All photos by Sam Ryley.
Pen:Chant’s bi-monthly cabaret programmes already feel like part of Manchester’s cultural furniture, their nomadic ethos staging local and national stars from Contact to Gullivers. Covering comedy, spoken word, music and whatever else they can lay their hands on, theirs is as reliable a format for midweek entertainment as you’ll find, having welcomed beatboxing vocal sculptor Jason Singh, slam poet champ Harry Baker and viral video poet Jess Green to headline over the past year. The latest selection of performers gathered at Gorilla, with solo sets for Soweto Kinch and Bellatrix, with sketch comedy by Gein’s Family Giftship – all introduced by host and organiser Ben Mellor’s rhyming couplets.
After an engaging, local star-studded open mic, from Dave Viney’s javelins to Mark Mace Smith’s stoner ‘Creep’ via Alice Brockway recalling the feeling of being ‘fucked in the face by a fork’, it’s the Giftshop gang who launch the main event. The trinamic trio’s deliberately awkward demeanour took a short while to settle, but was soon flowing sketch to darkly comic sketch with aplomb. Without throwing in any punchline spoilers, their best moments include charades, flying fears, holding your breath through tunnels, a rendition of ‘My Sharona’ and the most elaborately overdramatic pint ordering scenario you will ever see.
Bellatrix’s introductions reveal her unease at fitting in with any of her creative paths so far – ranging from too West country for beatboxing to too common to train in stand-up bass at music school. But she’s achieved everything, and has now realised it can all be rolled into one, much to this seated audience’s delight. Her opening salvo of an Ibeyi vocal loop cover, then exhibitions of her obvious prowess with double bass strings and slaps, as well as a beatboxing tour de force, is followed by ‘Gloria’, a knowingly over-sensitive memory of past classroom antics, featuring her full spectrum. You’ll be able to hear her debut EP with a little advanced help via Pledge Music.
All of which left Soweto with time only for an efficiently delivered set to close, albeit commanding the stage across another wide creative palette. His alto sax blast loosened the cobwebs, before “When will I be getting mine” rang through the venue in response to his ‘Invidia’ song of deadly sin. The Birmingham-raised polymath gave a successful rendition of his freestyling party trick, squeezing haggis, cockerel, naughty, trampoline and apple into improvised bars. The final treat of another fine night was an airing of two tracks from Nonagram, Kinch’s forthcoming album due in November: a rap around Theresa May’s advice to “Stay alert but not alarmed” and a Paper Tigery sax wig-out.
The show took place on Wednesday 21 September, 2016, at Gorilla.