Bang Said the Gun prides itself on being the noisiest poetry night in London, even garnering complaints from the locals on occasion. To be honest, most of this volume is created by the audience who are encouraged to take up the makeshift maracas (milk bottles with rice in) and shake them at every opportunity. The poetry itself is spoken at a fairly normal decibel.
The night is held upstairs at The Roebuck pub in Borough (which is a lovely pub and serves some excellent chips. It’s also great value for money – a large wine was only £4.80!). The room is quite small and it does get busy so getting there early is advisable.
And it gets busy for a reason. There wasn’t a single bad act, though some of them stood out more than others.
After our compere for the evening had stopped skipping around the stage to the music, shaking his ‘maraca’ all the while, and occasionally banging on the bar in case rattling wasn’t loud enough, he introduced himself and the night began. It has been going for 15 years or so I believe he said, and was set up because they wanted an antidote to all the ‘beard-strokey’ serious poetry happening at the time. Instead, this is supposed to be more light-hearted . . . more raucous, and they achieve this by playing loud music and having some silly interludes, such as playing ‘keepy up’ with a balloon for a prize. The first act introduced rather emphasised how this night contrasts to others.
Fresh back from the Edinburgh festival, he was definitely one of my favourites of the night. Not strictly spoken word, but part comedy act, his ode to yellow was completely off the wall and silly and not to everyone’s taste, but right up my street. I’d urge you to seek him out and see if he appeals to you. Unfortunately I cannot remember his name. But I can remember some of his shopping mantra ("take a lemon from the shelf, take a lemon for yourself") so if anyone recognises that, please let me know who is responsible for it.
The final speaker of the first half was also excellent. A lot of spoken word artists speak about things that they strongly believe in; it is not unusual for the poems to have a political leaning (always liberal, I do wonder what would happen if a right-wing poet ever found their way to the stage). But, even though I am sure they believe what they are writing, sometimes it is hard to believe that they really know what they’re talking about. Not the case with Joelle Taylor, who works closely with young people from all walks of life via Slambassadors, using poetry as a way for them to deal with or escape from their sometimes tough situations. Her poetry was powerful and touching, clearly inspired from experience (she said as much but you could tell from the way she delivered it that this was true). In fact, she was so overcome with emotion from her words that she couldn’t finish the poem. She was completely forgiven this by the audience who were all touched by the message.
After the break, the person who won Raw Meat Stew last week took the stage. Raw Meat Stew is the open-mic part at the end of the night where you win a slot in next week’s gig. He’d only been doing spoken word for a few months and his novice status was evident, but having said that he had good stage presence and I think his poetry showed promise, there were a few clever turns of phrase, even if it was a little rough around the edges. And long.
My overall number 1 act of the night was Musa Okwonga who brought a huge amount of energy to his poems, commanding the room so much that he didn’t even need to use a microphone. His first poem on the fast pace of this world was delivered with breathless velocity, his poem on the father he never really knew was moving, and his words on the tremendous effort it takes to just do the adult thing and tidy your room (a metaphor for dealing with life as an adult in general) was spot on. I will make the effort to see what else he does. I’m already following him on twitter. Proof of my admiration.
And almost last was Raw Meat Stew. Even the people who did this were pretty good (though not as good as the ‘pros’) and had a charm to them. The guy who won was a bit of a regular at Bang apparently, often participating in the Stew. He won over Joelle, who was judging, and the rest of the audience, with his poem about Shelley Long from Cheers. Clearly we’re all suckers for a bit of audience participation – having to shout “Cheers” whenever he signalled clinched it for us despite his halting deliver (well, English wasn’t his mother tongue).
I was incredibly impressed with the standard of this night. I’ve been to a few spoken word events in my time and this was a head above the rest. Even if it didn’t have all the silly noise and jingles (yes, Raw Meat and the balloon game come with visuals and a song) this would be a night deserving of becoming a regular feature in my repertoire. Bang Said the Gun was kick-ass.