Let's be honest. I didn't really know what to expect. I only knew of Scroobius Pip through younger, hipper friends and I thought he did music with dan le sac. I mean, he does, so I was right. And also wrong. Because I didn't know he'd started as a spoken word artist and I didn't know that the gig I'd said I'd go to so I could review it was his spoken word tour. That's because I'm a bit lazy and I just read the pertinent words, ie. Scroobius Pip at The Duchess, aka my new place of work, aka my new home from home, aka just across the road.
And then I had a really bad day and decided that no, I wasn't going to go to a club and potentially be bored shitless just so I can review it. I'm going to stay in, drink tea and watch University Challenge.
Then my boss texted and asked me to cover a shift.
So I girded my metaphorical loins and thought I'd just dig in and endure it. It probably wouldn't be that bad, would it? It's just that... well... spoken word stuff is just so cringe inducing isn't it? If it's not stand up comedy and it's not music, then it's just someone reading out the words they wrote in just their voice. It's so naked and exposed. So much room for error. It's performance art. Words that I try never to utter and certainly try not to be in the same room as. I really don't like awkward performing on stage. When words hit dead air and disappear into a vacuum of blank indifference, it's terrifying.
A Brummie guy came on stage. He started talking. I think he opened with a joke and I felt comfortable. Stand up comedy I know. Stand up comedy is fine. And then he started talking in rhyme, sort of like rapping but not. And I was immediately uncomfortable. But as he went on, he got me interested. So much so that I felt irritated when people asked for a drink. Although that's not massively unusual for me I suppose.
Then a girl called Kate Tempest came on. And she started reciting (reading, speaking, rapping, I honestly don't know what to call it) more rhymes (poems, verses, flows??). And they started riffing off each other. And it was good. I can't even say why in retrospect. But the words, and their passion and their energy and their drive made it something good. The only time Polarbear lost me was when he was talking about his city and how much he loves it. And that's only because I also grew up near Birmingham and don't have that love. But maybe that's because I'm from a leafy suburb near Solihull and not the streets. I'm just not urban.
One interval later and Pip himself came on stage. He'd been loitering by the merchandising stall so I'd seen him earlier. A tall guy with a huge beard and dapper dress sense. And, as it turns out, a really really Essex accent. I hadn't expected that.
He started with a story about how he can't go to his local pubs on account of the massive racism that's rife in the area and the fact that locals assume he's a Muslim terrorist because of his beard. He, rather gorgeously, explained how he couldn't then dissuade them as it would add grist to the fantasy mill of 'us' and 'them' so generally just goes with it and then leaves quickly.
Then the poems started. Death, suicide, grief, regret and unrequited love featured heavily. The unrequited love one was the lighthearted effort, he explained. I started to love him a little bit. Mesmerising performance, a totally unpretentious delivery, and words that cut through to how life is. My tiny mind was actually blown.
I love words, music, lyrics, stories, books, novels, non-fiction, anything that makes me feel. That simplifies all the banal shit we deal with in a lifetime of human experience and cuts to the core. I listened to this guy talking on stage for an hour and bits of it were actually sublime. It woke my brain up. Made me feel alive.
It even transcended my irritation with that guy in the audience. You know that guy? The one who laughs in 'recognition' before the punchline? The one who so wants to be seen as the artist's biggest fan that they alternately heckle with embarrassing sycophancy or cackle with a laugh that can be heard in the next city? Well, that guy was there. He reminded me of that guy in the audience of every performance of a Shakespeare comedy who ostentatiously guffaws at the 'jokes' to show he understands them, despite the fact that they're a) really easy to understand but just not funny and b) no one has genuinely laughed at them since Elizabethan times.
After the show Pip showed himself to be absolutely lovely and indulged in a fair amount of banal chit chat while we cleaned up the inevitable detritus that follows any gig ever.
He won me over. To his words. And to spoken word. A whole genre I previously dismissed, all because I wouldn't have the guts to do it myself and risk the indifference of the audience.
Shitballs. I picked up a scarf from backstage with the honest intention of returning it to the artists. I missed them and then absent mindedly put it on. It's in my house. I just had a text from my boss pointing out it is actually Mr Pip's and he'd kind of like it back.