Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Stunning performance from Amy Leon during a night of high octane performance poetry and improvised jazz
Young, Black and proud – Amy Leon, New York’s magnificent singer and poet, strode into Sumerhall’s Roundabout and stole our hearts. At the end of her twenty minute, part sung, part spoken, part improvised set – a young woman in the audience gasped, ‘I’ve never seen anything as good as this!’ It punctured the tension in the room quite perfectly and everyone laughed… although you know what? Thinking about it, we may never hear anything quite as good again.
Tongue Fu’s band, Pete Ibbetson on drums, Arthur Lea on Keys, Dave O’Brien on bass, hit their cool, jazz funk groove and supported Leon with a sensitivity and finely tuned grace that her work demanded. Good listening guys. There was plenty for the band to respond to. Leon has quite a story to tell. The story of America’s never ending struggle with race. About what it is like to be a young black woman in a country still ravaged by social inequality. Leon evoked the greats. Where Nina Simone once sung Mississippi Goddam, Leon now picks up the bloodied baton. Maya Angelou and Billie Holiday also come to mind and Leon brings it all bang up to date with an emphatic, heartfelt response to Trayvor Martin’s fatal shooting. Black lives matter – and here they have a formidable ambassador. A landmark Edinburgh Fringe performance. A total standing ovation.
Follow that? Not possible of course, and the evening should have ended there (in effect it kind of did). The other performers on the bill: Harry Baker, Rob Auton, Anna Freeman and charismatic host, Chris Redmond played their part admirably thought. Their riffs on heaven’s restaurants, white van men, mansplaining, falafel and a happy host of other subjects all contributed to creating a hip, vibrant and poetically charged atmosphere. But really, in essence, for these poets – it was a case of look and learn.
So what are the lessons?
Have a big story to tell. Be as ambitious as you possibly can. Use all the elements at your disposal to make it work. Be bold, be subtle, be heartfelt. In short, bring out your inner Amy Leon. The evening belonged to her.