let’s put the KY into kinky’ was by far the best he had ever written. It left me hoping, as I’m sure it did many of those in the audience, that I could perhaps one day have what he speaks of. His charisma and painful honesty about his life made him captivating to watch as the stories he told veered from that of a young girl, lacking the vocabulary and literacy to express her pain and grief. Longfella told how she could only tell her story of a suspicious and sinister sexual experience in his poem ‘www.whalnutwhipped.co.uk’. I admire his abandonment of pretentious poetry and the adoption of a simple approach to handling life. I can’t express, without rambling, the beauty I found in his work so please do look up his new book, Sex and Love and Rock and Roll , to experience Tony’s hilariously touching words.
After the interval, Jenni Pascoe took to the stage to perform a seamlessly linked set of discussion and poetry. It is always nice to see a woman who is not afraid to laugh at herself. Her awkward and quirky performance was theatrical and witty. Her debunking of classically romantic works produced a laugh-out-loud performance that was wonderfully individual.
Finally, we came to the headlining act of the evening, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. I have never been more encapsulated by a performer’s charisma and boldness. Her Jamaican accent wrung throughout the room as she performed, in both spoken word and song, the works of her life. The rich imagery spoke of freedom and a ‘debt to all black and white oppressor.’ Her intense and outspoken visions of a righteous and just world left me feeling wholly inadequate in my life’s achievements so far.
She spoke of the empire working in strange ways; without this oppression she would never have been given the language that gave her access to communicate with those from other third world countries, her silver lining to a dark past that allowed her to protest against the injustices of the world. She is a revolutionary and radical campaigner for human rights. Her realities reflect on the struggles of the real world as she spoke of her march against war and the critique of democracy. When two million (as she believes there were) people take to the streets and are simply ignored, the contradictions and hypocrisy of democracy are exposed. Within her work about the Iraq war, she ferociously protested against the working classes being the ones sent to die first. She said ‘fuck the flag’ as that or a medal cannot compensate for the loss of a son or husband.
Her words on love were tender and melancholy in her work ‘I Know, Me Duck’ as she reminisced on her past and present loves. Never before have I had the honour to be in the company of a woman who has led a life of justice and spoken with the voice of morality, but at the same time, she was wickedly humorous and painfully honest. I have great respect for her as an individual and for her work. I will most certainly be getting her selected and new poems as I feel that she is an example of a true poet who has lived a life worth talking about.
I hope that the The Radikal Words event continues to be supported by Apples and Snakes and The Northern Stage, as it was a night laced with humour, love and raw talent, one which is quite unforgettable.