Caught in a maelstrom of accusatory descriptions; award winning poet; glottal stopping rapper; Brit school graduate; nothing Kate Tempest does fits easily into a press releasable box. Rapping since she was old enough to talk, with a diversion into poetry and spoken word performance, debut album Everybody Down sought to combine the two. Managing it masterfully, it tells the tale of a triumvirate of characters as they make their way through the obstacle course that is 21st century London, pairing Tempest's observations with the sparse backdrop of producer Dan Carey's stylings.
It is a concept that could so easily have fallen apart within the confines of a live tour. Instead, what we witnessed at the Brudenell was magnificence. The nearest we'll get to an opera, with full live band, the set follows the same tale as the album. Whereas on record, the feeling was one of a passenger, the listener peering out at the city from the windows of a cab, in the live performance it becomes almost participatory, the passion palpable both on stage and in the audience. The obvious reference point is The Streets, but the world and us have changed markedly in the years since Mike Skinner's first release, stories woven of the everyday seem to carry more meaning.
The picture she expertly paints is that of a broken generation, a country in flux, a Britain of tax avoidance and benefit sanctions, of widening chasms between the haves and have nothings. It tells of fractured community and gives voice to our need for change, even prompting an NHS midwife, albeit slightly drunkenly, to come to the stage and tell her tale of pressures and cutbacks. It is beautifully, subtly but unapologetically political and it is everything that is missing in modern popular music. Because that's the thing; it's also unapologetically pop. Her performance is joyous exuberance, and tracks like Circles and Stink swell with infectious melody that would give the Taylor Swifts of this world a run for their money. Unconcerned with image or pigeonholing herself or tempering her beliefs for wider consumption, but simultaneously a sucker for a good song, what that gives us is slickly produced, unbelievably catchy but intelligent, well constructed anthems for a generation. You know, like Billy Bragg used to be, if he wasn't such a miserable sod.
It's been a long time since a gig brought me to sober tears, if ever, but this show moved me in ways I didn't know I needed moving. The world is a scary, overwhelming place at times, and for us all to be reminded that we're not alone in our desire to make it different, come May or indeed just come tomorrow, in any small way, was testament to the power of music when wielded properly, and to the ability of Tempest as a performer. In a world of feminism denying starlets and identikit, ready made pop puppets, she is uniquely outspoken in message and life-affirming in performance.
Words - Angi Strafford
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Watch - 'The Beigeness' Official video