Scroobius Pip

The Poetry Chicks' Abby Oliveira supports the London-based poet and hip hop artist at Out To Lunch. 'Think Hemingway in a hoodie'

Although best known for his vocal work alongside producer and beat meister dan le sac, tonight London-based hip hop artist Scroobius Pip appears at the Black Box unaccompanied, armed only with a microphone, his trademark beard and a hefty supply of rhymes.

First up, however, is a short set by Scottish-born, Northern Ireland-based poet, Abby Oliveira. One third of spoken word troupe The Poetry Chicks, Oliveira kicks off the night with a riotous piece about a Dublin fortune teller aboard the Titanic on the night of her fateful maiden (and final) voyage.

Oliveira's unique perspective on the doomed liner’s journey to the bottom of the sea gives the terrible tale gives a B-movie vibe, with leaping tarot cards, guns and plenty of Moet et Chandon featuring in the poem.

Although Oliveira’s support slot is only 15 minutes long, she manages to fit plenty in, including a powerfully candid and often shocking piece entitled ‘Milk And Coffee’, in which she addresses attitudes – both her own and other peoples’ – to her mixed race heritage.

When the headline act takes to the stage, Scroobius Pip is self-effacing and jovial. The subject matter of his opening poem, however, catches the audience unawares, dealing as it does with self-harm and suicide. 'It’s tragic,' he drawls in a thick Essex accent. 'You’re trying to cut yourself in half, but it’s not magic.'

Pip’s prose has a visceral, lyrical quality, and his inventive rhyme schemes are technically very impressive. While the construction of his poems may be complex, however, the choice of vernacular reflects an incredible ability to portray great emotion through relatively simplistic language. Think Hemingway in a hoodie.

As he banters with the crowd, a noticable stutter is evident. Pip addresses this speech impediment in a touching yet humorous piece about how he developed a stutter after a near-death experience. The poet cum rapper learned to overcome it through a love of language and music.

Pip's set mixes the tragic with the comic, and while the subject matter can be dark, Pip litters his intervals with plenty of jokes. At one point he mentions that he has been offered voiceover work with Anchor Butter, and that he hopes to have ‘a beef’ with the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, who currently advertises Country Life butter.

Perhaps the notion that this isn’t a pretentious and stuffy poetry night is hammered home a little hard at times, but the audience lap up both the poems and the japes with zeal. A great deal of floor-stamping and cat calls accompany virtually everything Pip says between pieces. Although such enthusiasm is refreshing at a spoken work gig, it does at times have a dulling effect on some of Pip's more subtle asides.

Pip prefaces a highlight of the evening by stating that he is ‘the Lady Gaga of spoken word’, before pulling out a handful of minor costume changes (namely a couple of hats and a tie). What follows is a well-told tale of urban violence from the perspective of a number of characters.

As Pip portrays a reclusive university student, a violently racist security guard and an abused child, a cleverly constructed overlapping narrative develops. Pip scrapes below the surface of these well-realised characters, exposing their weaknesses, desires and similarities. 'Things in life aren’t quite what they seem,' he concludes. 'There’s more than one given angle in any one scene.'

Elsewhere, a rarely performed piece entitled ‘Rat Race’ stands out, with Pip dissecting the monotony of retail work with some great imagery. Building to an explosive crescendo, Pip recalls his time working in a record store. There he would ‘greet the public with a perfect replica of a natural smile’ and get lost in the ‘discreet beat of the trapping of the feet that people secrete’.

Although the prose is not always as potent or thought-provoking as might be intended, Pip's storytelling style is irresistible and intoxicating, his love of poetry and wordplay infectious.

Out To Lunch 2013 continues until January 27.