Kate Tempest interview: Recording artist, poet, playwright and novelist, and Guest Director of Brighton Festival 2017
What have been your aims as Guest Director of Brighton Festival 2017?
The reason that I thought that this would be an amazing thing to do is because of having an opportunity to think about the artists that I love, the work that I love, the stuff that I love to go to, and to try to broaden the scope a little bit of how other people receive and have access to these artworks. I was extremely humbled to be asked to follow in the footsteps of such great artists that have come before: Laurie Anderson last year, Aung San Suu Kyi, Brian Eno.
In what way do you believe the arts are powerful?
What the arts can help us to do is that they can locate us in the particular. And so they can connect us more fully, more truly with the universal. They can bring us back in to focus a little bit and this experience that you have when you’re in a theatre, in a cinema, watching a gig watching a poet – there is something recalibrating about that experience. It kind of sends you back out to the night with a surer sense of what you’re looking at, and who you feel you are in that moment.
Storytelling in particular is an important theme this year. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Everything is narrative. Everything that we base ourselves on, the reasons that we get in the messes that we get in, and the reason that we find beauty in the things that we find beauty in – it’s all absolute narrative, we’ve made it up! When you immerse yourselves in narratives that are overtly narratives like storytelling, or cinema or theatre or dance – whatever it is, ‘the arts’, it can help you tune in to spotting the narratives that are more carefully hidden – the ones that you might miss, the narratives that you subscribe to that you didn’t even realise, or stories that somebody made up. Ideologies, religions, belief systems that can trap us in ways that are very difficult to see if we are too involved in our own everyday epic. Sometimes tuning in to somebody else’s story makes us realise the stories that we are telling about ourselves and I think in these times it is extremely important to become aware of the narratives that we are a part of, the narratives that we subscribe to and the narratives that we want to change because if you’re stuck in a cycle of behaviour you need to be able to see it – you need to be able to assess the narrative before you can change it.
What are some of the things that most excite you in this year’s programme?
There’s a site-specific piece of theatre, by this incredible duo from Australia, it’s called Five Short Blasts: Shoreham. Five short blasts is the signal that you give when you are in a sea-way, that means ‘I’m confused about your intention and I’m nervous that we are going to collide’. So, this is the premise of this sound art piece that involves the industrial boat sea-way.
Also, there’s a real emphasis on lyricism which is something that is really close to my heart. We’ve got a load of poets that we’ve programmed and storytellers and lyricists from across the board. There’s a guy called Daniel Morden, who’s from Wales and he’s a storyteller – he knows the whole Odyssey back to front in his head, and he can tell it to you while you’re sitting there and it will feel like a blockbuster movie. There’s a rapper called Ocean Wisdom and a rapper called Jam Baxter and a group called Four Owls who are going to do an event as a part of a High Focus showcase. I’m really excited about Yussef Kamaal, Yussef Dayes is a drummer that I’ve known since I was very young and I’m really excited to see him – he’s got this duo they are doing a Lunchtime concert. Gary Younge’s doing a talk, that’s going be really good. There’s Depart, a circus in a cemetery that’s going to be very good. So many things!
What new elements have you brought to Brighton Festival this year?
We’ve got this really cool initiative called Your Place – which is probably the thing I’m most excited about. We have developed these two community hubs, one in Whitehawk, one in Hangleton, in community centres there and we’ll be programming events that are free – completely free – going on for two weekends across the Festival. That will be performances from Brighton Festival artists, also participatory events and workshops. Everything completely free, programmed in conjunction and consultation with people that run some of the community programmes out of those community centres.
I thought it was important that as well as having this very exciting, cosmopolitan festival happening in the city centre, with all this buzz and hype and all this energy that gets built up from people seeing something spilling out on to the street. I wanted it to also reflect the wider population of Brighton who maybe can’t afford to get in to the city centre. I wanted to bring a bit of what was happening in the Brighton Festival out to a bit more of Brighton.
In terms of that, there is this Pay It Forward element where if you feel inclined and can afford it you can put a fiver down and Brighton Festival will match that fiver and then you can create a £10 ticket for someone who can’t afford a £10 ticket. After something amazing like the opening Children’s Parade where all the school kids in Brighton parade through the streets – Pay-it-Forward feels like a useful way of activating some of the feelings that get brought up when you are watching a piece of work together – about community and feeling a part of something. It feels like an active way that people can help make the Festival a bit more open and create space for more people to come and check out some of these amazing artists.
Tell us about your own appearances during Brighton Festival
I’m doing this launch event where I’m going to have an invited roster of different artists that I’ve invited to come and launch with me and it’s going to be brilliant! I’ll be telling some poems at that and then I’m going to be performing Let Them Eat Chaos in its entirety with my band towards the end of the Festival and also doing a performance of Let Them Eat Chaos reimagined for an orchestral score. A kind of reinterpretation of the album for strings, which will be composed by Mica Levi who is an incredible artist and a friend, which is really exciting! I’m also doing the Picador Poetry night curated by Dom Paterson which is going be brilliant.
What’s been your relationship to the city and the Festival to date?
I’ve had a relationship with this place all my life. There was always someone from my family that lived here or close to here. As I’ve grown older, getting to play in Brighton Festival was an amazing feeling because Brighton has this reputation as a very open and free thinking town. As a queer woman coming here, the relief that I feel when I step off the train is palpable. Honestly I can’t explain the feeling that it gives me, it makes me feel really welcome and safe. So, the idea of a liberal town is one thing but actually for me personally to get off the train and walk about and to be like: ‘Wow this is ok, I’m ok here, I’m welcome here you know?’ That is a really important thing.”
Brighton Festival takes place from 6-28 May 2017. For information visit brightonfestival.org