Plymouth Literature Festival 2017

JB Barrington at the Hutong Cafe

Plymouth has an established and vibrant Performance Poetry culture. For Plymouth Literature Festival 17 there is a new venue on the block. The Hutong Cafe, which opened earlier this year, is building a reputation as an intimate location for evening events. Saturday saw the arrival of JB Barrington, a performance poet from Salford, a particularly interesting area of Manchester, he was supported by two local poets and a surprise extra poet from Hull.

The evening kicked off with Antonia Raine, a local poet who flipped misogyny on its head, shining wit and humour on the cliched comments and behaviours of some men that really piss women off. She was followed by another local wordsmith, Andy Blackwell who weaved local and carnal knowledge into brilliant and narrative poems, told in a range of accents that were superbly accurate.

The surprise extra of the evening was Jim Higo, a poet/ comedian from Hull, as a salve to the pride of Plymouth which lost the chance of being City of Culture to Hull he suggested that the only perceptible change in his City, now it is cultured, is that there has been an increase in the street price of heroin. Jim’s set was lively and left me an earworm that was hard to shake. His rant “ I Hate a Floating Voter” was a polemic, and although I didn’t completely agree with it, I was hooked by his performance. His incomplete Ice House Road, a tale of prostitution, left me wanting more and the poem about a lonely aged boxer cadging drinks in the pubs of Hull was unexpectedly moving. He told us that his mum thought that a Plymouth audience wouldn’t ‘get’ him when he told her where he was performing. She was wrong, the audience at Hutong definitely ‘got’ him, his tales of deprivation and humour struck a local nerve.

Wearing a brown Mac and clutching a carrier bag of stuff, the main man, JB Barrington wandered to the front of the room for the third part of the evening. He cut a stylish figure with steel grey hair and modish good looks. The previous night he had performed at the 02 at Sheffield with the Sleaford Mods, and tonight 50 lucky people at Hutong had a much closer encounter.
JB is from Salford, an award winning performance poet known for his satirical, lyrical, ‘working class’ poetry. His poems feature dole and debt, dockers and unions, proud men, strong women and the love, fun, misery and fragility of normal life where he comes from. His mum is a huge source of inspiration. Things Me Mam Used to Say might be the words of a Salford woman but the motherly advice and discipline all seemed pretty relatable. Nostalgia conjured for humble icons like the Spanish dolls that resided in countless Council homes depicting the glamour of European travels long before Easy Jet. JB points out the obvious things that it’s all too easy to overlook and forget; yet these are the things of recent social history.

You Had Me, is the tale of an ex lover-note to many, never upset a poet you might become a performance! Truly I was lost for words, it was such a great evening. Not only because it featured poetry from a man who is such a high caliber performer – I don’t know why did he agree to perform in such a tiny venue a seven hour drive from his home but I am glad he did. JB Barrington came to Plymouth Literary Festival, he was brilliant and incidentally brought another wonderful poet with him and they were both ably supported by some seriously good local talent.

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