Vic Lambrusco's shamelessly biased guide to spoken word in south London.
Note: this was written in March 2003 and some venues have changed - please check before setting out!
A brief manifesto:- "Performance" in the title of anything (except Nic Roeg's top 1970 film) usually means lame, pretentious shite. "Poetry" far too often equals self-indulgent, navel-gazing preciousness.
Put the two together and, it's fair to conclude, "performance poetry" doesn't add up to the cooler dude or dudette's idea of a rockin' night out. Right? Well, usually, yes.
But, but, but.......... On the margins of the worthy, politically-correct, cappuccino, arts-funded poetry circuit, the last decade or so has seen a small but steady increase in performers who are trying to roll back the boundaries, push the envelope, aspire to more than confirming the prejudices of an audience of Guardian readers.
It all began one distant September, when Mrs. T and the Happy Mondays were still going concerns, in Soho's Hard Edge Club.
For six years, from the loony late 80s to the mental mid 90s, this bastard lovechild of Joe Cairo and Spider Evans played messy and chaotic host to a weekly series of events to which the epithet "poetry reading" sits as close as that of "socialism" does to Anthony Blair MP.
HEC nights were crazed, spontaneous affairs, involving terrace-style audience participation, conspicuous drunkenness, in-yer-face performers and occasional fisticuffs. The room where Marx used to hold his meetings (and whose portrait still adorned the wall) would regularly ring with the HEC chant of, "'Oo wants it?!"
The unofficial motto, so it seemed at the time, was "come and avva go if yer fink yer 'Ard Edge enough!"
On the back of all this some sort of scene was born. Various performers, taken with the atmosphere and energy of the HEC, went off to their late twentieth century equivalent of artists' garrets and conceived of more of the same.
A variety of clubs sprang up round the capital, with varying degrees of success and longevity, but with one thread of commonality: they were all pushing this new (or, perhaps, more accurately: renewed) thread of performance and entertainment over aridity.
Some were great, some crap, some fell by the wayside and some genuflected before the modest udder of state sponsorship, more euphemistically referred to as "arts funding". (N.B. - don't get me started on "funding"! It's the same as Stalin's socialist realism or George Bush Sr.'s corporate "rock against drugs".
As comedy legend Bill Hicks succinctly put it: "Government sponsored rock'n'roll - WHOOPEE!")
But between them Abattoir Dogs, With Intent, Big Word, Express Excess, Brixton Poets, the Armadillo Beat Club, Outer Tuna and numerous different nights at the late, lamented Bunjies served to create an environment where a sizeable pool of "performance poets" could ply their arcane trade.
For a while the scene was even supported by a controversial national monthly newsletter, "Strangefish".
In 1994, when a bunch of earnest yanks trotted over to introduce the Old World to the underwhelming "slam" phenomenon, then again in 1999, on the back of a "triumph-in-adversity" prison film (also called "Slam") the broadsheets tentatively cooed with the notion that "p.p." was "the new rock and roll". Ahem.......... yeah, right!
Fast forward to the early 21st century. Things have grown, shrunk, blossomed, atrophied, depending on your point of view. My biggest personal regret is the untimely demise in early 2000 of Love Is - an improbably lively night in the implausible environs of a poncey Battersea wine bar.
Given the current brief, to offer an illumination of things saaaarf-side, I feel compelled to emphasise two things.
Numero uno: with a couple of honourable exceptions, the vast majority of what's happening is happening in Brixton.
Numero........ er, two: the list of venues which follows is entirely a personal (and, hopefully, even provocative) choice. Don't flame me cos you think I've "missed out" something. I haven't.
VIC'S CABARET CORNER
My club. "Why d'you luvvit?" "Cos we're filth!"
A fortnightly feast of spontaneity and mayhem. It's not open mic; it's not a booked night - it's both and more. I've built it up since September 2000 from the grassroots: no flyers, no "Time Out" listing, no (ha, ha!) "funding".
Just word of mouth in the gaffs and dives of Brixton. I concentrate on local talent, with a new act and an "across-the-river" act each show. It's the nearest I've encountered to the hardcore "having-it" "in-yer-face" vibe of the HEC. Three of my performers (two of them from over the water) have dubbed it "the best poetry gig in London".
Of the many Corner nights I've put on, the word acts I've most enjoyed are Joe Cairo, Jon Wheeler, SP Howarth, Paddy's Uncensored Cabaret, "William Burroughs", Peggy Pegworth, the inimitable Jack Blackburn and the late, great Simon Monkhouse. Indeed, for me the most poignant night was "Celebrate Simon" in May 2001, a tribute to one of London's finest and most sadly missed. RIP, mate!
October 2004 update: The Windmill no longer hosts Vic's Cabaret Corner, which has moved to our very own Offline Club night
POETS KNOW IT
An occasional open mic night with a pleasant, low-key, friendly feel. Has been going for quite a few years at different venues, and is now settled in Loughborough Junction's highly recommended Redgate Gallery.
For more information keep 'em peeled for the flyers which circulate the manor. Or ask Andy Balcer, the main man, often to be found in the Prince Albert.
It's the last Thursday of every month (occasionally putting it up against VCC - brave!) though this slot is under review. For further details ring Anne on 7737 3701.
SINGERS AND POETS
This takes place on the first Wednesday of every month in the Bug Bar on St. Matthew's roundabout. It's an open mic night with attitude, mixing spoken word with music.
Be there before 8-00 to sign up or get in gratis. MC'd by the distinguished Skorpio the Nemesis, it has been criticised for edging a bit towards the "worthy" end of the spectrum.
However, my experience of it has always been a well attended and "having-it" night. Check it out! More information from - email@example.com
Honourable non-Brixton mention 1
KEROUAC'S in Deptford. Open mic every second Thursday. Ring 8469 0904 for more information.
Honourable non-Brixton mention 2
Take the Mike, run in Colliers Wood (yeah, exactly!) by Project Adorno. Haven't got a number, but do a search on "project_adorno" and you're bound to hit their website.
» Read Vic Lambrusco's 'Turning into someone's Dad'
» Brixton Rocks, Poetry and spoken word night, Plan B
« back to features homepage next »