Boho Bar Time

Happy to report that my first visit to Nottingham’s Guitar Bar was, in my terms at least, a success. Located within the interestingly named Hotel Deux, and close to the Forest Recreation Ground, site of the annual Goose Fair, and the Polish Club, fictional haunt of one Charlie Resnick, the bar is a relaxed and relaxing boho haunt (or was that just because this was poetry & jazz?) outfitted with ageing but comfortable settees and armchairs, and well-suited to smallish gigs such as this.

John Lucas led his fine little four piece, Four in the Bar (Tony Elwell, clarinet; Ian Wheatley, guitar; Ken Eatch, bass) through a number of jazz standards, accompanying Lydia Towsey through a good and often amusing set, before performing the same task when I took over the mike towards the end of the evening. Considering our only ‘rehearsal’ had been a ten minute telephone conversation the week before, it all went surprisingly well, not even the band setting off on a jaunty version of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ a poem too early – ‘Chet Baker’ instead of ‘Oklahoma Territory’ – proving in the least off-putting.

Like most visits to Nottingham, the evening afforded the chance to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in too long a time – renowned video and cameraman, and now hypnotherapist, Roger Knott-Fayle amongst them. One surprise treat of the evening was being presented (thank you, Shaun!) with a vinyl copy of Lee Wiley’s 1940s recordings of songs by Rodgers & Hart and Harold Arlen – this occasioned by the mention of Wiley in the poem, ‘Evenings on Seventy Third Street’, which I included in my last post. The other – and what an act of optimism this was – was being asked to dance to one of the band’s more uptempo numbers. Pleased as I was at the invitation, I thanked the lady in question profusely, indicating an arthritic hip as explanation.

The next day found my hurtling down to London on a relatively early train and hurrying up to the outer reaches of north-east London for a lengthy rehearsal with another excellent four piece band – this the one led by bassist Louis Cinnamo – which plays and provides musical backing at the Rhyme & Rhythm Jazz Poetry Club that meets at the Dugdale Centre in Enfield. By the end of four enjoyable, if taxing, hours, we had worked out a routine for nine poems, some of which I’ve read to music before, others which I’ll be reading to jazz for the first time.

The event is on Friday, 27th February, details here, and doubtless I’ll have more to say about it again.

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Down at the Guitar Bar

I’ve a couple of Poetry & Jazz events coming up this month, the first of them this Wednesday, 11th, at the Guitar Bar in Nottingham.

Dave Belbin has been organising things here for a while now, all evenings featuring the hot little four-piece band led by trumpeter John Lucas – yes, that’s the same John Lucas who runs Shoestring Press and is an estimable poet himself. The usual procedure is to feature two guest poets, the first up on this occasion being the formidable Lydia Towsey.

J&P.jpg

That’s Lydia on the right …

Not sure if Lydia’s is going to read with the band – apparently some poets do, others prefer to go it alone – but I’m hoping they will join me for at least half of my set (or should that be, I’ll be joining them?) and after some discussion this weekend, John and I have sorted out the three poems that seem most suitable, all three, not surprisingly, in one way or another about jazz. Oklahoma Territory is a longish piece about  the big bands that criss-crossed the American heartland in the 30s and early 40s, Oklahoma Territory; Ghost of a Chance is a snapshot of tenor player Lester Young towards the end of his career; while Evenings on Seventy-Third Street, a poem I’ve rarely, if ever, read in public, and certainly not with accompaniment, extols the virtues of dill pickles, fried chicken and the wonderfully precise vocals of Lee Wiley. Here it is …

Evenings on Seventy-Third Street

Soft rock of traffic steadying down,
four pieces of chicken, fried potato chips,
dill pickles – ridged and thick as fingers –
coleslaw. Coke. Despite our best efforts
by the time we walk it home, circles
of grease, dark through the paper sack,
have stained your clothes and mine,
a smear across the silk blouse you bought
for best, below the spots where coffee
dribbled from your mug two nights before,
watching the news on tv.

While you snap the lock shut, slide
the bolt across, I am sharing food
onto paper plates; your book open,
face down where you left it,
pad on which I’m writing
is on the floor by my chair.
The radio, which we left playing,
chances its arm at a contemporary
string quartet and I sense you will
rise soon, licking your fingers
free from chicken, wiping them
to be certain, down your skirt,
before lifting Lee Wiley from the record rack –
the Liberty Music Shop recordings 39-49 –
singing songs of love, but not for me.

An hour now since either of us has spoken,
felt the need to speak.