Band on the Wall, Manchester 23/10/16
I've never been to a spoken word performance before. I've seen some poets perform live, but not in this hybrid form with musical accompaniment. Yet I've always been a fan of George the Poet, right from the start - and if he's to be the mainstream face of spoken word, then there's going to be a lot of new fans of poetry.
First up we were treated to Manchester's own B Franklin as the warm up act. I think it's fair to say his blend of rap and spoken word pleasantly surprised the room. Tackling real issues such as alcoholism and homelessness, it's easy to see how his work aligns with George's. His deep vocals and simple acoustic guitar accompaniment grabbed the audience's attention - and he continued to impress us by boasting with his his backwards rap.
When The Search Party finally got started, the live band really lifted the mood. Suited and booted with a head mic, George the Poet almost looked like a religious minister or pastor up there on the stage – or perhaps an American ‘motivational speaker/get rich in 10 days seminar’ - and the way the crowd respected his presence he could have been. Only this was much more fun.
He started spitting his poems with charm and charisma straight away, engaging with the crowd and explaining the set up of the show. Instead of simply rolling off each of his hits, George seamlessly led the audience through stories which connected each poem. He explained how and why he left his music label and is now an independent artist - and couldn't resist cleverly linking his departure with Brexit. He noticed the irony that it was all happening at the same time, and gave us one of the best lines of the night:
"The only difference is I was 100% sure I could make it on my own - not 52%."
Well known for his politically fuelled poems, the wordmaster continued to touch on difficult social issues, from climate change to the failing criminal justice system. After all, The Search Party tour is all about promoting social action through the arts and trying to connect with people, to get fans thinking about things that really matter. His work outside of his music career, with charities and organisations, further advocates his stance as a social warrior. George the Poet has influence - and he knows how to use it.
However witty and inspiring his poems are, I have to say I'd be watching him and listening intensely, whatever he was talking about. He has a natural ability as a public speaker, almost demanding silence and craving to be heard. His mesmerising musical performance combined with his clever social commentary makes George the Poet a unique talent. If we listen, we'll see some changes.
If this show was about proving he can make it without being a signed artist, I think it’s fair to say George the Poet needs a label as much as America needs Donald Trump. If more individuals in the public eye were this focused on social change instead of getting rich, the world would be a better place.
Catch him while you can - the tour heads to Birmingham and London before the end of the month.