Kate Tempest (def: a violent windy storm) was either born with or chose a very relevant surname to encapsulate her style of communication; she is also difficult to define as an artist, as many labels are used when it comes to describing her: writer/poet/rapper – perhaps all three. She is obviously a capable wordsmith, as her text seems to use clear rhythm and structure as poetry can, and her communication of the words develop into a rap-style deliverance at times in performance.
Brand New Ancients is her newest work, discussing a very present day South East London (her own stomping ground), focusing on two families and their offspring as they grow up – whether together or afar. The narrative picks up on three boys: Clive, Tommy and Spider, and Tommy’s girlfriend Gloria. These four characters clearly display the reality of being brought up on the other side of the track – and how small, almost insignificant choices can define the path of your most formative years.
Without giving too much away, some of the young men become despondent in their youth, which sees them turning to a life of mischief (in the darkest of ways), permanently street-based but with their own set of morals to question any notion of reckless yobbery. A further character is the one that (supposedly) made it, finding himself living a somewhat transparent, vacuous existence in inane City bars where everyone is your friend if you keep paying out. And the female protagonist personifies the local bar maid, who is perhaps not living out her dreams, but is the character that enables the audience to recognise the humble simplicity that life can offer.
Their paths all cross – and events unfold that take one’s breath away; not due to their implausibility, but in fact due to the total opposite – the knowledge that these traumatic circumstances take place every day on most street corners.
Tempest indeed takes her audience on a storm-like journey through the streets of London, punctuated by her gift for characterisation. By the end of the postmodern fable you feel completely acclimatised to her way of thinking, seeing, and reading of people, which only makes the storytelling factor that much more tangible. Her delivery is raw in energy yet accomplished in style, and her heartfelt passion is apparent by the way she uses her hands – they spend most of their time wrapped around her waist, until she shares a verse with significant meaning when they seem to physicalise the words literally pouring from her stomach; the pit of her consciousness.
Her work is definitely worthwhile, and there is a depth in her message that is further weighted by both mythological referencing and philosophical rumination. In truth though – it doesn’t feel massively groundbreaking. Being a fan of Mike Skinner, I feel I’ve taken a similar kind of journey some 10 years ago, and though a female perspective is of interest, it doesn’t offer any groundbreaking revelations.
Tempest is beautifully supported by a four piece band, which she seems to revel in, and the music helps to really accentuate pivotal moments within the narrative. A final mention must be given to the drummer, Kwake Bass, who clearly brought his wealth of knowledge to the score, and is more than deserving of his place at the top of the pedestal.