Gig of the week: Poet Kate Tempest in Dublin

English spoken word performer should put on vibrant show at Vicar Street

There are few enough contemporary poets that have stretched across from a niche to mainstream audience, and even then awareness borders on the vague (or, for some, begets novelty value). Not many people under the age of 30 will nod in recognition whenever the likes of Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke and Benjamin Zephaniah are mentioned in passing (each came to public notice in the UK punk/new wave period of 1976-83, although Zephaniah has landed in the middle of the mainstream these days via his acting role of Jeremiah Jesus in Peaky Blinders).

Over the past 10 years, however, the noble art of the spoken word performer has gained a new audience nurtured, nourished and strongly influenced by hip-hop. Ireland has a wealth of such artists: Colm Keegan, Natalya O'Flaherty, John Cummins, Sasha Terfous, Stephen James Smith, Carl Plover, and many more, but – so far, at least – there isn't anyone as multi-dimensional and/or successful as Londoner Kate Tempest.


Born in 1985, Tempest graduated in English Literature from Goldsmiths, University of London, performing initially at open mic events in London, and then touring with the likes of Cooper Clarke and Zephaniah. Fast forward to 2012, and with much touring and performing under her belt, Tempest debuted her theatrical spoken word piece Brand New Ancients, a Ted Hughes Prize winner. Not many poets can manage to corral influences as wide as WB Yeats and Wu Tang Clan (and more besides), but Tempest did just that.

It caused the New York Times to proclaim the work as “a story so vivid it’s as if you had a state-of-the-art Blu-ray player stuffed into your brain, projecting image after image that sears itself into your consciousness... While she moves casually across the stage, she often seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork with the urgency of the telling.” Two years later, Tempest released her debut (and Mercury Prize-nominated) album, Everybody Down, a story cycle wryly focusing on low rent drug deals and high-risk sex work.


Creative force

An official debut poetry collection (Hold Your Own, 2014), a debut novel (The Bricks That Built the Houses, 2016), and a second album (Let Them Eat Chaos, 2016, also nominated for the Mercury Prize) subsequently established her as a creative force to be reckoned with. This year's third solo album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, copper fastened her increasing appeal. "Rarely has spoken word been rendered so vividly and musically vibrant" noted this paper's reviewer. "The album looks set to… alter the notions of how potent spoken word can be when it is matched with the right music."

And yet Tempest has changed from her early performances, becoming, as the years have passed, just as observant but less hostile. “I’m older now,” she told this writer a short while ago, “and lots of things have changed. I understand more about the world now – and me. My life experiences, my philosophies, my politics – they’ve not softened, I think, but expanded. I see more and I feel more, and I want my words to be more open. I had to start in a furious, aggressive way because that’s just the way it was… Plus, the other thing is that I don’t feel as angry towards things as I used to. I feel more hopeful, sometimes sadder, and the delivery and poetry reflect that.”

Kate Tempest performs at Vicar Street, Dublin, Friday, November 15th