It's a bold claim – that Unity Words “will become the North's best spoken word night” according to their Facebook page – but there's no denying that the debut outing of A Firm of Poets and Word Life's monthly live happening took a confident first leap in that very direction.
Put together a quality cast of wordsmiths, both well known and less so, a good-sized crowd in the Unity Works cafe bar and a buzzing atmosphere (helped in no small part by some stomping soul and blues tunes from DJ Captain Black before and during the interludes), and all the components were in place for some ace entertainment.
And thus it proved, from the moment compere Ralph Dartford bounced on to the stage and silenced the welcoming ovation with a stylish Bruce Lee karate kick – mercifully, he still seemed to be moving OK afterwards – after which the verbal virtuosity was cranked straight up by Sandal's Rob Reed with a humour-heavy set including a gloriously bonkers rant against the evils of his fridge…
Once Matt Abbott had performed his compulsory commercial for the Wakefield Pie Shop (and why wouldn't he now he's managed to blag a free one for his efforts?), the stage was given over to the Pandemonium Poets, five participants in the afternoon workshop which forms an integral part of Unity Words.
All five hailed from the Far East – Hull and Lincoln, that is – and all had some profound things to say on topics ranging from the neglect of mental illness to British governments' culpability for the madness being visited upon the Middle East. This section also included this audience member's highlight of the evening, as Vicky Foster answered the frequently-asked question “Why do you live in Hull?” with a beautiful love poem to her oft-derided home city. Delivered in those broad vowels peculiar to the land of Airlie Birds and Robins, it expressed a sense of place and a pride in your roots more powerfully, surely, than anything anyone better known has written or said: who'd have thought references to the the Hull Daily Mail, pattie and chips or “hands that placed rugby balls over muddy trylines” could prompt tears in the eyes of a coaldust-in-the-blood son of the West Riding? But then that's the power of words – hear it at
www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKY3m7KWuiA, one of many clips adding up to comprehensive coverage of the evening's performances.
A few more choice cuts from Captain Black, then eyes and ears turned to headline act Louise Fazackerley, star of festivals and BBC Radio 3 and another whose words gain much from being filtered through an unmistakable accent, in this case her home town of Wigan.
There's a compelling contrast between the often dark content of her prose – speaking up for the addicts, the teenage chavs, the homeless victims of PTSD, the elderly couples whose horizons stretch no farther than Sunday afternoon watching a club turn – and her physical appearance of flapping arms, sideways glances and shy smiles, almost as if she still can't get over the novelty of holding an audience in the palm of her hand. But that's what she did, with a consummate ease which rightly prompted a loud and long ovation.
And on the subject of charming a crowd, hats off to AfoP's very own Toria Garbutt and Genevieve Walsh, whose blatant badgering with placard and buckets had punters parting with their cash in sums which more than justified the night's pay-what-you-feel policy.
A belting first night, then, which set the bar high for the rest of the year-long series to follow. Aren't words great?
WfL rating: 4.5/5
For more information and details of upcoming Unity Words nights, go to www.afirmofpoets.com.