Tongue Fu

This is how we do Tongue Fu
Get on this train of thought because it’s coming through (choo-choo)

These past three nights I’ve gone along to the Gilded Balloon at midnight to work with Chris Redmond and his Tongue Fu band. A drummer, a bassist and a keyboard/guitar player. Oh, and the bassist is also the world beat box champion. At Tongue Fu the poet does his/her poems and the band make it up as they go along.

Some poets end up rapping, many more present free verse while the band create a moody soundscape behind the poem. Redmond hosts with an easy charm and the punters love it. The night runs monthly in London and is very popular. In recent months they’ve ramped up their operation: put out a book, a CD, and started running workshops. Now they are taking their show to new territories.

I’m not a natural Tongue Fu-er. My poems have their own drum machine, tight metre that drives them forward on their own. So I need to do the poems to the beat, but as I also tend to favour iambs this is tricky. Most rap has a greater number unemphasised syllables than emphasised ones. It’s closer to anapaestic metre than iambic. So my iambs either feel drawn out or too fast. And I can’t rap.

Nevertheless they have had me back six times now, so watching me flounder must present its own kind of entertainment. And each time I’ve worked with the band my confidence has grown, this obviously gives better results.

It goes like this: the poet tells the band a little about the piece, often this advice is quite surreal (“this is kind of an orangey poem, but it’s got asthma”) and this adds to the fun and the wow factor of “they are making this shit up.” Like all improv it’s about the creation rather than the finished products. These interactions between poet and band are a big part of the show.

I tend to get the band to start first because I try to make songs. If we get the pace right we can do it snappily without me having to resort to something that sounds akin to Boris Johnson “wrecking the mic.”

This weekend the band and I restyled These Boots Weren’t Made For Walking as a new wave number, Sue’s Fourteener got the moody soundscape treatment, and Houses That Used To Be Boozers was reimagined yet again as a sad little jazzy number. You can listen to that one below.

Tongue Fu is on every weekend at the Fringe. I’ve never known anyone not to be charmed by it. You can get tickets here.

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