Providing inspiration to stand up for teachers and their pupils who are having their creativity stamped out by the government, Getintothis’ Chris Hughes looks to Jess Green for answers.
There’s been a real buzz around this one, as spoken poet-lyricist Jess Green takes to the intimate confines of The Unity Theatre, half way through her first national tour. It’s a kind of second homecoming for Leicester-born Green, who completed her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moore’s University. She’s already shared via Facebook that this is the tour date she’s most been looking forward to, and the audience definitely share the anticipation. We’re sat a few rows back in Unity 2, the smaller of the theatres stages. It isn’t really a stage at all – there’s no distance between the front row and the microphone, acoustic guitar and Cajon box drum already set up. The lights dim, the audience hush and Green takes to the floor, all smiles, with her two-piece band The Mischief Thieves in tow.
We’ve met Green before during her university years, but even those who don’t know her personally must find it hard not to be charmed by her humility as she introduces herself. It’s easy to feel that she’s one of us, that her performance is no preachy gimmick. She admits she hates the word, but ‘passionate’ is one that fits her perfectly.
The show begins as guitarist Scott Cadenhead strums a catchy blues riff and Dave Morris stomps out a beat to match. Then Green launches into her first story of the night, two schoolboys dealing with issues of trying to gain popularity. Her words gallop along, too brilliantly quick to repeat but never to fast to sink in.
She’s rightly been compared to Mercury Prize nominee Kate Tempest as every word is a weapon, every syllable a shield against the governments attempts to stamp out free-thought and creativity in schools. Green shuffles her feet rhythmically as she narrates the tale, gesticulating ardently to keep pace. Her next story tells of a teacher who ‘never knew he’d need to think so much’. A cocaine addict who becomes overrun with paranoia as he struggles to meet the demands of the school board, we see the other side of a situation that at first would seem outrageous.
The sad truth is that without saying so, we know that Green’s stories are far from isolated incidents. One of the most powerful poems of the night comes in the brilliantly titled Curriculum 451, a play on the late Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where book burning is used to suppress dissenting ideas. We are told of education secretary Nicky Morgan’s removal of all books from the curriculum that are considered ‘Un-British’. To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men have been replaced with Dickens and Shakespeare – how can any fifteen year old relate to these? The sense of revolution and freedom is being taken away so that these children grow up with ideas that conform to the government’s own.
Poignantly, Green reminds us that the most unfortunate children aren’t the bottom-of-the-classers from lower class families, but the forgotten ‘average’ children – those who aren’t excelling or struggling – just meandering through their education years.
Her lyrics tell these hard-hitting realities concisely and eloquently. Verses duck and weave around tightly kept rhythms, the audience leaning close trying to catch every burning word. Reciting her YouTube hit Dear Mr Gove -a rallying cry for underappreciated and over-worked teachers everywhere – we are left with Green’s memorable mission statement as she declares: ‘even if I’m the only one standing in this picket line, I’ll be the one who’s standing in your way’.
With performances like this, it’s easy to believe her.