November 24, 2016
We love all things entertainment and every now and again, something comes along that you just can’t turn down! The beauty of entertainment is that it can take many forms, but our favourite occasions are those where there is something unique on display, something we’ve never seen before. Could poetry and live modern orchestral music combine to form something that works seamlessly? We took a trip to Cadogan Hall to find out.
Set in the heart of Sloane Square, a stone’s throw from the Royal Court theatre, the venue is a beauty and perfect for a number of events, not least this one! It’s probably fair to say at this point that although I enjoy poetry (speaking as myself rather than the company), it tends to be in short forms rather than a full two hour burst in one go. But then, I’d never actually experienced two hours of poetry over an evening so maybe it would be my thing? I had my doubts but spurred on by a smidgen of knowledge about Hollie McNish and the fact the show was laid on for free by ASOS as part of their ASOS Supports Talent strand, there was absolutely nothing to lose. This is presumably why ASOS are putting on such a show; to highlight the brilliance of young people in areas we might not ordinarily appreciate. Indeed, the audience were almost all in their twenties and early thirties, so it was clear there was a target demographic for the evening.
The show took the form of two halves with the first half allowing Hollie to introduce a couple of poets whom she personally really enjoys. Vanessa Kisuule was a hugely enjoyable opening act, sporting painful ASOS heels and an approach to public speaking that suggests if the poetry hadn’t worked out, she’d have a future in stand up comedy for sure. She had the room in fits of laughter both before, during and after her poetry, which focused on raising men in the modern world, wine and a subject we can’t possibly comment on here, but rest assured it was hilarious and truly entertaining. A superb opening act to bring those of us new to poetry (well, newish – we did write this for National Poetry Day a few weeks ago) into our comfort zone.
With warm applause and admiration, it was then left to Vanessa to introduce the next act, Salena Godden, a poet whom Vanessa owed a debt of gratitude when it comes to performing her works live. We loved Vanessa so just how dramatic would Salena be? The answer is ‘very’. She began with a ‘public service announcement’ declaring that women have control of their own bodies and went from there. She is an inspired performer and has been writing and performing poetry for twenty years. We adore her ode to the apathetic and truth be told, were somewhat inspired to pursue more of our dreams having seen her onstage. Don’t say can’t, say can!
Hollie McNish closed out the first half with a few poems of her own that show just why she has risen to such prominence over the past year or so. The subjects are broad and all encompassing, whilst her anecdotes of how they came to be written are very funny. She begins by noting “My grandmother can’t be here… Well actually, I’m not even sure I told her. And to be fair, she probably wouldn’t want to come anyway…”Are all poetry evenings this enjoyable? We need to see more poetry! The entire evening up until this point had been so far from the GCSE syllabus we expected and by the end of the first half, we were palpably excited for the second. This wasn’t just people droning on at the front of the stage in a stilted manner. These were poems taken from all areas (“This one’s on my phone, hang on…”) and performed in a wonderfully theatrical manner. Cadogan Hall was a perfect venue for the performances.
After a half hour interval, it was time for the main event: Hollie McNish performing a few poems from her collaboration with the Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jules Buckley. As it turns out, the Metropole Orkest are not a classical orchestra but are in fact defined as ‘non-classical’, infusing their performances with jazz and pop and combining elements of a jazz big band with a symphony orchestra. They’ve won numerous Grammys, performed at the BBC Proms on a number of occasions and are based in the Netherlands, so to have them over for one night only was no small feat!
The poems were recorded by Hollie for the orchestra to use, though she had no knowledge of what the music would be like in advance. As she explains, “The silly ones were made serious and the serious ones, well…”As artists prominently note, you can’t control how others will see your work, which adds to the beauty of the collaboration. Hollie and the Metropole Orkest performed a smattering of tracks from the album over the next 45 minutes or so, again with the anecdotes of how they were written thrown in between. We absolutely loved the music and the poems, which focused on various topics including Hollie’s grandfather, breastfeeding in a public toilet out of being embarrassed to do it in public, immigration, her daughter admiring herself in the mirror and wanting to be seen as a woman and not a girl.
We could go on and on with superlatives for the evening – there were two standing ovations, the music and the poetry combined perfectly and in these current times, it is nights like these that make life seem a little more manageable. We (I? – I’m aware this blog has combined the two…) will definitely be seeking out more live poetry and urge you to see Vanessa, Selena, Hollie or the Metropole Orkest live. You’ll be in for a treat. We must extend our warm thanks to ASOS for making such an evening accessible to all and for pushing poetry to the fore.
If you’d like to hear a copy of Hollie McNish and the Metropole Orkest’s collaboration, then you can do so on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon. Do it!
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By Henry Fosdike