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Waterfront, Norwich, 5/12/2016
I’d guess Kate Tempest came to many people's attention by way of her philosophical and insightful poetry 'Brand New Ancients', which gained her the prestigious Ted Hughes Award in 2013. The following year she released her debut album 'Everybody Down', further conveying her lyrical dexterity. Thereafter everyone was talking about the girl from Brockley in south-east London.
Tempest has developed into an acclaimed author, playwright, and hip hop-styled stage artist, quickly positioned as a voice for the youth being lost to consumerism and globalisation and fearing for their future prospects. Her second album, 'Let Them Eat Chaos', released at the back end of 2016 and produced by Dan Carey once again tackles a whole plethora of social issues and concerns. If you’ve ever woken in the early hours and thought, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?”, this album is for you.
Here at The Waterfront in Norwich she tells the very enthusiastic audience she will be playing the album all the way through. “It’s the most honest thing I can do.” Which doesn’t quite gel with me, as this means we probably won’t be hearing any of her first album material. No issues for the capacity crowd, however, as the whoops and hollering of delight confirm. She continues on a serious note: “ What we are currently experiencing are some of the biggest divisions in my lifetime. Things have got to change”, as the opening beats of the gig and album begin.
Tempest has just edged into her thirties. Most of the audience look as if 30 years old is many, many years away. In fact, if bar protocol is anything to go by (five guys ordering two waters and a bag of crisps, then paying by card) I’d’ say most of the Norwich Student Union are here.
Tempest brings together a group of angry, lost, disillusioned, exploited souls surviving in flats and bedsits, working in shit jobs, hoping for a future rather than the wheel of despair they ride each day. The timeline which bonds them all together is 4:18 a.m. Collectively awake, scared, worried, tearful. Waiting for another sad day to dawn. She paints a canvas with her words. The dark bleak backdrop tips a nod to the writings of William Blake whom she is known to admire.
The gig/album takes a little time to settle, with some of her wordplay lost against the backdrop of electronic percussion. Tempest is baggy in shirt and trousers but oh so tight when she hits her stride on 'Europe is Lost':
“Esther’s a carer, doing nights.
Behind her, on the kitchen wall is a black and white picture of swallows in flight.
Her eyes are sore, her muscles ache.
She cracks open a beer and swigs it.
She holds it to her thirsty lips
And necks it till it’s finished.
It’s 04:18 a.m. again”
Maybe some of the sentiments and rage have been said before. Last week, last year, last century. But this feels like a new movement. A room full of soldiers in need of leadership who have signed up to be in Tempest's army.
Throughout the set she pleads for people to understand the strength of the individual. Almost a cry to arms. She hits bullseye with a verse from 'Coffee Time', her seminal lyrics on a culture of living in rental accommodation:
“Naff for years, the landlord never fixed the shower
And mould kept growing on the kitchen walls.
He’ll do it up nice now, sure.
Repaint it, he’s tripled the rent.
He’s gonna get it, all”
Yes, she’s taken a microcosm of London life, once again controlled by everyone but the individual. Individuals on the edge. Unable to cope. Out of control.
It’s fair to say the Waterfront goes crazy. The audience's anger is palpable.
Tempest continues in attack mode, to some degree she sees malevolence everywhere. Financial misdemeanours, the refugee crisis, class status, no beds in NHS hospitals, drones in the sky, environmental catastrophe.
On 'Tunnel Vision' she asks is this what we are leaving the kids:
“Tasty, tasty poison
Carcinogenic, diabetic, asthmatic, epileptic, post-traumatic, bipolar and disaffected”
One of the characters, Bradley, a Mancunian PR bod, is a long way from home, lost and alone in London in a state of mental turmoil. He asks himself:
“What’m I going to do to wake up? I know it’s happening, but who is it happening to?”
Some of the front row yell back, “It’s us, it’s happening to us.”
As the drum and electronic hip hop beat pulsates through her thought-provoking lyrics, many people are in tears. (It ain’t alcohol induced, no chance, you can’t get near the bar). No, this is Tempest making a connection with the disillusioned. (Where did we hear that last year?)
Tempest is first and foremost a very talented wordsmith. Her music is simply a vehicle for heartfelt expression of opinions and concerns to a like-minded fanbase.
She isn’t afraid to broach difficult subjects, continually asking challenging questions. Not always looking to provide answers, that isn’t her role.
“Wake up and love more” is her final line of the night. A demand, request, instruction, hope for the future. Perhaps what she is really asking is the question which visits in the early hours, perhaps 4:18 a.m.: “What are you doing to change your world?”
Kate Tempest - a woman with something to say, a woman worth a listen and a read.
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Owen Peters at The Waterfront in Norwich experiences why so many people are drawn to the words of Kate Tempest.
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