So, I died on stage tonight. That was to be expected, considering I was reading poetry in the public bar of a Brixton pub.
People were coming in. Saying hello to friends. Ordering drinks. Going for a piss. Whatever.
What they were not doing was listening to my tender words. It’s hard to keep going when only the promoter of the night, the estimable Dennis Just Dennis, is watching you. No one else, not even your mates, could give a shit.
Up there on stage, without some sort of human response, you have that feeling perhaps akin to being in purgatory. Someone is going to send you to hell in a minute, but not before they smoke a rollie out back in the beer garden.
It was a truly horrible experience. It wasn’t Dennis’s fault. He usually has the room upstairs, where people are up there if they want to be there. But tonight, there was some sort of party and we got moved to the public bar.
Dennis put a positive spin on it. ‘It’s a chance to get people from off the street, win over the crowd down here.’ He and I knew that was small talk. It was going to be a hard night.
After I’d done my slot, I fucked off to the back of the bar and drank Guinness for a bit.
But then Paul Birtill was on. He is one of my favourite poets. A scouser living down south. Bone dry wit. Micro-poems. The kind of poetry I’d never produce but love to hear.
I encourage my mates to come up the front and listen to the man. He reeled off his set, battling against the woman with the machine gun laugh at the back of the bar.
He got some laughs. Less than usual, but still, he’s a pro. He did well. Much better than me.
Then it was time for a break and after that was Grassy Noel and his band, Ape. Grassy had witnessed proceedings, sipping orange juice in the wings (he’s teetotal).
His band I had seen at Kid, I wrote back. They were absolutely incredible, and went down a storm.
This time, Grassy, in trademark black trilby and black jacket, was in full attack mode. I liked to think that he’d seen the way his fellow poets had suffered up on stage, and with his band behind him, was meting out some justice.
He started off not using words. Just noises, bellowed into the mike. It wasn’t pretty, but it was pretty effective. Quite a few people left the bar.
The band started firing up, the stand-up double-bass with bulldog clip on the strings, the better for producing harsh clipped basslines. One of his colleagues was playing the vuvuzela, the instrument of choice at the last World Cup in South Africa. The other fellow was producing strange sounds from a lap top.
And then Grassy started naming wartorn countries. Libya…Afghanistan…Pakistan. For ages, not looking at the crowd, down in the microphone, juddering, shuddering.
Then he got onto Humpty Dumpty, in his preacher-like Irish tones, got down, deep down into the nursery rhyme, which, by christ, has never sounded more sinister.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…
One of the band started clanging two ancient fire extinguishers together.
More people left. Beer garden, out front, whatever. Just out. Fucking brilliant.
His band got the horns out, the cornet and the alto sax. This is where they sound all Radiohead, in the Amnesiac era. Freaky as fuck. Really really good.
Now Grassy’s going on about the Seventh Seal. Who know what he’s talking about, but it’s dark. Dark and incomprehensible. But I understand. This is punk. This is brutal attack music and poetry. This is living without compromise. This is G-Force poetry. If My Bloody Valentine did poetry, it would sound like this.
By the end of the set, it was just me, my two friends, Dennis, a few more freaks, and the band. Everyone had wisely got the fuck out.
People have the right to enjoy a drink without being assaulted by poetry. And poets have the right to bring their words into pubs and carry out assaults. Everyone is right. And not everyone can be happy all the time.
I died on stage tonight. And tonight Grassy Noel saved my life.