If you’re wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been very busy recently and haven’t had the chance to write much as of late. Well, I have written a couple of things but not for the website. I’ve been co-organising a spoken word night which happened last week at the Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green. (I’ve also been busy with other stuff, and I cracked my rib about a month ago and that’s only just healed, so that didn’t help). So forgive me if this article seems a little rushed – it’s because it is.
So yeah, the spoken word thing. Well, myself and a lovely lady called Alison have been talking about doing something like this for some time now. We did it to raise money for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation which is a cause we both care very deeply about, and if you’ve never heard of it then I’m sure you’ll see why when you visit the website.
Overall the night was a huge success. Well, I’m only really saying that based on what other people have told me, if I’m honest it was all a bit of a blur to me. I remember bits of it, and the general mood and ambience of the evening (helped along by Riord on the decks, who was awesome). As well as performing the first piece of the evening I was also compere, which I’d never done before.
I’d never done anything like this before, actually. I suppose karaoke would be the nearest thing to it in terms of being in a room full of strangers, but then again karaoke is not meant to be taken seriously. Then again, I suppose there was my Nan’s eulogy which I read at her funeral, that’s something that was meant to be taken seriously but it was in front of my family and friends rather than a room full of strangers. So Red Army Fiction was kind of halfway between all of that. I wanted to do well, but I also wanted to enjoy it. And more importantly I wanted other people to enjoy it.
That day I purposely kept myself as busy as possible, so that I wouldn’t have time to dwell on how bad I was going to suck at it. And it worked. When the time came I hadn’t allowed that doubt to enter my mind so I just went for it. I performed the first piece, which was a tribute to my Nan who really inspired and ignited my love of reading. It’s kind of fast-flowing and references some of the books that have had a major influence on my life.
We’d decided to divide the evening into three parts. This gave the performers as well as the audience the chance to have two intervals to go outside for a smoke or buy some tempura or do whatever. The first part included Barney Netherwood, Richard Jeferies, JB (John Boye), and Mervyn Syna, all of whom were fantastic. I’m not just saying that. Barney was very interesting, Richard is a natural performer and it showed, it was fun to watch him demonstrate some of the tips he’d been giving me just before the show kicked off. JB’s poem was another high point – I’d certainly like to hear more from him, in fact next time I will make a point of giving him a longer slot. I was surprised when he told me afterwards that it had been his first time performing as well. Mervyn did a good job of lifting the tempo and rounded off the first part of the evening with a splendid piece which encouraged some audience participation.
After the first interval we had the “title shots”. So called because I used the analogy of a professional wrestling pay-per-view to explain the idea of the three-part set-up to Alison. First you have your dark matches and mid-carders which are very much the ‘quirky’ part of the show, then you have your title matches – the more serious acts, followed finally by the headliner, the main event – in this case Mr John Doran. More on him later.
The ‘title shots’, as we were referring to them, were ‘The Lewis’, Brian Kavanagh, Jo Eden, and Alison. Of course there were no actual titles on the night, everyone who performed that night was a champion. Lewis was up first, I’d heard a lot about him from Alison and he didn’t disappoint. His “Bling Bling” poem really stood out for me. Brian Kavanagh followed with a piece split into three parts, a ‘literary tryptic’, if you will. It was moving and very deep, and I enjoyed it in its entirety. Jo Eden’s act was incredible, words won’t do it justice. Very entertaining but with serious undertones, and finishing with an a capella vocal performance, a song called “Age Old Blue”, by a Native American singer called Alela Diane. Anybody who knows me knows I go crazy for Native American things, so I loved it immediately. But it is an amazing song and it showcased Jo’s superb voice extremely well. I was spellbound.
Alison’s act was a reading from Simon Armitage’s “Black Roses”, which was written about the murder of Sophie Lancaster. It was very poignant and I thought that Alison read it very well. It was the most important part of the evening so I actually think that Alison had the hardest job of all having to convey a serious message. But it must have worked because we raised quite a fair amount of money for the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
And so we came to our headline act. I’ve written about John before, so my regular readers will already know who he is. But for those of you who don’t, his name is John Doran and he writes about music. Really well, in fact, I have to add. In his own words, he’s a ‘shiftless bastard’. I have known John for some time now but haven’t seen him for a few years. So I had a lot I would have liked to talk to him about, but as compere I knew that I was not going to get the chance on this night. So I kept it short and sweet and simply introduced him as “an inspiration to me, and a fantastic writer”.
Being another first-time speaker, if John did have any kind of nerves on the night then they didn’t show. He told us the story of one other time he’d been asked to speak, at a Christian rock-climbing seminar. That must have been a tough gig.
John had promised to read out the first sentence of the novel he has decided to write, in fact he built his whole act around this sentence, but in a way which captivated the audience. He mentioned researching other opening sentences of famous novels and read a few of his own ‘deleted’ ones. I enjoyed the way he span off into various different anecdotes and then weaved back in to his thought process and how he arrived at his perfect opening sentence, which, without giving anything away, was a belter. When John does eventually get round to finishing his novel I’ll be first in the queue at Waterstone’s to have my copy signed.
All in all, I couldn’t wish for a better evening in terms of the way things flowed. The performers were great, the audience were great, the venue was perfect. I’m already looking forward to the next event, which we’re hoping will be even bigger and better. Watch this space.
I’m working on the Red Army Fiction site so I will post some photos and maybe a couple of clips when I get the time.