How cool is this? This morning, the rapper, human beatbox, writer, singer and all-round great guy Testament, did a pop-up performance at Released Records in the wonderful Leeds Corn Exchange.
The event was supposed to kick-off at 9.00am but because of conditions on the car park aka M62 it was a bit late in getting started but the wait was definitely worth while. I must say that it was a shock to the system getting up at silly-o’clock and made me wonder how I used to do it every day during my working life.
The delay gave me a chance to have a chat with Mark, the co-owner of Released Records who told me that it was he who got Testament his first gig in 1999. Their friendship has lasted and so, when Testament was writing his work Orpheus in the Record Shop, it was Mark he called on for background information as to minutiae of running such an emporium.
The reason behind this gig was that Leeds Playhouse are staging the work again in conjunction with Opera North, whose musicians participate in the production, which, as far as I know was the world’s first hip-opera! I originally saw it as part of the Connecting Voices Season in 2020 after which it was broadcast on BBC4. I must say that the televised version was not a patch on the live one, as there was so much going on I wanted to see the whole stage, not just what the director wanted me to see. It was like watching a programme when someone else has the remote control.
Before the impromptu gig began, and this really was impromptu as he was discussing the contents of it with the audience before deciding what to do, he spread the love to Released Records by thanking them for having him, and then proceeded to give us a small sample of his human beatbox skills. It is no wonder that he has garnered so many awards for this as it was amazing. He started the programme proper with a work from the show which was about a taxi driver who stands the rank outside the Corn Exchange. It centred on some of the fares he takes, including an old lady who he regularly ferries to, and from, Morrisons. This is Leeds to the core.
Testament went on to do a freestyle rap using the discs adorning the records racks of the shop for inspiration. The speed with which the improvised lines were delivered was more than impressive, as was the humour and comments as to their contents. Speaking in rhyme and rhythm off the top of his head nearly blew the top off mine!
Finally he gave us a rendition of the 1969 Jackie Wilson classic, Higher and Higher. He said that this was his mother’s favourite and he had performed it all over the world; in front of presidents, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and convicts in. a prison! He first input, what seemed to be, random sounds into a small mixing desk which were then played on a loop to provide the backing. The effect was almost orchestral and so much more effective than a backing tape, which I always think makes singers sound like glorified karaoke performers. His interpretation of this song, was incredible. The backing added much to it, but his voice was so good that even if this were his only skill, he would still be a performer of rare talent. I think that the way in which he got the small, select crowd involved at 9.30am was testament to this. Oh, come on! You didn’t think I was going to miss an open goal like that did you!
I have added this link so that you can see what I thought of the original production of Orpheus in the Record Shop in 2020. I admit that the writing leaves a bit to be desired, but we had just come out of lockdown so I was a bit rusty. Connecting Voices – Orpheus in the Record Shop – Tyke It To The Limit
To get tickets for the current run, which is at Leeds Playhouse from Thursday 13th October to Saturday 15th October, please go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/orpheus-in-the-record-shop/ I am sure you will be impressed, I think you will gather that I was.
Photographs by Stan Graham