One of Belfast’s more unusual festival offerings has returned for its eighth annual outing. The maze-like Cathedral Quarter with its dark pubs, cobbled streets and painted walls with stories to tell lights up each January, providing a delightful mishmash of music, comedy, theatre, events that are mixtures of all three and events that cannot be pigeonholed as any. The festival is so named as it provides the worker with some culture on their lunch hour; a brief sketch show perfectly timed at 1pm that can be enjoyed by both businessmen and creatures of leisure with a meal provided. As the festival has grown, however, so has its draw of attractions and some larger names require a nighttime slot; Scroobius Pip being one of these. Free from the decks of Dan Le Sac Pip is going it alone, returning to his roots as a spoken word artist and seeing if the material can stand up without the hip-hop, to audiences who most likely heard him first in a sweaty club sampling Radiohead’s ‘Planet Telex’.
“I shouldn’t be laughing about these things here of all places” Pip jokes shamefacedly, after realising posing on an imaginary cross while wailing about religion and its woes might receive a mixed reception from a Belfast audience. The audience aren’t bothered, of course, warming to him as he stands in a variety of poses at the start of the gig so we can photograph him now and not later, in case it destroys his flow.
After a brief ‘Introdiction’ it’s straight in with the heavy stuff, ‘Magician’s Assistant’ a perfect baptism of fire for those who expected a party. It is a party though; with each individual piece being acted to perfection, comedy delievered deadpan and serious moments delievered with awkwardly confrontational honesty but the asides between pieces geared to put us all at ease. These take the form of telling the audience how to behave at a seated spoken word gig, the assumption being that the majority here haven’t done this before. Laughs and heavy applause throughout The Black Box reassure us that whether they’ve done this before or not, they’re doing well with it this time.
There’s just one real question for tonight though: Are Pip’s words as effective without Le Sac’s hypnotic music? Yes and no. The four person narrative on ‘Angles’ with gradual reveal between the lines is as shocking now whether you’re hearing it for the first time ever or first time a capella. ‘Rat Race’ achieves almost frightening realism with his usual measured tones being raised into a near scream, more powerful without the finger-clicking jazz instrumentation that’s present on No Commercial Breaks. His stutter is more apparent without the music, all his weaknesses laid open for us and almost coming across as strengths. There is, of course, an element of fatigue. Cleverness of words does pall eventually without the occasional melody to break it up and when he finishes after an hour it seems like the right time, no post-gig cries of “One more tune!” but the lack of a club atmosphere doesn’t lessen the message to live life to the full and fill “your day with fun things”.