Phrased & Confused

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  • Lizzie Nunnery
  • Isaiah Hull
  • Asma Elbedawi
  • Luke Wright
  • Mark Grist
Liverpool Acoustic Festival @ The Music Room 19/3/16

A concatenation of lyrical spoken word and poetic music is promised by Phrased & Confused for tonight’s gig in the very modern, indeed industrial, setting of the Phil’s Music Room for Liverpool Acoustic Festival. First act ISAIAH HULL, one of the finalists of the BBC1 Xtra/Roundhouse Words First project, bounces on to the stage and prowls around it throughout his set, nervous energy propelling both his tongue and his feet. He’s young but his observations and use of language have the weight of ages – “she used to speak to me in tung-sten flames”. He describes his poems as being like himself – “dark and sad” – but his energy and attitude temper the subject-matter. In his own words, “his image is a symphony and I’m stood here listening” (Mirrors).

Visual artist and poet ASMA ELBEDAWI is the second finalist. She has a different energy, self-contained and motionless, although her subject-matter is deeply personal. Next up is LIZZIE NUNNERY, premiering Liverpool I Love Your Horny Handed Tons Of Soil, a spoken-word piece inspired by a fragment poem by Adrian Henri exploring the changes to the L8 area 50 years after Mersey Sound was published. She’s accompanied by her band and TOSCA, a small robot built by ‘maker-collective’ DoES, which traces her journey on a map projected alongside the stage. There’s also a backdrop of scenes of ‘old’ Liverpool, adding to the atmosphere her words evoke.

In a spine-tingling, urgent whisper, Nunnery builds up a list of images – “when The Grapes was a dancehall” – as the band provide a swirling jazz background. As she speaks the words, “Didn’t I dance cholera through courtyards like a […] lover?”, I see the narrator as Death, stalking the streets. It’s a beautiful, poetic, trippy piece, which finishes by asking where does the city end? St Helens? Ormskirk? Answer: Never.

There’s a Love Hearts poetry-writing interlude next, and then compère LUKE WRIGHT (whose use of the c*nt word starts early and continues throughout) recites a B-movie poem, Barry vs. the Blob, heavy on alliteration. It’s bloody brilliant (sorry!). He then introduces “poet of the moment” Hollie McNish, whose set focuses on the earthier, less discussed aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, in a humorous yet serious way. There is a queue to buy her diary/book of poetry, Nobody Told Me, afterwards. Serendipitously, Wright has a poem about Iain Duncan Smith, who has just resigned to join the Leave campaign – err, because of his principles. It employs univocalism (only using words with a single vowel, in this case ‘i’), and Wright explains that ‘i’ is “tricksy” and “underhand”. No comparisons there, then!

Nunnery, now with guitar, and her band, now including a bassist, return. They play a short set and I reflect, not for the first time, on how important percussion is in her work – from the floor/scenery-slapping in her play, Narvik, to the hand-claps here in in 5,000 Birds and Vidar Norheim’s military-style drumming in England Loves A Poor Boy.

Telling a true story rather than a series of poems, comedian MARK GRIST keeps us hooked, keen to find out: a) who won the rap battle and b) what happened to Jordan, the catalyst for Grist’s surprising career change (he was a teacher). We then adjourn to the bar for the poetry battle between Grist and KNUT (sigh) – honours are adjudged to be even – and then it’s back to the Music Room for the final act of the evening, singer-songwriter ANA SILVERS, who sings delicate torch songs, accompanying herself on guitar, keyboard and ukulele.

It’s been an entertaining evening, and a concept I’d gladly sit through again.

Debra Williams

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