After most were seated, and some left standing around the sides of the small function room, we were introduced to our poetic sacrifice. Adam V. Cheshire gesticulated his poems wildly in the direction of a receptive audience who were quickly made aware of what the night had in store for them.
And then the battle commenced.
The plot to Thursday night’s first event was the struggle between the ever-optimistic Sam Small and the cynical, pessimism of Bram E. Gieben (aka Texture). Utopia vs. Apocalypse in six rounds of poetry. Initially, an Edinburgh Fringe show, Utopiapocolypse came to Glasgow on a one night only basis.
The structure of the show was set such that our hopes would be raised by the sincerity of Small’s sentiments, before being dashed by Gieben’s passionate plea that we were, for all intents and purposes, fucked – and that it was overall our own fault.
From round one, both sides declared obvious victory. Small claiming we were just at the beginning of a mass improvement leading to the overthrowing of one percenter’s and Gieben stating that what we were beginning was merely the final cycle of overpopulation, climate change and the depth of human brutality. The crowd eagerly applauded both, but there was a definite oppressive intensity hanging in the air after the assertion that everyone was due for a horrible demise at each other’s hands.
Possibly for this reason, the show was a great success. Gieben’s angry and aggressive delivery of doom filled proclamations was counterbalanced by Small jumping to the stage straight after him with a good-natured dig. A much needed release of well built tension.
Throughout the night the performers tackled themes of work, philosophy, time and love with interesting takes on each subject. Neither found too much positivity in their respective call centre careers which they both called back to; Small with a vivid description of how boxed in office life can be and Gieben with his own take on Ginsberg’s “Howl” for the modern generation of artists and performers.
Particularly here was the calibre of the night on show, as no basement performance seems to be complete without a rendition of Howl – or someone else’s take on it – but here it seemed far more crafted; incorporating much of the initial tone, delivery, themes and style. Gieben was able to tread a well-worn track but still add interest and originality throughout.
Small’s performance was characterised greatly by humour, hope and an honesty that permeated the audience. From his journey of self-discovery (through time travel) to his longing for a life filled with tea and the library, his relatability to the crowd seems to be his most appealing aspect, as well as the energy and verve with which he conveys it.
In the end, the cynic stood down and admitted defeat. Given the current political and social climate – and the abundance of pro-independence sentiments still lingering within rooms such as these – it was greatly heartening to see optimism in better days yet to come, win over the horrible entropy that is so easily pervasive when faced with the challenges this country and this planet have ahead.
Gieben’s declaration that for the majority of these poems, this was their last outing was bittersweet. The rawness of his performance was overpowering, but the positivity with which he intends to approach his future writing is intriguing.
At McPhabbs, on Thursday at least, there was a concerted effort to look forward to a more utopian future, and not to dwell too long on the possibility of impending doom. It’s not hard to feel that way following what was a top class artistic performance – with both of these voices on side, who knows where we’re heading?
Kevin P. Gilday Is The Man Who Loved Beer
Following from the frenetic first half, a more subdued second hour also originally from the Edinburgh Fringe saw Kevin P. Gilday step to the stage, pint in hand.
The Man Who Loved Beer began by speaking liltingly about his first meeting with his favoured drink, a sip from his father’s bottle, and continued to plot the good and the bad of a life mitigated by work, money problems, amnesia nights and wasted hangover days.
Rather interestingly, the structured set was more reminiscent of a comedy show, with poems replacing anecdotes and routines, than a poetry performance. The fluidity of movement between chat and verse as well as the delivery of the poems themselves reinforced this comparison.
What was pitched and started out as a fun take on a Scot’s drinking habits also made time to mention the true lows of excessive drinking – and not just in the wonderfully well placed series of hangover poems interspersed throughout the set. Most interestingly, the show took time to examine the kind of culture which draws young people especially into drinking, with an acknowledgement underlying that this habit has infected the older generations as well.
Gilday’s poetic style is aloof, light-hearted and confident which remained consistent even through the more confessional pieces, and so the interlude of his “Booze Haikus” served well as a break from the norm. These were short and sweet, and seemed to offer a little light relief from what appeared to be a very polished performance.
The laughter of the beginning was quelled as the show moved into its description of darker days. Examining the cycle of poverty, booze and depression, Gilday hit the content notes perfectly. His progression into helplessness was felt by the crowd more through his words than his performance, but still the audience were absolutely held in the story throughout.
Overall, an understated show, especially in comparison to what had come before, but with a crafted quality worthy of great appreciation. The jokes produced the laughs and the stories drew the audience in while the plot unfolded in a way which was entertaining.
As for the night itself, what I found particularly refreshing was the scale of the stories told by both parties. A welcome break from the cycle of open mics and slams, where the longest session you’re likely to see is fifteen minutes and it’s a rarity to have a cohesive set. More of the planned and practiced performances would not go amiss in a scene struggling to showcase the level of talent it currently holds.
So, with my optimism replenished and my thirst for poetry never quenched, I do look forward to a future seeing these three talents and many more hitting the stage again.