Photo by Ian Valentine Photography.
The ambience exuded by Pen:Chant offers an almost precise attention to detail, dressing Gullivers’ endearingly shabby, faux-baroque ballroom in a cloak of early 20th century cabaret speakeasy, with candle-lit tables adorned by plates of French Fancies and chocolate chic brioche buns in recognition of Bastille Day. Every seat was taken, leaving limited standing room only by the time our host, poet Ben Mellor, had lured us in with his saucy M&S advert-inspired ‘S&M Food’ wordplay as an introduction to the opening act, the abstract comic pairing of Norris & Parker.
They tickled funny bones from the get-go with their Feminazis routine as subscribers to Mein Cuntf, re-wordings of 80s and 90s pop (step forward Bowie and Bush for the former; Meredith Brooks and Madonna for the latter) to fit the soul-seeking and unsuccessful plights of their exaggerated characters. The Jackie Cooper Clarke skit was a riot and the audience interaction of their semi-improvised Aussie waiting service closed the set just as it began, by harassing the front row’s semi-willing prop victim, Andrew.
After a series of open mic slots – for Steve Unwin, Flora Martyr and Lennie Sanders – and a short interlude, Mellor performed his Brexit-themed poem, ‘Come On England’, as expected by the headlining act, Harry Baker, in our interview with the pair. The poem saw Mellor tag off for Baker, whose slot was a tried and tested recital of his greatest YouTube hits to date, taking extra care to slow his speech to emphasise the best of his comic phrases, and adding a ‘One Two’ intro riff to ease himself in.
From the prime-time, maths-punning ’59’ to the World Slam-winning ‘Paper People’, his cleverly loquacious quips were well-received throughout. Sometimes political, sometimes homely, other times motivational and always on point.
The showstopping crowd-silencer was yet to come. Julie E Gordon’s return to the stage after a hiatus had been hyped all night, and with her personalised, tear-jerking version (“every word comes from the truth”) of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ tugging on the heartstrings, that hype was justified. Add to that a rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and an aptly rousing ‘Superstar’ finale, during which the Happy Mondays and Caulbearers singer acknowledged the contributions of her six-piece backing band, it was the cherry on top of a well-baked cake.
The event was staged by Pen:Chant and took place at Gullivers on Thursday 14 July, 2016. Their next event is scheduled for 21 September at Gorilla and features Bellatrix the beatboxing bassist, plus more.