thu 25/07/2024

CD: Hollie + Metropole Orkest - Poetry versus Orchestra | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Hollie + Metropole Orkest - Poetry versus Orchestra

CD: Hollie + Metropole Orkest - Poetry versus Orchestra

Subtle, imaginative collaboration underlines potent performance talent

Performance poet Hollie McNish and composer Jules Buckley specialise in taking their respective art forms to new audiences. They’ve gone for a double whammy with this enterprising collaboration, the brainchild of producer Kwame Kwaten, bringing poetry to music fans and vice versa. The album was launched last week at Cadogan Hall, at a free event sponsored by ASOS Supports Talent, attracting the kind of young, female audience the venue usually can only dream of.

Buckley wrote the music himself with Chris Wheeler from the Heritage Orchestra. Accompanying a solo speaking voice, there are obvious limitations to the orchestra’s potential power and scope. During McNish’s spoken passages, there’s a gentle pulse and some delicate background colour; while she pauses, more expansive tone-painting fills in. The orchestral arrangements are necessarily quite straightforward but it’s done with good taste. The Metropole Orkest (Buckley is chief conductor) plays with lush, slick assurance.

It’s really all about the message. Less is more with McNish. She’s stylistically quite plain, with noticeably less repetition and embellishment than others in the field. There’s little imagery, or figurative language; it would be tempting sometimes to compare her to Blake, or Clare, as a kind of bard of the people, but her imagery doesn’t soar into the allegorical realm. It remains literal, the focus polemical, the economy potent. Lyrics are expertly weighted for impact, and so often, McNish touches a nerve. 

“Touch” demands “hands on / lips on / heat on” physical relationships instead of “facebook pokes and hugs… we’re forgetting how to make love”. “Wow” explores the amazement of giving birth, and of her young daughter’s unselfconscious joy in her own body; “Embarrassed” is a poignant denunciation of the hypocritical squeamishness about breastfeeding “in this country of billboards covered in tits”. On immigration (“Mathematics”), the sexualisation of childhood and the infantilisation of womanhood (“Cupcakes and Scones”) and more, the subtle, regular beat resonates to the sound of nails being hit on the head.

And while her topics sound on paper like a bullet-point memo from the metropolitan elite, these are visceral, lived experiences, which she narrates with understated but spectacular force. The physical album comes as a hardback book with full lyrics and CD. A perfect present for daughters (and sons) everywhere, dismayed by transatlantic politics.


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