Tongue Fu is one of the hottest tickets on the spoken word calendar: a regular collaboration between performance poets, musicians and film. For the first time ever the event at Shoreditch's Rich Mix was sold out, host and poet Chris Redmond informed us. And it is easy to see why Tongue Fu is proving so popular. The mix of live, improvised music with poetry and stand-up, in a cabaret-style evening, is slick and funny, and the set-up is attracting big names - such as old hand John Hegley whose career was launched with John Peel Sessions in the 1980s - in this, admittedly slightly niche, field.
Redmond set the tone for the evening by opening with a semi free-styled introduction, accompanied by the band playing a bossa nova/ skiffle/"valkan" [sic] fusion, as suggested by the audience. Watching the Tongue Fu band (drums, keys, guitar/ bass) take batty direction from the poets in the cause of improv was a large part of the fun of the show. Adam Kammerling had them playing hungry urban fox music, to accompany a poem about city scavenging round the back of Marks and Spencer's ("Not just bin food. M&S bin food.") while Chris Redmond got them to provide a training montage soundtrack for a poem about learning, as a naturally motivated person, to procrastinate. It was complete with Rocky clips as part of projections by CR&D, whose visuals added another layer of accompaniment throughout the show.
The subjects covered by these poets, each with their own distinctive voice, were wide-ranging but were in the main part linked by being funny. At times, very funny. A particular highlight included Chris Redmond narrating while Anna Freeman played his 13-year-old self getting his first blow job, in front of The Price is Right. The band was asked to think of perms and shoulder pads and play glitzy game show music that sounded like it was coming out of the two-inch speaker on his '80s telly. This was an excerpt from a show they'll be performing at the Bristol Old Vic later this month - well worth seeing if you get the chancE. Freeman's wit and off-beat energy make her a compelling performer.
Kammerling's poems had an edge of menace to them - one describes an ethical mugging in an underground car park, where the victim is given the appropriate paperwork to appeal against the circumstances of getting his phone nicked. In another, he takes a flashy businessman hostage for not tipping his waitress. He is surreal enough to get away with what could be slightly too-neat ideas, incorporating elements of rap, stand-up and acting into slippery poems that career off in unexpected directions.
John Hegley was last on stage, and first to gently send up the slight incongruousness of the wacky visuals which accompanied the letters of his own name on the screen behind him as he shambled up to the mic and gave a downbeat performance of a poem about Pablo Picasso and George Braque followed by a brilliantly evocative reading of D.H. Lawrence's The Snake.
Redmond runs the show beautifully, drawing together these diverse performers and band to create a hugely entertaining evening of poetry. With an atmosphere crossed between a gig, an undergraduate's bedroom and a stand-up comedy night, Tongue Fu certainly speaks to more than just the spoken word afficionado niche.
Photo: Stephanie Dray