Lal Waterson as lyricist has a bit of Stevie Smith about her, and quite a bit of Rosemarie Tonks, and reminds me sometimes of U. A. Fanthorpe too. There’s a strong note of defiant lamentation (see the way she sings “I don’t need nobody helping me / I don’t need no bugger’s arm around me”…) which I think of as a particularly late-60s thing for some reason (although Fanthorpe didn’t publish anything until the 70s were nearly out):
Fell in the street in a drunken heap;
There’s bright water all around me.
And the cheap red wine in my drunken brain
Has left a burning flame in my belly.
I don’t need nobody helping me;
I don’t need nobody’s arm around me.
If I was a black beetle upside down,
I could kick all night long and never turn around.
But I’m flat on my back in the rainbow rain,
Still I know, in the morning I’ll be on me feet again.
Just can’t get a grip of the ground;
I’m upside down the right way round.
(Red Wine Promises)
Thinking about what I love about this helps me to focus a bit on why I find Kate Tempest difficult to like, in spite of all the obvious talent she brings to bear on what she does. The poetry in Tempest is often a sort of amping-up of language towards vivid imagery or heightened sentiment: it aims at an elevation above the ordinary. In Waterson, it’s a wrenching of ordinary speech towards something strange and difficult to get out: the “authenticity” is in the peculiar swerve of it. It involves purification at least as much as adornment: whittling things down to just what they need to be.