I first saw Kate Tempest at Glastonbury in 2007 when she was sharing a bill (in a tea tent) with my friend Gideon. I watched her in a big muddy mess of drugs and gore-tex and, like absolutely everything I clapped eyes on at the time, I thought she was the best thing I had ever seen. Then I forgot all about her until she wrote a play for Paines Plough, and when I talked to my new theatre friends I said “Oh yeah Kate Tempest. I saw her in 2007 at Glastonbury in a tea tent because she was sharing a bill with my friend Gideon. I used to be into gigs and festivals and stuff y’know.” But I never saw the play because I’m more bothered about direction and fancy production tricks than the playright.
And then tonight, a month before I leave Leicester, I went to an incredible spoken word night at a local theatre and she was headlining. It was full of cool young people in the kind of hats that make old people look old and young people look cool. It’s been sunny so there were young cool men in hats and vests. Dead Poets were on and did some stuff about the similarities between poetry and rapping, and then Polarbear came on and I was all like “oooh I’ve seen his one-man theatre show because I’m into theatre now y’know” and then an amazing poem by the guy who organised it and he was wearing dungarees with the straps hanging down like cool young people do in the summer, and then Kate Tempest.
When you’re at the theatre it’s brilliant and everything but deep down you know they’re pretending. Even with the kind of theatre you see where they’re not in character and there’s no fourth wall and they respond to the audience and have a slideshow or something, you know they’re ordering things in a way that makes their story work best. With spoken word, with poems, with Kate Tempest’s stuff, even though it’s totally constructed and rehearsed and edited and all that, it remains this raw flow of emotion where she raps some bits and says others and even sings others still as if she’s having some kind of floaty religious thing with her eyes closed and her head back. I completely love her. I was crying by about the third poem, and even in one of the talky bits in between where she said that we should all embrace the thing in our lives that’s bigger than us but makes us realise who we are, whether that’s hip-hop like it was for her, or something else. She did a poem for her sister that it actually feels really difficult to write about now but when she was says the words onstage it felt so natural to be hearing about all the most special, private, intimate things about her family. She gave me a lump in my throat and a smile on my face and I am completely unable to articulate it any better than that. It wasn’t anything like theatre because there wasn’t any pretending at all. I absolutely love her.