For six years now, Wrote Under Publishing has been the epitome of the underground poet collective. Having initially had their material rejected by established publishing companies for ‘uncouth language’, the group displayed classic artistic obstinacy and gathered together to fundraise and publish off their own backs. Sunday Xpress is the chief event that serves this purpose; advertised as a ‘very open mic’, it appeals to any upcoming artists and musicians who wish to showcase and hone their material to an open minded audience. The project has thus far raised enough money for two anthologies to be published by its hosting collaboration, which in fact includes Birmingham’s unofficial poet laureate Brendan Higgins, best known for his poem ‘Shopping’. Held once a month at the Adam and Eve, it fits nicely into the Digbeth culture which is so heavily saturated with underground music and art, from the staple reggae club PST Reds to the increasingly popular Rainbow Complex, and has now returned for its Sunday afternoon slot.
Considering the hype that has surrounded this event in the past, the most recent one on Sunday 28th February came as rather a surprise. The Adam and Eve, ordinarily brought to life with reggae music, smiling staff and eccentric punters, was mostly empty for the majority of the event and the audience that was there seemed to be largely populated by the few acts that were to perform.
Of course, a small audience does not always mean a bad event. It was the selection of acts that was most unanticipated, considering the variety of talent that is undoubtedly present around Digbeth. The young poet that stepped up to the stage near the start set the tone for the rest of the afternoon; he certainly had a basic grasp on rhyme and meter, but his monotonous delivery dragged his audience through an assortment of dreary motifs, perhaps best exemplified in the line ‘Everything is disgusting’. This basic lack of performance skills was an unfortunately common theme throughout the afternoon, ultimately culminating in the amateur cover band The Two Daves who opened their set with David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. The bass was hesitant, the singer yelped rather than sang and both Daves were out of time. Dave Number One’s attempt to entertain the audience with a bad joke about a ‘cold air balloon’ in between songs fell on deaf ears, and it was a sad revelation when it became clear that Dave the guitarist, despite his shaky start, was in fact quite talented. His lingering guitar solo was upstaged by Dave the so-called singer’s flat notes in their rendition to Pink Floyd’s Money, making their joke at the start of their set that they were open to a third Dave seem more like a desperate appeal for some real talent.
There was, however, one redeeming artist for the event, and that was the singer that followed the morose poet. Despite his seemingly outdated championing of 1960s and 70s politics (his pun on The Animals House of the Rising Sun as a faux tribute to the Queen’s jubilee was somewhat reminiscent of the old anarchy scene) his topical songs and ironical statements made for a refreshing outlook on not only the event itself but today’s world perspective. The lines ‘Why would they lie? That would be absurd’ and ‘Al Quaeda Bogey Man’, although perhaps a bit too radical for a relaxed Sunday afternoon of poetry, did manage to cast an original eye upon the representations of controversial topics in the media today. No matter what your political persuasion, this singer’s bleak humour and mixture of poetry and song added to create an unconventional entertaining experience.
The danger of the ‘very open mic’ attitude is that sometimes amateur and bad acts dominate the afternoon. This particular Sunday was an especially slow day for Sunday Xpress, but considering this event’s past significance within Birmingham’s underground arts scene it should not be immediately dismissed. It may well be that Wrote Under’s event is depleting in popularity and talent, but it is still early days for 2012. It will be interesting to see what Sunday Xpress has to offer in the coming months, and whether the quality of its performers will show an improvement.
Words by Becca Inglis