The name Kate Tempest hasn’t been something completely alien to many people for the past year. I have however actively avoided listening to or attempting to find anything out about her until now. She’s seems to have slipped under the radar over the past year whilst simultaneously making a massive impact. She was nominated last year for the Mercury Prize for her debut album, Everybody Down, which is pretty good really considering not many people have really heard of her.
She’s performed in Sheffield numerous times for the Lyric Festival over the past few years and this is why I had heard of her. I never went and listened though, for some reason assuming that she was simply a poet who performed with slightly more interest than others. This is probably because if you look at a photograph of her, she looks pretty innocent; blonde curls and a make-up-less, fresh-faced look. You wouldn’t expect her performance to be a result of this look, her blonde curls fail to hint at the fantastically energetic performance that she produces and a voice steeped with attitude and emotion.
The twenty-nine year old poet turned playwright turned spoken word artist turned rapper (soon to become novelist) hails from South East London and her roots are arguably why she is so good. Having won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 for her epic narrative poem ‘Brand New Ancients’, she then began to branch into making her work more melodic; however, without those poetic roots and that discipline I don’t believe there is anyway her work would be as good as it is. Her lyrics are a mixture of social observation and social activism or opinion. Her album, Everybody Down, is described as a story, with each song being a different chapter. It follows a girl called Becky as she navigates herself through various different social situations and obstacles.
Musically, Tempest incorporates aspects of hip-hop, dubstep and British grime. I’m not sure if I’m being insulting when I say she is like a female version of Mike Skinner (The Streets) in terms of accent and tone. However as Mike Skinner simply observes, Tempest does far more than that; ‘War Music’ is a perfect example of her social commentary. It’s a song that observes and describes the disintegration of a young man’s life after he returns from war and comments on the position of those in power. She continues to differ in the way she seems more melodic; there are points within her commentary where she is almost singing.
Tempest has been praised widely by the likes of fellow spoken word artist and Londoner Scroobius Pip, and appeared on his late night radio show, and artists such as Roots Manuva. The Guardian claims she is ‘one of the greatest British talents around.’ All forms of her art have been critically well received and it’s not hard to see why. She has supported Scroobius Pip and John Cooper Clarke. She’s been relentlessly trying to succeed from the age of sixteen and now it would seem her time has finally come and it is well deserved. Being nominated for the Mercury Prize with your first album is a massive achievement. Tempest appears a force to be reckoned with.
If you haven’t, I would definitely recommend having a listen. Listen to Everybody Down in order, track by track, and appreciate it’s finely weaved narrative. Read her poetry and maybe some of her plays. Listen to some interviews; she has lots of interesting things to talk about and watch some videos of her perform live. Maybe see if you can catch the real thing. I know next time I see her name on the line-up for the Lyric Festival I won’t be ignoring it; I’ll be going to see her and I’ll be going to experience her energy and attitude in full, in person.