At the end of this evening’s performance; amidst a remarkable standing ovation and calls for an encore, complete with those inevitable chants of “one more tune!”, Kate Tempest returns to the stage to take a moment to stand, silently smiling beneath a spotlight, and absorb the sustained applause. She finally takes up the mic and tells us with obvious sincerity that she’s grateful for the praise, but there won’t be an encore, in part because she hates that silly pantomime of saying goodnight and leaving the stage, only to come back on and start performing again; but mostly, she explains, because she has said everything she wants to say.
And it’s easy to allow her that, as over the preceding hour-and-a-half the south London poet has examined at length and in meticulous detail, with her renowned jackhammer persistence and tenacity, both the current political topography of the country and the most personal elements of her closest relationships with equal candor and frankness.
Accompanied on stage only by Clare Uchima, who proves just as adept at triggering thunderous beats and samples from her electronics array as she is at drawing soulful refrains from the big Nord stage piano, Tempest dominates the vast Leith Theatre stage, seeming twenty-feet tall as she transforms the cavernous public space into the kind of private, intimate room that devoted friends find to share late-night secrets and fears.
Opening her set with a seismic salvo of familiar tracks collated from her earlier releases Let Them Eat Chaos and Everybody Down, Tempest seizes the attention of the audience with her trademark unremitting verbal assault, her expression alternating between white-hot, seething fury and a beaming grin of helpless, genuine joy.
Once this overwhelming early offensive has thoroughly defeated the crowd’s defences, Tempest sets about the evening’s main attraction and purpose of her current tour, a full start-to-end performance of her new album; The Book of Traps and Lessons. This new record finds Tempest in something of a more reflective mood, at the dawning of a new romance, and examining the exhilarating thrills and crippling doubts that she encounters with each tentative step taken toward the woman she is falling for. It’s a notable shift for Tempest to write as frankly as this about herself in the first person, as her previous work has tended to include herself either as a member of a greater cause or community; or otherwise in character (One might suspect that the recurring character of “Esther” from Let Them Eat Chaos was one that Tempest, born Kate Esther Calvert, most closely identified herself with.)
It’s a bold and satisfyingly successful move, that allows room for growth in both the composition of the poetry itself, and then in the subsequent performance. The blood-and-guts viscera and the unpredictable and flighty leaps between cultivated Classicism and the grime of the gutter that frequently draw comparison with the poetry of Ted Hughes remain in place; but now imbued with a sense of contentment that’s both new and heartwarming.
In Kate Tempest, we have a writer and performer in our midst who’s rapidly approaching that tantalising point where their work and renown become important to society as a whole. This is an artist we should be paying attention to, and after the performance tonight, I believe Kate Tempest is quite capable of making certain we do.
For more on the Edinburgh International Festival programme click here.