With a generous amount of love and empathy
Let’s start at the end then: it’s dusk, Kate Tempest has just told a field of 5,000 that she loves our faces, and everyone’s crying. The crowd shuffle off into the night wiping their eyes in contemplative astonishment at a performer and writer seemingly communicating on a different plane to anything else here, filled with a warmth and optimism as if absorbed osmotically from the stage, unsure what to do next.
Quite how we got here, though, is a little more complicated: a last-minute addition to the End of the Road bill, an hour of spoken-word elegies is perhaps not what one might expect from a main-stage Saturday night sunset slot – but then again neither is Tempest: after all, here is a woman as accomplished a rapper as she is a novelist, interweaving her stories across mediums, apparently able to articulate what an entire cross-section of currently politically underrepresented people are thinking, lightyears on from the potential cringe of slam poetry. Instead, equal parts charismatic preacher (the presence of a church organ motif under one track feels particularly apt) and straight-up visionary, her flow veers effortlessly from jazzy syncopation to hard plosives as she paces and prowls the stage, delivering her manifesto.
There’s sometimes a sense that End of the Road exists in a bit of a bubble: the phone reception is scant across the site leaving news from the outside sparse, and everyone here seems of a shared mindset, eager to ignore, if only for a weekend, the seemingly dystopian hellscape unfolding beyond the perimeter fence. At the start of Tempest’s set, lines about crooked politicians, exploitative big business and impending ecological disaster threaten to pop that bubble, but it quickly transpires that instead of simply reminding us we’re living through bleak times, she’s here to offer something far more magnanimous – a guide to survival: “Love if you can and then pass it on,” she instructs at one point; “this tenderness makes me want to live,” she confesses at another. Her message is clear: you only counter this hate and despair with love and with hope.
And then there’s the grand finale, the moment that sets lips quivering: “Give me your beautiful crumbling heart,” she begs us. “More empathy, less greed,” she implores, as banging beats switch into plaintive piano, building up to that final line of her set. “I love people’s faces. I love people’s faces” she repeats, each time more insistent, each time, as she surveys those in front of her, more sincere.
She returns to the stage two minutes later, not to give us a bonus song (“I find that a strange convention,” she admits, refreshingly) but simply to make sure we’re all ok. It sums up Tempest and her set perfectly: generous, honest and empathetic, offering hope and faith and clarity amid so much harsh noise.
Photography by: Rachel Juarez-Carr
Kate Tempest, Woods Stage, End of the Road festival 2019, Saturday 31 August