The many sides of Kate Tempest

By Chris Schulz

Musician-poet-writer in New Zealand for concert promises novel end to wider story in her work.
Kate Tempest says her varied output sometimes confuses fans as to what to expect when they see her live.
Kate Tempest says her varied output sometimes confuses fans as to what to expect when they see her live.

When Kate Tempest fills in her occupation on the Customs form at airports, she has plenty of options to choose from.

An award-winning playwright, she has also released a hip-hop album, several collections of poetry and will this year publish her debut novel.

The 30-year-old Londoner has just finished a tour that lasted 18 months, so she has filled out a lot of those forms lately. "I write whatever I think is going to get me through Customs," says a laughing Tempest from London when asked what she'll use when she visits New Zealand.

"Music is my first love, but another part of me is blown away by fiction, poetry and plays. I feel very close to whatever idea I'm gestating."

She has done all of these things - and she has done them well. Her plays and poetry, full of gritty street-level characters and drama, have won rave reviews, while last year's album, Everybody Down, which she'll be showcasing at tonight's Kings Arms show, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

What makes all this more amazing is that each piece of her work is connected by interweaving story lines. Tempest says it's all part of a puzzle, one that will be finished when her novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses comes out in April.

"The characters are the same but there's a big twist. It chases the same events in the narrative but it's magnified because it's a novel so you can go back and forward in time. We see much more of these characters' families and their histories.

"Characters from my first play and poem come in and out of the novel.

"It's the last piece of this particular puzzle of everything I've been working on over the past few years."

All those mediums means Tempest is a multi-tasker. She drafted much of her novel while her bandmates slept on the tour bus as they travelled through America, and often performs poetry during the day, before fronting rowdy hip-hop shows in the evening.

This has led to some confusion among her fans about what kind of show they'll be seeing, Tempest admits.

"People come to shows expecting a poetry event, and we go out on stage and there are drums, really heavy sub-bass and I'm rapping. They would very much prefer to have a nice evening of me doing poems while they sit down. It can be difficult."

But it has also led to Tempest finding fans in unexpected places, like a recent show in Utah.

"We were in Salt Lake City and there's not much going on there for people who think alternatively. But we played this gig in an amazing little shack and there were three generations of one family there.

"They were all together, all for different reasons but I thought, 'Something that I'm doing can be enjoyed by three generations of a family. This is awesome'."

- NZ Herald

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