Review: February Words at Whiskey poetry evening, featuring Benjin

Review: February Words at Whiskey poetry evening, featuring Benjin

by Andy Buchanan

This is a relatively new monthly poetry night held at the Whiskey Blue bar in London Road, Southampton but it is organised by local poet Issa Loyaan Farrah-Kelly (pictured top).  You may know Issa as the face of Southampton City of Culture’s bid, but Issa has done and continues to do a lot more for Southampton.  

He set up and ran the original ‘Write A Note’ nights in different venues, (now in the capable hands of In Common’s poetry editor Anita Foxall), and he now runs these new monthly ‘Words at Whiskey’ open mic nights at Whiskey Blue.  

And full credit to them as well for supporting it. 

But despite being new, there was a real advance buzz about this event.  And it was packed out, with standing room only.  Issa had invited a highly unusual guest artist whom he knew, the multi-instrumentalist Benjin, who has toured and recorded over the last 20 years, and recently finished as principal musician in Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

It turned out that the advance excitement was entirely justified. The evening kicked off with local poets and spoken word artists, a good mix of both well-known and brand new people reading their work, too many to mention all of them here.  But Syd Meats’ comic eccentricity was in full flow and certainly bemused and amused the audience.  Victoria Jeu brought her consummately professional skills as a performer.  And Holly Lake’s work is serious and thoughtful, the only slight problem being some noisy people at the bar at times, until they were shut up.  There was also a new group of young hip hop guys, some of whom were giving their first ever performances, a powerful mix of spoken word and bars.  

In addition, Issa is a good host; he doesn’t go on and on in a self-indulgent way, he just quickly introduces the artists in a positive and supportive way. 

Then after the interval came the special guest.  

Benjin very helpfully gave a much needed introduction to his nyckelharpa, a very uncommon if not actually downright weird looking instrument.  It is a bit like a fiddle but with keys, and also with sympathetic drone strings, also just a little bit like a hurdy-gurdy.  It actually dates back to the 16th Century and is also used in Swedish folk music, we learnt.  

Benjin himself was wearing a baseball cap, not something often worn by Early Music instrument players, but he played his own original compositions on this instrument, including a number of extracts from his last album ‘Music for Cello and Nyckelharpa.’  In performing, he used a looper to set up and overdub multi-tracks live, and then played a cello for the bass line, plus occasionally triggering strange found spoken word or speech sample sources on top.  

The resulting music was quite extraordinary, with waves of looped string chords on top of each other, and more.  Sometimes it sounded like medieval systems music (if you can possibly imagine such a thing) to at times sounding a bit like Lemon Jelly just in its use of music and found spoken passages of words.  But most of the time it sounded utterly indescribable and just totally unique to the largely amazed audience. 

So there you have it.  Everything from hip hop guys performing poetry and rap influenced pieces, to live music featuring an obscure and overdubbed 16th century medieval instrument.  And this is all taking place in a public bar! 

I have never seen such a mix at any other venue, and so well done Issa for such an extraordinary evening, it was something special.  


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