Caught By The River Social Club: Another Night Out in Soho with a couple of pints and a myriad of stories.
As with the last session at the Caught By The River Social club, the upstairs room in the Queens Head in Denman Street is packed to capacity. Ross Allen, a raconteur in his own right, and I squeeze in at the back of room adjacent to the table where one of our hosts, Jeff Barrett, offers a modest but honed selection of books, badges, postcards, prints and their excellent Fanzine.
Resident poet Will Burns kicks the night off with some new works and the room instantly warms to the wave of words that is to come. It was the down to Richard King, author of ‘How Soon Is Now’ and co-editor of Issue 7 of the CBTR fanzine (the Welsh diversion) to read two of his pieces from the mag. One of which dealt with lambing and the devastation wreaked by a combination of 2012’s heavy rainfall and a new year that arrived with frozen temperatures, blizzards and bitter Easterly winds. We were left with an image of dead sheep littering the road side and lambs perishing at a rate the farmers couldn’t keep pace with.
Reading from her forthcoming book, Darklings, award winning author Laura Beatty bridged the gap between generations, weaving images sparked by the English Civil war, that violent 17th century schism between Catholicism and Protestantism, into a modern storyline that is built around a woman called Mia and her aging blind father. It was a reading that somehow transplanted us deep into the English countryside.
The feisty Matthew Clayton – apparently the man behind the adventurously programmed Port Eliot Festival which takes place in a hidden corner of Cornwall – took the floor and proceeded to take us on journey around Britain indulging us with his thoughts… his obsession with islands. Islands that are and islands that are no longer. The mood was lightened and by his erudite but irreverent delivery. He even tapped into prehistory and I’m sure he impishly lifted a chunk from John Dee’s book… referencing moorlog… and how maybe in 6500 BC, Mesolithic times, we could have walked across to what is now Denmark. It seemed natural that Clayton was inevitably drawn to the island of Ibiza. While it’s regarded as home to the rave generation, Ibiza has an engaging history which includes a coterie of renowned bohemians from the 1930’s onward.
Following a much needed short break to order more pale ale we returned to hear Tim Dee read from Four Fields – Caught By The River’s book of the month! Yes, this is extreme stuff. It’s as it says, a 278 page book that deals with the author’s relationship to Four Fields, one in the fens, one in Zambia, one at Little Big Horn (Custer’s Last stand!) and one in Chernobyl. Tim Dee is a devoted bird watcher and he chose several passages from the book to illuminate his relationship to each location. Those of us at the back had to strain to hear his words, and have to admit that this listener was left feeling a touch numbed by an accumulative middle class politeness. That said, I shall press on with his book as I’m only up to page 89… a new chapter, The Spring Fen.
The evening drew to close with two short films by Maxy Bianco and Geordie wordsmith Michael Smith. These two have known each other for a long time and I first met Michael when he dropped into the Straight No Chaser office in Hackney way back when. Since then he’s penned two novels (Giro Playboy and Shorty Loves Wing Wong)and not long put out, Unreal City – a radical collaboration with Andrew Weatherall. Bianco’s camera took in the industrial coastline of the North East and the working class characters that populate it. Narrated by Smith both films are poetic, earthy and funny and promote a sense of belonging that somehow conspires to over ride the seismic shifts in ones life. I’m sure that resonated with everyone in the room.
The Caught By The River Social Club is indeed offbeat and at times challenging. When confronted with others who have succumbed to the pleasures born of the unrelenting cyclical shifts of nature, the protective, hard edged, abrasive and sometimes cynical demeanor of this inner city dweller simply seems out of place. Both this attendee and my good friend Ross Allen agree that nights like this allow us to temper or waive those ingrained class prejudices and give open access to the thoughts and ideas of others who have arrived at a common place via a different route. Inevitably there’s always going to be some form of disconnect or “what the fuck”, that’s life, but you have to love the opportunity to savour and share, first hand, the end result of someone’s craft that’s been polished through hours and hours of intense work. For me it’s been inspiring… well, it got me to write this.
PS: A gentle nod also to John Andrews who did a a splendid as the Social Club’s MC.
For more info on Caught By The River check them out at http://www.caughtbytheriver.net/