Whilst other poets and performers might covet trophies, accolades or publication my biggest “prose goes pro” dream would one day to be invited to share the stage with the Tongue Fu team. Combining the soul of jazz with the power of practised poetry Chris Redmond has crafted an evening that moves your feet, heart and head.
The musical background and theme of the evening is established by Redmond as he takes to the stage of the Arnolfini as part of the Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival. Tongue Fu springs up in various locations across the country and I was pleasantly surprised and incredibly excited to finally get a chance to pop along and see what it was all about during an impromptu trip to Bristol. The stars had aligned and I was not disappointed, it began with an introduction to the band and the audience with a short piece of jam practise and participation. Tongue Fu allows poets to let their poetry sing over an improvised arrangement provided by the talented musicians on stage. The fact that what you are listening to has been created on the spot, purely for you and will never be recreated is something that is incredibly humbling and wonderfully unique, such an intimate performance creates a heartfelt connection with it’s audience.
Throughout the evening the band served as both anchor and pick me up, the one time only collaboration of Riaan Vosloo, Dan Moore and Dave Smith was a source of humour and genuine musical amazement. They easily took the sometimes daft, confusing and overly poetic descriptions of how the performers imagined the “song” to sound and turned it into something tangible and real. “It want it to sound like Autumn, but a little warmer”, “Make it sound like the poster to a Zooey Deschanel movie” and various iterations and differentiations on “throbbing” being just some of the requests thrown to the unflusterable band who achieved and delivered exactly what was requested with grace and skill.
Beginning with Chris Redmond, the compere and opening performer rides the band like this is far from his first rodeo. He delivers witty and insightful pieces relating to his love of music, family and the creative process. The image of him running down his street buck naked in bold defiance of growing old and “normal” is one that is now burned into the collective brain of the audience.
Malaika Kegode is a powerful and accomplished performer who braved the Arnolfini even though she wasn’t operating at her usual goddess power levels. Whilst she may have been under the weather, her passion and clear joy at combining with the musicians on stage meant her pieces which are lyrically dexterous enough to sing on their own, shone all the brighter.
Anna Freeman might have stolen the show. Her acutely sharpened wit and side-splittingly charming bluntness allow her to keep the crowd laughing as she gently inserts a finger into their cerebral cortex to give it a wiggle. It was her descriptions for the soundscapes she imagined that really stuck out though, not only did they add an extra layer to the poems themselves but they played with the format in an inventive and engaging manner.
Vanessa Kissuule interacted with and laced herself delicately and sometimes proficiently not so delicately over the top of the musicians in a way that none of the other performers quite emulated. Taking her poems and utterly re-purposing them she gave detailed and amusing instructions to the band and clear cues throughout meaning they were able to punctuate and backdrop her pieces incredibly concisely. It was a marriage and it allowed her work to groove, have fun and shake itself all over the dancefloor.
After the break we rejoined the room in welcoming to the stage Dizraeli. This is an artist and man whose creativity and output I keep a close eye on, he never fails to inspire and strike a chord. This was far from the Dizraeli who we reviewed as the conclusion to last years BEAF fringe, in the past year he has clearly been on a journey of introspection, realisation and examination. Which is a nice way to say he may have been struggling with his mental health, not a man to shy away from the topic though he has instead met it head on and channelled it into his work providing a conversation and focus for and with the audience. It has to be said that Dizraeli changed the mood of the evening providing a more sombre and thought provoking twist. It also highlights the versatility of both Tongue Fu itself and of the place that these artists inhabit. Whilst they sometimes waltz naked and carefree by moonbeam at others this can be eclipsed and the dance is a little more devilish in the darkness. Dizraeli is speaking his truth and it’s a message that is going to connect and provide a great deal of support and comfort to a great deal of his audience who may be going through shockingly similar circumstances. Mixing easily into the music Dizraeli was able to perform a set that showcased his talent and versatility whilst also providing food for thought. Timothy be damned.
Words by Matt Miles