An Ode to Tongue Fu

From overthought reams of rhyming couplets as a teenager to the back-of-receipt haikus frantically scribbled before that moment of inspiration once again slips away, poetry has long played a big part in my life. Admittedly now my poetry functions as an inner monologue as opposed to something ready for public consumption, but it pains me to see that unless you’re an English Literature graduate (guilty as charged), poetry often gets a bad rap, a genre overwhelmed by clichéd notions of black polo necks and berets or over romantic sentiments ripe for the inside of greeting cards. If you still believe this is the world of poetry, you have clearly never been to Tongue Fu.

To quote Tongue Fu’s charismatic front man and founder, Chris Redmond, Tongue Fu is ‘a live experiment in spoken word, music, film and experience’. Regular residents of Shoreditch’s Rich Mix, Chris and his merry band of wordsmiths are leading the renaissance of poetry and spoken word that is finally making poets the household names they deserve to be. Delivering an evening of live music, unique visuals and a mix of spoken word performances that can be at once heartfelt and hilarious then heartbreaking and politically enraged, Tongue Fu has to be experienced to be believed.

Jumping aboard the Tongue Fu train (choo choo) at their latest gig at Rich Mix; Rachel Rose Reid, Johnny Fluffypunk, Inua Ellams and Maria Ferguson share the stage with the Tongue Fu band on a stage decorated with wonderfully random and reactive live visuals from east London design studio CR&D.

With poets reading on iPads next to tattered notebooks, this is a testament to the evolution of poetry. From tales of one man’s love affair with coffee to the slave trade, first sexual experiences to the highs of life in telesales, no subject matter is left unturned as the poets use the page for the ultimate catharsis, allowing the audience in to laugh, cry and identify.

Rachel Rose Reid, a feisty and multifaceted performer, invites us back in time as she connects herself with the storytellers of time gone by from Woody Guthrie to Arthurian lovers. Enrapturing young talent Maria Ferguson, graduate of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and now part of Early Doors, revels in her rockstar role, delving into the depths of late night love affairs and telesales. Johnny Fluffypunk, owner of one of the most entrancing moustaches you can ever hope to see, shares memories of life as an anarchic punk in the West Country while Inua Ellams mixes classic storytelling with hip hop rhythms and rhyme. It’s fascinating to see such different styles on the same bill but equally exciting to witness words in action in the purest form.

The buzz in the audience is infectious; from subtle foot tapping to visible grooving in the seats, there is nothing stationary about Tongue Fu. A perfect threesome of the arts, words, music and film feed almost seamlessly into one another. The incredible talents of the Tongue Fu improvisation band, made up of a piano, drums and bass, spilling out everything from bossa nova to ’80s montage music, simply from vague prompts from the poets, is incomparable.

It’s hard to review an event that in its very essence changes with each performance, each poet and indeed each poem, but what resonates through each Tongue Fu gig is what makes it so unmissable, that unique opportunity to watch the synergy of creation work its way across the stage.

Tongue Fu took place on Thursday 8 November at:

Rich Mix
35 – 47 Bethnal Green Road
E1 6LA

Keep up to date on all upcoming Tongue Fu gigs on the website.

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