Welcome to the South Easy
By our special guest writer Mos Prob
To start off with, this is not an impartial review. The Spoken Herd’s recent Slip Jam performance was my fourth or fifth time seeing them in a short space of time. An expansive, improvisational 11-piece hip-hop ensemble piece at the heart of the eclectic Brighton hip-hop scene, the Herd’s main source of appeal is their ability to give their audience something completely new every time. I make no secrets of being a repeat attendee to their performances.
But their performance at the UK’s longest-running open mic night brought home exactly what it is about them that I enjoy. With the irrepressible Jon Clark, the transcendent Teej, the eminently likeable Gramski and the direct riffs of Ben Jammin leading the charge, the energy, audience engagement and musicality was operating at a peak. The instrumentation is ornate but never suffocating, with Jon Clark occasionally stepping in to conduct changes in dynamic, musical pairings he finds interesting or crescendos aimed at the crowd like phasers set to ‘Move Rhythmically’.
The live UK Hip-Hop band has been enjoying a resurgence over the last few years. Soweto Kinch, The Mouse Outfit, Hawk House, The Afterdark Movement, the Excursions night in London, Son of Robot, Almighty Planets and now these gentlemen (and gentleladies). This list is not exhaustive. The freestyle element sets The Herd apart from these already talented groups, however, with the audience and its actions forming much of the conceptual basis of the music. There’s plenty in the way of audience-led improv to find, but the sprawling setup makes this group’s gigs completely immersive.
The variety of the music, as well, is notable. The inclusion of Katey Matey’s silky hooks opens the door for pop, jazz and latin as well as the striding, melodic boom bap backdrops and, my personal favourite, ‘The World Reborn’, which sees Teej’s fascinating freeform cosmic ruminations unfold over a shimmering Cinematic Orchestra-esque wall of think-hop. They are by no means one-trick ponies, the band even builds accompaniment based on audience suggestions of mood, genre and timbre. They are forcing the audience to force them to be versatile.
Special mention must also go to Sam Coveney, the band’s resident sound engineer and stalwart at Radio Free Brighton. The band is constantly improving, but Sam feeds that development as much as any band member. Without his tight sound management linking musicians together and still allowing the talent of the emcees to emerge with crystal clarity, there are countless ways the operation would collapse or simply not be as engaging, but the skill of the setup allows The Herd to breathe easy. It’s this breathing easy and effortlessness that really cement what they’re about.
The most crucial aspect of The Spoken Herd is their enthusiasm, both for their own constructions and the work of their peers behind the instruments or the microphones. You get the feeling that, were no-one else there watching them, they would be just as energetic. In fact, Jon Clark and Gramski in particular are notorious in Brighton for appearing out of absolutely fucking nowhere and rapping at you. This enthusiasm is shared liberally with the audience, and the audience shares it right back.
It’s very rare that you see a band and leave beaming ear-to-ear every time, but The Spoken Herd are a prescribed cure for frowning. I’d say that every part of me wanted them to enjoy festival success and nationwide tours and exposure, because they utterly deserve it, but there is a little selfish part that wants them to stay around here and keeping entertaining me. Doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to stop them though. The twats.