15 March 2016
The Blue Chair
Not so much a twitch but rather a wild, obstreperous thing has rejuvenated the Glasgow spoken word scene over the last few years. Not that pre-2013 poetry in the city’s cafes, bars, and favourite hang-outs did not already conduce a compelling evening, but a highly welcome resurgence in the art-form has stirred from a number of highs and lows which have affected the city in recent times. List them – the Scottish referendum, the Clutha Vaults tragedy, the Commonwealth Games, the Art School on fire, MTV EMA’s, the George Square bin lorry accident, and so on. Subsequently, this has trebled the number of spoken word nights held across the city as voices, both young and old, have jostled for time on the microphone to air their grievances, ecstasies, and stories addressing what has been happening in their lives during these turbulent times, and also demonstrated stellar minds which have reflected on what is happening across the rest of the world – from Trump cards to astronaut housekeeping.
Towards the end of 2015, rapper and lyricist Johnny Cypher (Spence) launched ‘Extra Second’, a new spoken word event which considered a different themed subject each month and deliberate over its meaning, purpose, hopes, and experience. Cypher explains “A lot of the time at a full gig with loud music, it was sometimes hard getting the subject matter across in the songs. I loved the idea of stripping the music away and laying the lyrics bare. Starting my own night was really just a way to have some control over the themes and try bring together people from the hip-hop community and the poetry community”. Certainly stimulating issues such as self-image and the role of the artist have both previously been tackled by poets, MC’s and wordsmiths this year, with an increasing list of performers featuring each month at this popular event. March 2016’s subject considered “Love Is…”, and Cypher’s deliberate title-ambiguity allowed the subject matter to be widely cross-examined by a number of performers.
Opening with an hour-long open mic session at 6.30pm, this allowed inquisitive teatime passers-by on the High Street to poke a curious nose or ear into the Blue Chair and catch a flavour of what the rest of the evening had to offer. The café has become a significant gang hut for Weegie poets over the last twelve months, much as the Roxy Club had formerly presented, supplying an adequate artistic space where people of all ages, creeds, and colours can read their poetry in a safe and welcoming environment. “The Blue Chair reminds me of a scene in Carl Sagan’s cosmos”, remarks Cypher – “He referred to a time in Germany where people would meet in cafes and discuss the cutting edge of scientific topics of the time; an atmosphere of learning and discussion, and this was the feeling I got when I first visited here”. Cypher further added “It was the very friendly, exciting and challenging environment I enjoyed most – welcoming to newcomers as well as veterans”. Among the open mic voices this evening were the generous tones of Monica Pitman fondly recalling the incredible Jimi Hendrix, and an engaging poem by Sunny Govan Radio’s Sindigo (Sarah Simpson) which yearned to fill a hole in a damaged heart. Both ladies warm personalities were the perfect start for the evening ahead.
Proceedings kicked off with Cumnock’s Jim Monaghan proclaiming to have no love poems in his repertoire, but with ample charm and charisma the Ayrshire man delivered a fine dose of humour and nostalgia in his set which included “Lies About Iraq”, a tribute to Adrian Mitchell’s 1965 classic verse, To Whom It May Concern. This was followed by arguably the star turn of the evening as Victoria McNulty waltzed through stunning poem after stunning poem. McNulty’s zest was infectious as she flapped her arms and tossed words out like we were dogs fetching sticks, recalling tales from the Gallowgate, friends, family; the Stone Roses. Watch out for this one – the confidence is high and the poems are incredible. Occasionally, the poetry was interspersed with short acoustic sets including Lisa Gilday’s winsome melodies which carried dusky undertones mirroring the setting sun outside. Lines including ‘You’ve changed for the worst / never put me first’ soared above the gentle strumming and inviting smile upon the young musician’s face.
Between the poets and musicians, the rap-influenced styles of Cypher, Paul Wardrop, and Edinburgh’s Jyothis Padmanabhan (Joe With The Glasses) injected a healthy measure of intricate word play and rhythmic form which were greeted by the sounds of seal-honking (Is this a Glasgow thing? Seal of approval? I get it – brilliant) and applause from the predominantly youthful audience. Scottish rap is on the ascendency at present due to artists such as Young Fathers, Loki, and Stanley Odd and it was encouraging to see the rap-poetry crossover happening in a High Street café in Glasgow on a Tuesday evening. Unfortunately, one audience member was clearly so engrossed that an ill-advised ‘boyakasha’ slipped out – here’s hoping that one never rears its head again. Cypher’s own contemporary hip-hop poetry was especially encouraging as the next line of would-be rappers made their voices heard.
If there is one feature about the café which could be criticised then it would be the discomfort caused by the open kitchen. This may simply be a personal qualm but mid-way through the evening, reeking smoke emanating from the kitchen area stung my eyes, closed my throat, and left a highly unpleasant burger-smell on clothes and bags. Poor ventilation within The Blue Chair does make it a difficult visit at times, and while it is appreciated that the excellent Save The Blue Chair campaign was successful in keeping the premises open, it may be something which the venue could consider in efforts to make the dining/poetry experience more pleasant for future visitors to the café. There were a few minor technicalities on stage too – a broken microphone stand, time-wasting mobile phones at the microphone which would eat into performers sets later in the evening, preambles that were entirely unnecessary, etc but on the whole, these mild irritations were few and far between.
Cypher’s assertion about “tapping in to real emotions” being key to Extra Second’s winning formula continued with the rugged tones of Paisley linchpin Shaun Moore. In last month’s show, Cypher insisted that Moore “blew me away” with his tender, yet cautionary, poem ‘Man Up’. Tonight’s set was no let-down as poems about Motorhead’s Lemmy, grandparents, and the Clutha Vaults were delivered with the good grace of Glaswegian patter and sincerity as Moore led us through the Billy Boys, the Tims, the taxi drivers, and men in Turbans. Not to be outdone by the boys, the terrific Cee Smith and Michelle Fisher both delivered unsystematic tones of romance in poems such as “Persephone” and “Colour Me In” which left the audience smitten with the flaws and imperfections which we are all guilty of procrastinating over far too much. The haunting melodies supplied by pink-haired and pink-shoed Marli Kerr on guitar, including a sublime cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’, fitted perfectly with the vibe which Cypher is working so hard to achieve at these Extra Second events.
If love was the theme, then Extra Second was a basket of puppy dogs let loose; predominantly under control but with the occasional shit stain on the carpet which could easily be cleaned up. One could not help but admire the eclecticism of the night, and be encouraged that Glasgow is in safe hands, intelligent minds, and broken microphones.
Next month’s theme is “What pisses you off?” – make sure to check it out for yourself on Thursday 21 April 2016.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt