Poet Michael Parker put it something like this, ‘a battle lasts a few hours, this has lasted 10 years, this isn’t a battle – it’s a war!’ This decade-long conflict between the Hammer & Tongue poetry collective and Slip Jam:B MCs is showing no signs of coming to any sort of bloody, gory, victorious conclusion any time soon. The annual event has historically been held at the more intimate Komedia, but judging by the size of the crowd, the relocation to Concorde 2 was a justified move.
Divided into 2 rounds and hosted by opposing team members and unlikely lovers, poet Rosie Carrick and MC Adam the Rapper, the couple kicked things off with their showcase pieces. Carrick was up first with a seedy poem about a sexually debauched trip to Russia. Following this, Adam the Rapper brought the audience back to gritty reality with a piece about being so skint, he once had to scrounge food from bins – ‘not just bin food, Marks & Spencer bin food!’
Each poet and MC then took their turn to dazzle us with stories of personal, emotional struggles (MCs Big Dave & Shrapnel) thigh-slapping humour (poets Chris Parkinson, Robin Lawley & Yvo Luna) and the downright sublime (poets Spliff Richard & Michael Parker).
The 2 rounds were broken up by a high-energy cypher, which saw the MCs freestyling to hip hop beats provided by DJ Ideal, exemplifying their ability to improvise lyrics and play off one another. In fact, they got a better reaction during this section, than they did in the competition rounds.
During the final battle round, it became clear that the poets had the overall edge, based on their diversity, individuality, humility and dare I say, insanity! While the MCs, in their homogeneous hoodies, jeans and caps seemed to morph into a single, collective entity. Indeed, some even performed in pairs or threesomes, which seemed somewhat unfair to the solo poets. With the exception of Big Dave, whose poem scorning the pretentiousness of poets, was actually better suited to the poets team, the MCs did themselves no favours by resorting to personal insults, such as likening Chris Parkinson’s hair to road-kill and telling Yvo Luna she smells of tuna. This didn’t go down well with the crowd and when they targeted the extremely popular Spliff Richard after his profound, authentic and heart-breakingly accurate anti-homophobia piece, “Whatever Happened to One Love,” the sound of jeering and booing almost drowned them out. The poets bolstered their position with more intelligent insults, such as Chris Parkinson’s resounding ‘Who would want to be an MC? Not me!’ and Michael Parker’s existential allusion to ‘nothing’ and the MCs mistaken belief that they are ‘something’, leading the audience to a rousing rendition of Edwin Starr’s “War” – ‘What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.’
Finally, the audience were asked to make their democratic decision and while the MCs got a decent round of applause, the cheers, foot-stomping, whooping and hollering for the poets, sounded an emphatic victory (not that the MCs accepted it).