The basement at Modern Art Oxford with its low ceiling, leatherette benches at the back, and general darkness feels like a cellar from East Berlin in the 60s. Which makes it about the perfect venue for an eight cuts gig.
The best gigs (and this will certainly go down as one of the very best I’ve ever been part of) always have a story. The story of Lyrical Badlads (not the story of that awful pun of a title, which derived from a moment of panic when I was convince the promoters hated What There Is Instead of Rainbows) starts with an e-mail that came out of the blue from Emma at Adventures Close to Home. I have no idea how she found me (well, I imagine it’s something to do with the Albion Beatnik Bookstore) but I’m very glad she did. ACTH is a fabulous outfit devoted to DIY arts, especially music. They were putting together a zine, Wonderland, about theOxford underground arts scene, and they wanted to know what eight cuts did. By some kind of hookage and crookage I ended up writing the literature section. And when the act for their monthly slot at Modern Art Oxford cancelled at late notice, they asked if I’d like to put a show on. Hmm, I wonder…
I’m still extraordinated by the line-up whose arms I managed to twist at such short notice for a show whose “theme” of the blurred spaces between music and poetry I essentially made up in a panic choreographed with such care.
Lucy Ayrton was sadly unaccompanied by the rest of Snake Oil Circus (gypsy orchestra and belly dancer) but her lyrical delivery always makes the heart sing, and she delighted the crowd with her modern fairytales. All the way from London we had my dear friends and long-term collaborators To The Buy Here Pay Here Moon, who had agreed to provide an electric soundscape for my poem SKIN BOOK as well as playing some of their own songs. They brought their delightful brand of alternative electronica and home-made films that blend trippy visuals and physics geek, but turned it right down to torture-chamber dark to accompany SKIN BOOK.
Anjan Saha, Keats House poet in residence and the driving force behind London Literature Lounge, had also come from London and read some of his joyous, rhythmic jazz poems as well as demonstrating the rhythms of the tabla,
and doing some improve accompaniment to brave volunteer poets Zak Brightside and – in a serious and unexpected coup – Davy Mac, poet for The Homeless Oratorio (which you can see at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden on November 30th – tickets here – £5 from each ticket goes to Crisis Skylight Centre ). Claire Trévien came from the home counties to perform from her collection Low Tide Lottery, published in the salt Modern Voices series,
and whooped it up with some fabulous audience participation and the sensuality of the Seine. Dave Griffiths is the former frontman of Oxford favourite band Witches. His new Grey Children project is a fabulous blend of words and music.
Performing with him, Huck Astley from Tamara and the Martyrs read short, sinister extracts from Dave’s book A Man In the Rain over Dave’s dark soundtrack, all accompanied by a film that combined Emily Gray’s fabulous art with pieces shot in a disused prison and a doll museum in Tallinn that were genuinely terrifying. And as the backdrop to everything we were privileged to have Anna Hobson’s original artwork for her contribution to What There is Instead of Rainbows.
It wasn’t just the mix and the quality of the acts that made it such a great night. Modern Art Oxford are wonderful hosts (providing food, beer, and technical expertise), and Rob and Emma from Adventures Close to Home are tireless champions of the very best in DIY. But what made the niht was the warm, wonderful audience who laid themselves on the line, launched themselves into everything we did, and were happy to join us on whatever journey we took them on.