Kate Tempest wants us to shut up and listen. A reasonable request at a gig, and an underrated quality in life, when there are so many channels through which to express thoughts and views. There is a lot of listening to be done at a Tempest show, such is the relentless, eloquent flow of her words which she delivers as part performance poetry, with some of the momentum of rap and even a hint of melodic structure at points – Tempest’s words sing, even if she doesn’t.
Kate Tempest, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow ****
One suspects she has created such an intriguing hybrid by doing a lot of listening herself – to the rhythm of conversation, the sounds of the streets and the desires of the heart.
But now it was her time to talk, so she prefaced her performance with a polite but firm suggestion that her capacity crowd don’t interrupt her flow by waving their phones about for any reason, but pap her in one quick barrage because “I know you need to prove it”. And then she was off – first, with a selection of tracks from her previous two albums, Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos, and then her latest album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, in order in its entirety.
The prescient Europe is Lost is a wide-ranging portrait of the micro and macro of the moment (“riots are tiny, systems are huge”). There were affirming whoops for her more declamatory, didactic material and there is no doubt that Tempest is fiercely politicised but, like many a shrewd artist, she often views society through the prism of character – whether her heartbroken insomniac protagonist in Grubby or the damaged hedonist of Ketamine for Breakfast.
The Book of Traps and Lessons is, however, a more personal odyssey on the rapture of meeting a new flame, the pain of romantic paralysis and the sustaining power of relationships in a turbulent world. Hold Your Own provided a rare flash of humour amid the introspection; elsewhere, the lightness came from the complementary musical backdrop provided by sole accompanist Clare Uchima.
Uchima was a one-woman musical army, helming the keyboards, triggering beats, effects, samples, unleashing epic synthesiser judder or beefy bassy chords with ornamental analogue licks, sometimes even driving the dynamics of the story, and effectively making a concert out of what otherwise would have been a gig. Fiona Shepherd