Live Review: Hammer and Tongue present Slounge folk punk harpist Serafina Steer, and poetry, 11/11/0

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by William Green

‘Slounge’ is a new night of culture funded, organised and performed by Oxford Contemporary Music (OCM), Hammer & Tongue, Oxford’s finest Slam poets, and the Oxford Film and Video Makers (OFVM). Throughout November and December they’re doing their highly artistic thing in The Vaults Café, in Radcliffe Square.

It’s a great venue; the cold stone of the church building is offset by the warmth of the atmosphere, the packed tables, and the delicious home-made food served from seven onwards whilst a DJ gets things started with some inoffensive background musak.   Admittedly, it is a little bit Nathan Barley. The place is full of weekend hippies, blokes with white-man dreds talking about the difference between Old World and New World wine, and women painstakingly sculpted into the casual boho look. I suppose that explains the name: ‘Slounge’. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. As far as I can tell, it is lounge with an 's' on the front. But if you can get over these little niggles, it really is a nice atmosphere.

First on the bill was current International Spoken Word Champion, Steve Larkin. Except, he had flu, which was a shame as he truly is excellent. In his stead was Sophia Blackwell, who is gay, by the way, and wants you to know it. After a shaky start- a rather contrived poem about fairytales and teenage romance-she got into the meat of her material. Given the church setting, her pounding meditations on religion and death were oddly appropriate. The stand-out poem, however, was a beautifully crafted conceit called ‘Buying Tomatoes’, in which her rhymes and rhythms hit the heights of inventiveness and wit which her other works had tantalisingly suggested. If this is a sign of her progression then I look forward to seeing her again.

Following Sophia was a set of four short films by the OFVM. I sipped my nicely chilled red wine and suppressed the urge to laugh. Sorry, but they were a bit stupid. In any other context they would be an acute parody. First, a film about a man jumping a pole vault; then a heart-wrenching narrative of a box which gets carefully made and discarded. The third film was so bad I’m not even going to write about it, and the final picture-an interesting concept of narrating the break up of a love triangle through the medium of dance-would have been quite good if the dancers hadn’t been so obviously amateur. There is a bit more to dancing than jumping against walls.

The evening was slipping away, and it needed something special from ‘winsome folk-punk harpist’ Serafina Steer to rescue the night. Fortunately, she delivered magnificently. Her classical training on the harp was immediately evident and beautifully complimented her achingly fragile voice which constantly seemed on the brink of breaking, yet still managed to hit that extra note higher. Her lyrics were dynamic and broad, telling tales of tigers, peach hearts and rivers in a way which simultaneously managed to be dreamlike and incisive. Her forcefully demanded encore, ‘Curses, curses, curses’ was sublime, demonstrating that even obscure comedy folk songs like ‘Valerie Wilkins’ were not beyond her scope.

After Serafina came another six films, but I didn’t stay to watch them. Having heard something so good, I really didn’t want to spoil it.  Perhaps that was rather close-minded of me, but I don’t regret it. If you ever get the chance to see Serafina Steer, then take it.

The next Slounge event is Wednesday 5th December, featuring Mercury nominated acoustic/electronica songwriter Leafcutter John and the interactive art of Lisa Busby.

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