Gig review: Kate Tempest

INTRODUCED by her mentor Don Paterson as “the most electrifying young performer it’s ever been my privilege to hear”, current favourite to win the Mercury Prize on Wednesday, rapper-cum-poet Kate Tempest, acknowledges her new-found fame with endearing awkwardness.

Rapper-cum-poet Kate Tempest is tipped for a Mercury. Picture: Getty
Rapper-cum-poet Kate Tempest is tipped for a Mercury. Picture: Getty

Kate Tempest

The Bongo Club, Edinburgh

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And certainly, it’s a minor irritation compared to the existential paralysis and angst she feels about these “disastrous times”.

Reading from her latest collection, Hold Your Own, the South Londoner is a mesmeric and visceral performer who commands attention even as she reveals the depths of her anxieties, nevertheless finding magic and redemption in transformative sensation.

She opens and closes her performance with her appropriation of the Greek myth of Tiresias, the sex-changed blind prophet whose unfortunate involvement in the marital dispute of Zeus and Hera is here rendered as a darkly comic and relatable modern domestic, Tempest’s subsequent calls for empathy channelled through the sensitivity of his transmorphic experience.

The blunt Some Couple, about the frustration of seeing a loved-up pair in the street when you’ve just endured a blazing row with your partner is spat with venom, albeit with a defiant twist. And The Old Dogs Who Fought So Well finds her powerfully sharing in the experiences of Chopin, Joyce and Bukowski, embracing real and metaphorical storms around artistic insecurity.

Shifting from personal verse to direct socio-political engagement, Ballad of a Hero covers the familiar ground of a soldier struggling to return to normal life, eschewing cliché with the directness of his wife’s address to their child. And the stunning Progress is relentless in its refusal to swallow contemporary gospels of spiritual and consumer freedom.

Seen on 25.10.14