Friday 3 July saw the launch of ‘Onwords & Upwords’ bi-monthly showcase, the brainchild of accomplished Spoken Word artist, Richard Smartt Jnr better known as [Verb]swish.

Verbs explained that he wanted to put on a night that gave spoken word as much of an equal billing as good music. He didn’t want poets rushed off stage to make room for ‘loud music that would only deafen us’. Verbs kept the line up simple; four quality artists spread over the evening. The show wasn’t bursting at the seems with acts therefore the audience could really appreciate each one to the full. The performances were stripped down to bare essentials, proving that none of the artists on the night were your flash-in-the-pan types, with an over-reliance on clever production to hide mediocrity. These are the real deal.

Verbs also interspersed the night with a brand new piece split into several snippets called ‘Down’ which was an ode to the peculiar times in which we live. In the deft manner that has come to epitomise Verbs style of performance poetry, he delivered mini-soliloquies on living in the Big Choke in 2009. The pieces remained topical without being parochial and Verbs drew inspiration from the socio-economic and environmental challenges facing the world today. He also performed his future classic ‘Nobody’ featuring Abimaro and Mercy doing a sublime job on BGVs. The song pays homage to the virtues of obscurity, something our celebrity-crazed society constantly overlooks. Yet Verbs didn’t forget to add a healthy dose of levity to the proceedings and his banter with the audience all night went down a treat, too.

Verbs picked a choice bunch of artists for O&U’s maiden voyage. First out of the stable was poet-cum-singer-cum-guitarist, Sh’maya and his trusty Loop Station. He intrigued us with the wonderful soundscapes he created using just the Station, his voice and the guitar. However the poetry in the first half of Sh’maya’s set was lacking for me. It wasn’t bad but I couldn’t help thinking it sounded a little bit derivative. However, he really came into his own in the second half, when he delivered an epic piece about the self-destructive choices we often make on our journey to find a pure and meaningful love.

Next up was Abimaro Suit, one of my favourite live acts of late, who wrapped her warm vocals around some more of her original material. She was accompanied by the amazing Mike ‘Macfro’ on acoustic guitar, who has already made a name for himself as one of the premier young soul/jazz guitarists on the scene today. Abimaro gave us a sneak preview of ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’, two of the songs on which she’s been working based on the four Gospels of the New Testament. With the track ‘Ginger Tea’ she uses, to delicious effect, the recipe for her favourite hot beverage as an allegory for her personal evolution. Miss Suit’s voice and craft can’t help but bring you to your knees- she’s like a lullaby on two legs. She makes you fall in love with great music and lyricism and the marriage of the two, each time you listen to her.

Honey-voiced Mercy Adjepong was yet another worthy addition to the night’s cracking line-up. For those of us in attendance, both familiar and unfamiliar with this lady’s talent, she taught us something about the elasticity of her range and her impressive songwriting skills. A personal highlight was ‘Out The Window’; its insouciant, summer rhythm belies the slightly sombre feel of the lyrics and the contrast is a lovely one.

The night was rounded off by the ubiquitous Testament from Homecut aka Andy Brooks. I have seen Homecut in action three times in less than two months and it’s a different experience each time. I make no bones on the Soulculture pages about my appreciation of this group. It’s not for nothing that this outfit is getting 5-star reviews in the Metro and that they are making their way to the forefront of the UK live scene. Ever the charismatic and versatile performer, this time it was the turn of Testament’s beat-boxing talent to leave us slack-jawed in awe. Sailing through familiar tracks by the likes of Erykah Badu, Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake, he soon had the crowd engaged in an ad-hoc game of ‘name that tune’. Later in his set, with the help of a loop station and his ability to recreate a host of sounds with only his voice, Testament did re-interpretations of tunes from his excellent debut album ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’. No two Homecut gigs are the same and last night’s set re-affirmed this. (Do yourself a favour and catch them at the Jazz Café on 24 July 2009).

All in All O&U’s launch night was a resounding success. Next show is on 4 September@ the Horse Bar, Lambeth North and definitely a date for your diary.

Review by Tolita.

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