My First Poetry Gigs / Loo Love
Lewes Garret. My poetry friend Sean Kelly (pictured left) offered me my first poetry gig, at his excellent club, PureAndGoodAndRight, at the TOYK bar in Leamington. I had just started to prepare for it, deciding which of my far-from-perfect repertoire of poems I should try out on a live audience.
Meanwhile Sean suggested we go to watch a big poetry show in Birmingham. I met him at Birmingham New Street station for a beer, and we walked on to the Library Theatre where the last of a series of poetry gigs called 'Six of the Best' was to be staged.
Even though the performance was just about to start, he introduced me to the compere, Birmingham's Poet Laureate Richard Grant, aka Dreadlockalien. I was amazed when Richard asked me if I wanted to do a poem or two. I heard myself saying, 'Yes, great' and watched him typing my name onto his laptop.
I regretted my rashness. I like to plan and prepare. This is not the way I do things. The following minutes were frantic. I knew none of my poems by heart, so while the gig was kicking off I desperately rifled through my rucksack in a hunt for rhyme. Thankfully, I found a tatty, dog-eared old notebook - I possess many - with scribbled poems in it. They were early versions, and I could hardly read my own handwriting. I had certainly never read them aloud.
So I rapidly rewrote, attempting to make them scan and changing words and entire lines. All the while I was aware of being in a 300-seater venue in front of an intimidatingly large stage onto which I could at any moment be called to read my poetry.
I had just finished redrafting the second poem when the time came. While a live musical jingle was being played by resident band Fat Controller, Richard Grant - who had been making up rhyming intros for all acts - rushed over to me and, in a stage whisper, said: 'I can't think of a rhyme for Oliver. What's your surname?' I don't use my second name, so I said, 'Try rhyming with Ollie.' He concocted an intro with a brilliant rhyme and a quip about my distinctly Shakespearean shirt.
I was on - and as nervous as hell. I felt the stage would swallow me up. I read, as calmly and slowly as I could, Probably Not, which won a laugh, and Ed Cases, which was rewarded with some applause. I was pleasantly surprised. I left the stage with a vast sense of relief, feeling I had been flying by the seat of my pants.
The rest of the gig was absolutely tremendous. Sean Kelly did a funny poem timed to last precisely one minute, and Richard Grant is clearly very talented. Although a performance poet, his written poetry on his upbringing with numerous foster parents was outstanding and moving.
I also really enjoyed the piece of hip-hop theatre, and the brilliant headliner, Elvis McGonagall, a very funny poet and impressionist and the current 'World Slam Poetry Champion'. It was a great gig. More than anything, I was struck by the high level of moral support that the poets gave each other. Six of the Best has clearly been a brilliant concept, superbly executed.
My other 'first poetry gig' was at Sean's club PureAndGoodandRight, at TOYK, in Leamington. I was far more nervous for this one, although it was in a much more intimate venue (packed to the gills). I have always suffered from stage nerves, which drove me into the jaws of the demon drink when I chanced my arm as a stand-up comedian between 1995 and 2000. I was determined not to make the same mistake again.
I had turned up early in my poet's shirt and chatted to a very pleasant Birmingham poet called Spoz whom I had met at the other gig. I collared Sean Kelly and asked to go on first. I was really nervous as I read my first poem, The Liger - a whimsical number.
I knew it by heart, having recited it all week while cycling to work, but glanced down at my notes all the same. I made more eye contact with the audience than in Birmingham, but still did not feel entirely at home. I was conscious of gripping the mic stand like a fiend!
The next one I did was my tribute to Pope John Paul II, which I guess rather surprised the audience. A serious poem, about a Pontiff. However when, afterwards, I mentioned his successor's recent global PR gaffe, I was rewarded with a hearty laugh from the audience.
Next I performed the First Canto of my long, narrative poem Jack Dove. This I did not do well. Suddenly flushed with nerves I blew loads of lines of the 12 eight-line verses, and felt awful for it. I was shaking but I did not completely lose my nerve.
After that, it was a wonderful night. I enjoyed Sean Kelly's compering. He is a natural MC. Spoz also had great stage presence and some tremendously funny poems, particularly the ones about meeting Jesus. The headliner was Rachel Pantechnicon about whom I had heard much while, apparently, learning little. After a couple of lines of her set, I whispered to Dani Carbery: 'She's a bloke!' We fell about laughing at my admission of ignorance. It had not occurred to me for one second that Rachel Pantechnicon would be a poetic cross-dresser.
Rachel Pantechnicon (pictured left) was excellent; I could make imagine her making a great living on the stand-up comedy circuit I used to inhabit, rather than limiting herself to the 'Warwickshire spoken word cabaret circuit' as she described it afterwards. I particularly liked the ridiculous children's storybooks that she produced between poems. It was a fitting end to a very fine evening indeed!
Loo Love (Flashback to Thursday, 4 May 2006)
London Victoria – Brighton train. 7.49pm. I am sitting opposite the in-lurve couple from hell. They sat down, moved my case, and immediately starting virtually making love, French-kissing until their tonsils were sore. Then they had a loud conversation about his toilet habits. Now they are both watching an episode of The Simpsons on their laptop on guffawing like the buffoons they truly are.
How would you describe these morons? Well, she has black hair, gappy teeth, and small, exposed breasts; and is in her late twenties, with nice eyes, but far too much make-up. He is in his late thirties or early forties, with a receding hairline, curly, or, God forbid, permed hair, and a pretentious T-shirt. His teeth are bad, although not as bad as hers.
Now she has started to chew gum, and he is telling her about the difference between what he describes as boys' and girls' toilets. They are truly scatalogical in their relationship. Rarely has a couple irritated me as much. Now they have started pet-hitting each other; now they are French-kissing again; now she is jacking up her crop-top to reveal her tubby tub and nasty navel. Chunder! Vom! Chuck! Puke!
All the other bloody seats are taken, or I would move to escape this. Could it get any worse? Yes, he has just farted, a loud and smelly one. She has responded by getting out her lippy, and redoing her tarty face. Excuse me while I throw up!