When The Colours In The Painting Box Showed A Picture Of Humanity A Wednesday Night Historian Did Something MacLean Would Be Proud Of ( The Story Of A Night At The Blue Chair Cabaret)

Hey everyone On Wednesday night I went to a Cabaret night. Nothing unusual in that you may think and you’d be right well I’ve been a regular at the spoken word scene for more than 20 years and the broader theatrical and cultural scene for a lot longer so you would think a midweek cabaret night should be right up my street and you’d be right especially when the night in question is at The Blue Chair Cafe.

It was my friend and fellow poet Kirsty Nicolson who introduced me to this cracking community venue just a few weeks ago. This weekly event is one of the friendliest I’ve ever been to and once you’ve been to a Blue Chair night you can’t wait to go back again.

One of  the main reasons for that is the excellent hosting of Kieran Murphy. Kieran has an informal, laid back style of comparing which is the complete opposite of my rather chatty but manic style which has served me so well at Lebowskis (formerly Sammy Dows) and also at the Federation of Writers events at GoMA over the years. Truth be told, I like Kieran’s style as it suits both the venue and the atmosphere of the event and I like the fact that there is at least one night where there is no sign in list and the acts are known only by their first names as it adds to the uniqueness and enjoyment of the evening.

Situated in High Street just across from McChuills this wee gem is under threat of closure from the most intelligent impartial and even handed group of people ever to exist in their own parallel universe otherwise known as Glasgow City Properties who are an arm’s length organisation controlled by the council that is supposed to be looking after our city rather than just themselves. Unfortunately though Glasgow is a Labour run council and that means we don’t have a council that cares about community business let alone communities so that means the Labour Party and their sub letters can should they wish attempt to destroy a fantastic wee venue at which so much is happening.

The Blue Chair community is a vibrant community and this was a fantastic night of cabaret. The official time of the event is supposed to be 6.30 till 9 PM but on the two occasions I’ve attended its been 6.30 till whenever. Yes it really does finish when the last performer who wants to has taken the stage and shared their works with the rest of us. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I arrived slightly later than the 6.30 start time. I think I finally made it to the venue at around 7.15. As I am rapidly discovering being late at this venue means you really struggle to find a seat. Thankfully I managed to locate one at a table with my good friend Jim Ewing, and fellow poets Peter Russell and Russell Wilson.

Having arrived in the middle of a set by Matt The Penguin I had time to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the two songs of his I actually managed to hear Starlight Sky and Serpent’s Tongue. As luck would have it Russell was next up to the stage and the first performer I managed to see for the full set. I have to say I really enjoyed his relaxed easy going style and a man more known for his poetry impressed the audience with his music. Russell played three songs October Songs, Painting Box which he described as a song for the wee yins and Sweet Little Mystery which was not the song made famous by the Wets.

As Russell went back to his seat it was the turn of Caroline Glenn to entertain us by performing two poems ManChild and Fantasy. I enjoyed both of these pieces but particularly ManChild which is a brilliantly entertaining piece on women’s problems with men who’ve never quite grown up. Let nobody say that feminism doesn’t have a sense of humour this was to quote the tag line of a certain magazine fearless, feisty, and female. This a voice I want to hear more of.

Next up was Eva, a Derry lass who I thought was one of the stars of the night. Eva started her set with The Box That It Came In about a man who deserted his wife for another lover and the potentially frightening consequences that as yet he is blissfully unaware of. This multi-talented lass then performed five haikus on the subjects of Students, Love, Family, Buses, and Poetry before concluding her set with I’m A Little Dinosaur. This was the first time I’ve heard Eva and I really enjoyed her work and have encouraged her to think about attending Words And Music as I think she would a valuable addition to our team.

From Derry we travelled to Manchester without leaving Glasgow as Lucy took the stage performing five short poems and turning one of them in to a longer one. The topic for her longer poem was her poem on her newly arrived niece who was born just a few months ago. A proud auntie, Lucy’s poem, Jessica Neave celebrated becoming an auntie with a stunning beautifully written poem which was delivered with a gentle sensitivity which provided one of the most emotional moments I’ve had at a cabaret night for a very long time. This poem was so stunning it would have been impossible to for another poet to follow it. Thankfully it didn’t happen and that job was left to the man who has become to use his own words the Blue Chair’s Wednesday night historian Michael Gray.

