Well, the night before, anyway. My very, very first paid-for stand-up poetry gig was at Justine de Meirre’s Tapas & Tales event at the Old Mariner in Woodbridge. Ok, it wasn’t much, just petrol money, but something of a landmark event, the first time anyone’s put their hand in their pocket and said ‘here, that was worth my money.’
Which isn’t why I do it, but it’s nice, despite the monetisation of something I’m not quite sure what it is. There’s a good, edgy feeling before you go on. I kicked it off with All Of Your S**t, the one that started it all, the one that gets the audience wondering if they’re allowed to laugh.
I need to put more theatricality into the delivery, I think. I’ve always resisted that ‘this is my stage voice’ thing, the booming Brian Blessed oration and now I’m up on a stage doing it I can see exactly why it’s done. I talk as if it’s late and everyone’s had a couple of drinks and we’re relaxed and sitting on a sofa and I’m not at all sure that totally works as a delivery to a room full of people. Let’s face it, it doesn’t always work on a sofa, depending on your definition of ‘works’, of course. There have been some memorable sofas, it must be said. But it’s not that kind of show.
Songs without music
Back To Ourselves followed up, which is a bit Hugo Williams but I like Hugo Williams anyway. It’s a little bit about the end of the summer holidays, which is to say that of course it really isn’t at all. Then In Silence, and then the one that really does silence, When The Phone Rings.
That poem, if these are poems and I’m not at all sure about the definition, so I call them songs without music as I can’t sing and play a guitar at the same time, doesn’t just silence the entire room every time I do it. People come up to me and touch my arm afterwards. Always my left arm, just above the elbow. Men, women, always the same reaction. This time I recorded it and there are even people saying ‘oh!’ at the end.
I don’t know whether it’s ‘oh that was so moving’ or ‘oh god, poor you,’ or both, but it seems to speak to people. So I really ought not to canter through it because I’ve heard it so many times, and I also really ought to remember that not everybody has and although the more impressionable women might go for that whispered in their ear, the person at the bar can’t actually hear it unless I BrianlyBlessedly boom it out a bit. Which is a performance in itself, because first of all it’s quite a despairing, non-shouty, sensitive piece and also because when I put some volume into my voice it cuts across every conversation in a pub, which was quite useful in places like the Sloaney Pony (oh come on, the White Horse on Parsons Green, you do know, rarely…) in the ’80s, when girls wore a single string of pearls outside the turned-up collar of their borrowed stripey shirt under a tight jumper, and jeans, blazer, a rugby shirt, RayBans and Topsiders were actually cool (what do you mean, they aren’t now?), it does sound a bit as if I practice scaring Labradors across three fields.
So some work on the delivery needed. But a night when other story tellers told me they liked my stuff, when the monetisation didn’t matter, when you get through the pre-stage nerves (there’s a simple cure, just tell yourself ‘ok, if you feel like that just don’t do it, just don’t get up there. You don’t have to. Nobody’s going to make you do it.’ That cures it), when you feel genuinely that we’re all in this together, that like Bronze Age people, we’re huddled here out of the storm in this little pool of light and we’re telling the tales of our tribe, sharing what it is to feel in all the different ways there are.
And I felt ‘this is what I do.’ Just such a pity the person who helped me do it wasn’t there. So all that after last night. At least nobody said ‘we need to talk.’ Even though we all did. I do, anyway.