I had no idea when I wrote this post a few days ago that Kate Tempest was up for the Mercury Prize this week, but she was and I’m glad to see it bringing her so much more renown, followers and, I hope, sales.
If you’re listening much to the radio at the moment, well ok if you’re listening much to BBC Radio 6 Music, you might be hearing Kate Tempest’s current single ‘Tunnel Vision’ fairly regularly. It’s the one that starts:
The winter of our discontent’s upon us”
And continues to take the likes of me, the older generation, to task for a catalogue of ills because:
“This is the future you left us”
At which point you might well think “Give us a break” and turn your ears away until something more positive comes on. Well I’m writing this to suggest that you don’t turn away. To suggest that you listen carefully and perhaps appreciatively to this thoughtful and opinionated woman who might well surprise you. Like she surprised me. Let’s step back a year or two.
I think I first hear Kate Tempest on Lauren Laverne’s morning show. Spoken word pieces with a rhythmic musical background. Does that make it rap or is it poetry and does it even matter? I can tell she’s good but I also think she’s mostly coming from a desolate place and that challenges me. That holds me back.
Then I hear her interviewed about a gig she’s just done somewhere in Europe where all the instruments fail to turn up. She’s offered the audience their money back and then performs anyway, on her own with her own rhythms. And I begin to hear her clearly as someone who is taking poetry somewhere I hadn’t noticed it going.
In June of this year I decide to take myself away for a quiet week in Wales, to Laugharne where Dylan Thomas used to live. Naturally I take his poetry with me to walk with round his places. Also a book of Leonard Cohen’s poems because I’ve loved them most of my life. Plus two books by Kate Tempest, to read in the silence, there on my own and see what she’s up to.
Kate Tempest turns out to win my own personal ‘Top Poet’ award of the holiday which is why, months later, I’m writing this. I’ve read her poetry and listened to her records a lot since my time in Wales, particularly her ‘Let them eat chaos’ album which I love, and she never fails to lift my spirit to a higher place.
It remains true that her individual stories and songs often deal with how difficult everyday life can be for many of us. But what I previously took for desolation I now understand was me not giving her enough time. Me not listening to enough Kate Tempest to know that her big thing is that our big hope is each other.
Both books build through stories and setbacks to the characters in them, the mixed up lot of us lot, coming to the realisation that love and much more of it for each other is really what we need, our only hope in fact. And not that locked away twitching at your phone self-love of ‘I’m ok what’s up with you?’ but real dancing in the rain out in the street arms, tentatively, around our just being discovered each others. That sort of love.
And if I haven’t described that well enough don’t go thinking for a minute that our greatest living poet is soppy any more than she’s miserable. She’s Kate Tempest and here she is, doing a shorter and spoken word only version of what’s on the radio at the moment.
“I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more.”