I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up at The Live Rooms on Jan 26th. It has a reputation for catering chiefly to heavy rockers and clubbers. A poetry gig/open mic hybrid stuck out as something fresh and unusual, and after attending the Speakeasy I can say that this reputation is completely undeserved.
I walked into the recently-refurbished front room to behold candles burning lazily on tables, throwing a cosy glow onto the array of faces turned towards the stage. The new wooden panels and murmur of voices filled the packed room, and I managed to share a seat with someone. It felt intimate, welcoming and romantic; a far cry from other gigs I’ve been to here. The variety of acts that The Live Rooms hosts is far more than it’s given credit for.
The open-mic section of the night was a clash of different acts; stand-up about nightclub catastrophes, political and feminist poetry that drew whoops and laughter from the audience, some rap and one person’s act was them talking about philosophy. A poet worthy of note is that of Jordan Fleming (Twitter: @JayDelise_ Insta: @jaydeliseofficial), whose piece on the cliches of a poetry reading were so sharp that they applied to some of the acts that followed her. That isn’t to say that the following acts bombed; the atmosphere was so positive that when some acts stumbled over their words they were cheered on by the audience, and encouraged to continue. I have rarely seen an audience that welcoming, and only in groups where the writers know each other. An audience like that isn’t an accident, it’s cultivated. It’s a credit to Shelly Parkinson (the lady who put the whole thing together) and the work she put into the evening. There were a few stereotypical poets whose work didn’t go much further than relationships, but that’s par for the course with poetry nights.
The change of pace came with the support, the young miss Sophie Saxon.
Bouncing onto stage with a glass of wine in hand, she started a bit slow but quickly found her feet, working the audience into laughter with anecdotes of her parmesan-vandalising father and her septum piercing hating grandmother. She took the audience in under her wing and treated us with exaggerated familiarity, claiming we all knew what her dad was like, then launching into a different tale about her uni life, specifically the genius of adding vegetables to a packed of ramen (wish I’d thought of that…). Her confidence and enthusiasm were infectious, and made for a great support.
But we are yet to talk about the headliner, Hegley himself.
Trotting onto stage with his trusty guitar called Steve, he dived right into a little medley of some oldies, including My Doggie Don’t Wear Glasses, which had one gentleman sat at my table in absolute stitches. It’s a classic example of Hegley using enjambement to inject his quirky brand of humour into his poetry. He revealed through his act that he also works with schools doing poetry workshops for kids, which manifested in the way he treated the audience. He chided us if we spoke too loudly, and it felt like we were a rabble of naughty schoolchildren. With other performers it could have come across as patronising, but he made it fun. We participated in Pear-Shaped, and he would’nt stop until we were blasting out the chorus, every single one of us. It was refreshing to be taken into the act so much, as when one thinks of a poetry night it’s more of a spectator sport than one of participation. Then he got me involved in the act! With his new book Les Aventures De Monsieur Robinnet (aka The Adventures of Mr. Tap), he asked a member of the audience to translate French into English for him, and so I volunteered. The audience roared with laughter as he got me to translate “hello my sausage”. The risk he took assuming one of the audience spoke French well enough to translate is one I admire.
Even after the (much demanded) encore, people were still reluctant to leave, milling about to talk to Hegley and to Shelly. There was such a buzz of people having a great time, one that only the best of poetry readings can bring. The after party was something else, but I guess that’s a story for another time…
See you at the next one.