The first performer was Lily Gaskell. Despite the similarity in our names, I could not get much out of her performance. Lily Gaskell and Louise Distras, who played the music slot at Unity Words in May, are different people, and there are some differences between their performances. But they are very similar. Just about all my reservations about Lily Gaskell are the same as the ones I had about Louise Distras. If you are going to play a solo guitar and sing, you need to have a reasonably sophisticated picking technique, and you need to vary your playing and your vocals to create something resembling a tone palette, rather than a massive splurge – certainly if you are going to play to audiences of people who are over 30.
Jamie Thrasivoulou, the first spoken word artist, performed without a microphone. His voice projection was just right for the size of the room. He is from Derby, and has an East Midlands accent, which is something I always notice, because the East Midlands accent is, in my opinion, the most under-represented regional accent in England.
Jamie is a very energetic performer, but he uses variation in volume and vocal style to good effect. He has quite a varied speech register, combining references to drug-taking and homelessness with descriptions of Cyprus, and mentions of Allen Ginsberg. He recited mostly from memory, but he also read from his collection, ‘The Best Of A Bad Situation’. For (at least) his last piece, he put his whole body into it: he was throwing his hands about, staggering from side-to-side, occupying the stage.
I can think of two comparisons to make. The obvious one, which I gather that Jamie has heard before, is with Sleaford Mods: ranting about working class liberation in an East Midlands accent, while wearing a polo shirt. The less obvious one is with the late and lamented Michael Smith, from Jamaica. I didn’t understand every line that Michael Smith uttered, but I could always feel it. That is how Jamie Thrasivoulou’s performance struck me.
Ralph Dartford stood in for what would usually have been the mentored poet. He is practising for his forthcoming show, ‘Recovery Songs’. He did a piece about childhood friendship, a piece about Hillsborough (on the day that David Duckenfield was charged). He contravened his own principle, and read a piece from the screen of his smart phone. He did a piece about a drug addict. The recurring themes in his set were substance abuse, relationships, and the passing of time. As a dry run, it was pretty good. I would be interested to hear the material again, when it is the final performance.
There were three Pandemonium Poets. The first was Tony Gadd. He has a North Eastern accent, and began with a piece called ‘Siren’s Tears’, about government cuts to emergency services. He did another piece which was somewhat disparaging about Wetherspoon pubs.
The second Pandemonium Poet was Tim Fellows. Like Jamie Thrasivoulou, he is from Derbyshire. His first piece was about a mining accident which killed a member of his family. The next was called ‘Cumulo Nimbus’, and was about depression. The last was a comic piece about trogging the food at funeral receptions.
The last Pandemonium Poet was Steve Harrison, who has performed at Unity Words, before. The subject matter of his first piece, ‘Apron Strings’, was Yorkshire pudding batter, but it is an inter-generational poem, about the poet’s mother. The next was about a Wetherspoon’s pub in Wellington, called the William Withering, the botanist who discovered digitalin. Steve’s pieces are quietly-spoken, well-observed, and have some nice elements of craft about them.
The evening’s new performer was Caitlin Lyons. This was her first public performance. The subject of her poem was anxiety, of which she clearly has personal knowledge. As a subject for one’s first ever public performance, anxiety is a difficult one. Caitlin’s delivery was excellent. I suggest that, if she wants to develop mental health as a subject for her work, it is one of those things that is best looked at from a sideways angle, but her delivery style is pretty much there.
The headliner was Maria Ferguson, from Romford, in Essex. She started talking about how she loves pubs, and we had the third reference of the evening to Wetherspoon’s. Maria’s show, and publication, is called, ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’.
Maria Ferguson’s work is contemporary, what I call “urban” (by which I mean appealing to and understood by people who live in towns and cities), and most of it is unrhymed. She has a varied delivery style, and some parts of her pieces are sung rather than spoken. She gets away with this much better than some other artists.
Her main themes are a sense of place and identity, gentrification, feminism, friendship, and the passing of time. Towards the end of her set, she offered the audience a choice between a piece about her favourite country (Tunisia), or one about going on a sunbed (with the underlying theme of subverting the mainstream image of ‘Essex girls’. The audience were unanimous in asking for both pieces.