Years ago now Crotchety Man was watching a documentary about old sitcoms on the BBC. The discussion turned to The Good Life, a TV series about a cheap plastic toy designer, Tom Good, who gives up his well-paid but unfulfilling job to turn his suburban house into a small-holding and become entirely self-sufficient. Needless to say this presented quite a few practical difficulties, difficulties that the programme makers exploited with hilarious results.
Tom and his wife, Barbara, were played by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal and they were the most lovable couple ever invented for the TV. Tom was full of clever ideas that never went according to plan but he pursued them with unquenchable passion and faced every difficulty with unshakeable good humour. Barbara loved him for that, supported him in everything he did and comforted him when things went wrong. Together they navigated life’s ups and downs with warm cuddles and silly jokes. The characters were so real and the acting so natural that it was hard to know whether you were watching Briers and Kendal, the actors, or Tom and Barbara, the characters they were playing.
In the documentary a long-time fan of The Good Life paid tribute to the programme and the actors saying, “I’m still in love with Felicity Kendal”. With that, deep within Crotchety Man, the clapper of a big brass bell swung, metal struck metal and the ring of truth resounded through his being. There are no better words to express the relationship between the young Mr. Crotchety and a warm, fun, desirable, but fictitious and therefore unattainable vision of womanhood on the TV screen. That fan and I had both fallen in love with a beautiful illusion.
Some three weeks ago Crotchety Man fell in love again. This time the object of his affections was the poet, Kate Tempest. Now, I’m not particularly interested in poetry on the whole, especially that of old school poets like Byron, Keats and Tennyson. It’s where song lyrics become poetic that I start to take notice. Artists such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are the poets that stir my bones and tickle my flesh. There are some poets on the fringes of the music business that are interesting, too: Roger McGough, John Cooper Clarke and Ian McMillan spring to mind. Kate Tempest belongs in that hinterland. She is undoubtedly a poet but she often works with musicians and she released her Let Them Eat Chaos album on 7th October.
Let me say straight away that Let Them Eat Chaos is not about the music; it’s all about the words. Well, no, that does a disservice to Kate and her band. While the focus is clearly on the wordplay this is a piece of performance art in which words, music and visual aspects all contribute to the whole. So, uniquely on the Crotchety Man blog, I invite you to watch the video of Kate’s live performance for the BBC. As usual I am assuming that the video on YouTube constitutes a violation of copyright but watch it anyway – it’s an experience not to be missed. (For viewers in the UK it’s legally available on the iPlayer for another week or so.)
Kate Tempest is a poet in the modern style. She writes about the issues of the day: everything from global warming and the banking crisis to employment, drugs and the gentrification of the suburbs. She comes across as the unremarkable girl next door but still manages to tackle these topics with intelligence and wit. Although she is now 30 she looks much younger and her delivery appeals to a young audience. The rhythm of her poetry fully justifies the ‘rap’ label but it’s white girl rap, articulate, insightful and relevant to all of us, not just a badge of honour for black guys.
We are still mythical;
we are still
somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful.
Let Them Eat Chaos is a portrait of seven people on the same city street. Those seven people and only those seven people are awake at 4:18 in the morning. Each track on the album draws another part of the street or paints another character onto the sonic canvas. There are goalposts painted on that green garage door. Esther has just come home after a night shift as a care worker. Bradley has all the benefits of a good job but doesn’t feel fulfilled and can’t understand why.
Each track is a poem complete in itself. And each poem is stitched onto a flowing, rhythmic sheet of sound to form a larger work. Synthesisers and drums march us forward while keyboard motifs add light and colour. Sometimes we pause and take stock. Then the beat rouses us again and propels us on down the street. Another door, another sleepless character.
Three weeks ago, as I watched Performance Live: Kate Tempest, I fell in love with the young poet for the same reason I loved Felicity Kendal playing Barbara Good. Kate is intelligent, warm and talented. But above all she has the confidence to be herself. Kate Tempest doesn’t hide behind an invented persona; the performance poet on stage is the same girl you might meet on the street. Of course, I’ve never met her but I admire her honesty and her talent. Life will always be Good while there are artists like Kate Tempest around.