Who’s Telling Me What? – All the action from the Festival Finale

14 May

Our extraordinary night kicked off with a crescendo. Dancing out from the wings, with high verbal drop-kicks and punchy music, the Tongue Fu Band lit the gig, lit the Swindon Festival of Literature Finale. I hadn’t noticed him last night at the Think Slam, yet Fu frontman Chris Redmond, must have heard my Think Slam three minutes as he threw out at us “There is only here. There is only now”

Nobody expected it was English Grammar as first lesson. But we did our homework in the moment and rote-learned “It’s a noun. It’s a vowel. A verb is something that we do” call and responding like Ugandan schoolchildren. We did. We paid good money on a Saturday night to brush up our Shakespeare, our colonialism and our Woody Gutherie knowledge.

Let me explain the USP of the night: Mood music, moog music, call it what you will but each performer requests of the band what background and integrated music they would like performed during their set… extempore. 

Simples. like : Can you give me “ A mix of Reggae cha cha cha gypsy swing with tango in the mix” while I perform words you may never have heard before. Simples. Simples: they did it blumin’ amazingly. The Riann bass, Arthur keys and Pat drum did the musical business, time after time, through a long, hot, bustling night. USP Extraordinaire.

The already hot hot hot packed crowd was warmed up even further by non-tongue-tied MC Chris taking us on a spoken word journey of right patterns, wrong patterns, life patterns, death patterns, with that trade-mark background band musically interpreting.

Barberelle, Swindon’s own sweet singers, all ukulele-ed up, tallest on the right shortest on the left in single rank size, Kate, Linda, Vicky, struck out with Swindon ditties strung and sung together. Think mixing a little bit of Barbara Windsor, Goldie Hawn and I love Lucy in the humorous, melodic mix mix mix.

Phew. And the audience breathed this Finale Night. Breathed through the word-heavy, thought-heavy, heart-heavy schedule they had run these last two May weeks. Some people, on a show of honest proud hands, going to nearly 20 of the 50 offerings this fantastic festival offers Swindon people.

The Workers, the Festival Team, were too tired tonight to breathe. Setting up the venues each day with posters, mikes, flags, tickets and don’t forget the glass of water for the author signing his books; then after a long day, to pack things away again in Eddie, technician Martin’s Blue Camper van. Busman’s holiday it may have been tonight but they too enjoyed every musical and mind-blowing morsel on offer.

Warmest of applause for Barbarelle before a Trump Women’s Protest song filled the dance hall and our hearts with “I can’t keep quiet … a one woman riot – they’ll be someone who’ll understand – let it out, let it out, I can’t keep quiet” Audience noisily roared their approval with whoops of More! More!! More!!! And the evening hadn’t really started yet. This reviewer is getting tired re-living it next morning. In a good way.

Next Chris softly treated us to a pastoral, rural nature poem set on the A4120. “Cock on the Frome Road. Pheasant under car died. Took it home. skinned it. Rubbed it with butter. Popped it in oven. Road kill!”

Vanessa Kisuule of Ugandan heritage, likes rose wine, and would like background and integrated music please Tongue Fu. Music that speaks to her of: jazz and the last dregs of whiskey. Spoonful of Calpol, mug of cheap rose wine and a fleeting piece of glory snuck in there somehow too!

Head above the parapet, Vanessa entreated “Don’t flash your tits sister. Don’t shroud in that burkah. Am I right girls?” The sometimes zany night just kept on giving in a challenging, ‘out-there’ way. Vanessa played her part to the full. More to come later she promised an intrigued crowd.

Next up at her Meet-aversarie with Tongue Fu, Rachel Rose Reid hit the floor running taking us to Afghanistan sans kevlar vests and suicide belts. Already used to it, we audience called and responded with the best of them with Rachel’s “A story, a story, let it come, let it go”

And come it did. The breathtaking and bewitching Afghan tale took us to places in our hearts that made full use of Rachel’s, soulful, skilful WD40 sprayed on our emotions. The Afghan shepherd, whose landlord had burnt down his home, journeyed to the depths of humanity to discover, what indeed we are all searching for in life: “Is there any justice in the world?”

By this time in the evening, Rachel’s integrated music request seemed de rigueur. “East End city street 100 years ago on a Tuesday afternoon”. Not a gasp from the band. They twiddled a few knobs and were good to go. Go they did whilst Rachel built up an anthemic Woody Gutherie tribute that entranced us all. Thoughtful. Wordfull. Powerful. Memorable. Wonderful. The ovation afterwards stood itself.

This night could not go recorded without brief mention of two more creative contributions. Long lingers in our minds Chris’ Cumberbach-Holmes-stolen ‘Palace of the Mind’ with its ‘tin cup of tears’and ‘I can smell you gesture on the M3 to white van men at the end of the rainbow.’

Nor will we soon forget Vanessa’s Ugandan grandma for whom she “ composed a dress in cotton, grandma who had the hardship of a thousand winds across her face, for whom, handicapped by this British tongue, Vanessa would crawl on all fours for meagre scraps of identity”. Moist eyes.

We wandered off into the night with MC Chris wrapping and rapping it all up with audience involvement questioning “Who’s telling me what?” What “to buy, to sell, to wear, to weigh, to feel, to hide, to fear, to shout, to pay, to earn”

Wandered, but not before sponsors, workers and supporters duly thanked by a tired but justly jubilant Festival Director, Matt Holland. The traditional closure and re-launch towards next year was heralded by Jacob HiHo, with his mournful, aluminium watering can wail.

Well I am telling you what: what a great night that was to round off the 24th Swindon Festival of Literature. Although we did, we couldn’t have asked for more … unless it was, Tongue Fu musicians, something with a little, Slam Thinkerie, MI5y, maypoley musicerie please.

Festival Finale took place at Swindon Town Hall as the final event of Swindon Festival of Literature, 13 May 2017.

Words: Tony Hillier

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