My friend Alice continues to appear in Brighton at various venues, giving readings of her poetry. I hadn't actually seen one of her live performances in person, but now I have, just a few days ago. It was at the Green Door Store, at Trafalgar Arches, down by the side of Brighton railway station. Here's a general view of Alice doing her stuff there, with an intimate audience looking on:
But I am leaping ahead.
It had taken me a couple of months to get round to watching Alice. I finally committed myself just before Christmas, and despite reservations I intended to loyally fulfil my promise to come. What were the reservations? First, although poetry readings were big in Brighton, part of the scene, poetry wasn't really my thing. Second, Alice favoured places where a loud and raucous band might head the bill - she'd think it wonderful, energetic music, but it would be just noise to me, and I might feel out of place and fuddy-duddy. Third, getting there would involve a walk on my own through the more down-at-heel parts of the North Laine. I'd have to be brave.
Fortunately two other friends decided to come with me. One was Michelle, who was herself a drummer in a local band, Slum Of Legs (their Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/SlumOfLegs); and the other was K---, who actually lives in the 'nice' part of North Laine and can move about the area with knowledge and assurance. A trio of stalwart ladies then: we would fear nothing. So bold were we, that K--- proposed a Mystery Tour of the North Laine, and she took us along little-known streets and passageways, such as this one:
It was very Dickensian. At any moment we might have been set upon by footpads, or cornered by whining beggars, or be importuned by crones offering their shoddy wares for pennies. Thankfully we were not. But the bleak approach to the Green Door Store was not reassuring. Graffiti everywhere. And the entrance (through a green door) was not especially inviting, nor was the dim green interior:
The premises was, I suppose, originally a basement store for station goods, perhaps a repository for lost property that no passenger had ever come back to claim. Locked trunks with bodies in them, that sort of thing. The sort of place that stayed dark, old-fashioned, dingy and very pre-war while the rest of Brighton station was modernised above it. A relic from the Brighton of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, perhaps.
The sound of something that could have been music came from within. We advanced into a big room, containing a bar, a brick floor, and a scattering of tables, chairs and stools. I expected to see the dregs and scum of a forgotten subculture, ruined creatures beyond all hope or redemption: petty thieves, pickpockets, pimps, broken servants, fallen women, escaped slaves, lascars, lazars, lepers, and every type of low life. But in fact the clientele consisted of bright young things from Brighton Uni, and the cheerful bar staff did a very pleasant house white. It was actually quite a jolly place, just a bit lacking in the lighting department.
The stage was through the black curtains visible in the photo. It was £4 to pass through. As people came and went, one caught glimpses of a small stage and a tightly-packed audience mostly standing up. We duly paid, and had our hands stamped. There was no sign of Alice, but she was supposed to be on at 8.30pm sharp, and was no doubt psyching herself up for her spot, somewhere backstage. It was almost time. The band came out for a break, and we went in. Alice was already on stage, and warming up with a couple of short pieces. There was a girl toting a couple of digital SLR cameras with big flashguns. The official photographer. I asked her: was it all right to take the odd shot with my unsophisticated little toy Leica, without flash? Oh yes, of course! I placed myself on the opposite side of the stage from the official photographer, and, after a while, snuck through the side-curtains to get closer to Alice, shooting from the shadows behind her. This is how she looked:
Alice seemed to be doing it all from memory - rather amazing. She was clear-speaking, confident and impassioned. She certainly held the attention of the audience. So! This is what 'live poetry' is like! I was impressed.
Afterwards, she joined us for some shots, delighted to learn that the three of us had come:
I think Alice looks very pretty. Odd that we are all blondes!
The Green Door Store says this of itself: A showcase of Brighton's best female-fronted performers for our queer and feminist friends. The words 'queer' and 'feminist' having their local meanings, of course; for Brighton is not quite like other places. The night's entertainment was called New Years Revolution, which gives you a notion of its vaguely anarchic style, as will the leaflet I picked up, listing the performers. It shows Alice providing the 'spoken word':
To wrap this up, I'd like to mention a near-coincidence. On 22 January 2009 (January again), almost five years ago, I went to another similar venue in Hove called The Greenhouse Effect (green again) to meet Alice (Alice again), who was then a brand new friend. On the bill were four experimental bands: Sly and the Family Drone, Blue House, Picore, and Projections. All played with extraordinary vigour, and at such volume that the speakers almost exploded. A night of crashing drums, tortured guitars, and hoarse vocals. Alice's son T--- was the leader of Blue House, and she was supporting him. It was the only occasion that M--- (my ex-partner) ever came along with me to meet another friend; and therefore Alice is the only one of my friends who has actually met M---.