On this occasion however Michael spoke on something a lot more current than the famous Glasgow figures of the past  namely the fight to save the amazing venue at which we were meeting. Michael talked with passion about the value of community, the uses of the Blue Chair and the value of community businesses in an area which has been neglected for far too long. Our historian then went on to slate the insensitivity of City Properties whom he said didn’t seem to understand to the value of social capital. Michael went on to correctly say that you would think that in a time of recession landlords would be more sensitive to the needs of new or recently established businesses to give them to grow instead of issuing threats of closure. At the start of his talk Michael said he usually talked about dead people and the contribution they had made to the history of the city whether it be leading campaigns to make improvements to our lives or fighting to save jobs and on the first night I heard him give a talk he was talking about the legend of Red Clydeside John MacLean a radical socialist republican who supported an independent Scotland and who knew that community empowerment was the best way to achieve this. On this occasion a journalist who cares passionately for his country, and all the communities in it was no longer speaking of MacLean he was doing something which MacLean would have been proud of.

After Michael’s passionate and empowering speech it was time to mellow out a bit and what better way to do it than with a bit of music. This was provided by Jack whose songs Wedding Rings and So Many Lessons took us to get back in to the chill zone but this was only a temporary visit before the next act brought a unique brand of manic comedy magic to the stage.

The act in question was Gabriel Featherstone who runs a monthly comedy at the Griffin Bar. Gabriel who describes himself as the Alice Cooper of stand up comedy delivered a polished, professional, performance which was both engaging and more importantly funny. Like Cooper this guy is an original, with a sharp and witty turn of phrase. I mean let’s be honest anyone who can deliver material on an Elephant’s colon and vampire cats and get the audience giggling deserves respect and this guy certainly has mine. A natural entertainer Gabriel may be no archangel but he is most certainly a star on the rise. I think Alice Cooper would approve.

As Gabriel concluded his set it was the turn of Scott Campbell to claim the stage and entertain the gathering with a wee bit of classical guitar. This was an excellent way to follow such a high energy performer as illustrated perfectly what a real variety act is all about and let a very skilled musician help us to enjoy a much neglected art form.

Next up was Hugh who is one half of the duo Danglemanity. Whilst I will readily admit that I haven’t as yet heard any of the band’s music you can bet that after Hugh’s solo slot I will be seeking them out to have a listen. In a set which comprised a mixture of words and music Hugh performed What Will You Be Wearing To The End Of The Year Dance, The Man At The End Of The Street, the brilliantly entertaining and thought provoking Durham, Glasgow, Damascus. In this poem Hugh recalls growing up in Durham in the north east of England and tells us that there are 1,000 Scots buried under Durham Cathedral. They were there he said when he was having dinner with his mum and dad , they were there when he was out playing as a boy and they were there he said when he was writing poetry in his room. Personally I like to think they were guarding him and maybe even inspiring him as secret muses he knew nothing about. However this poem had more layers to it than just the spirits of medieval Scots lurking around his home town. There was a disturbing parallel with the recent and indeed ongoing refugee crisis in Syrians. Indeed one can only speculate how many Syrian dead will have been found to have been buried in some European countries in a few years time. This really was a poetic masterpiece as it touched on not only the problems of the past but also those we face in the present day and sums up the barbaric inhumanity of war no matter where it occurs.

After this superb piece of poetry Hugh finished up his set with I’ve Never Met The CGP. Normally after such enjoyable set I may be inclined to heap loads on the performer concerned but on this occasion all I can say is that this was one of many fantastic sets such was the talent on display.

As if to prove my point our next performer Mark read an excellent set of high quality poems entitled Thoughts On Learning Difficulties, Dead Deaf Doors, and Thankful all of which had more than a gentle pop at the global educational system which he says values certain types of knowledge above others so the capitalist system is maintained and the social order from which the powerful have benefited can be preserved. This was a powerful passionate set from a man who had the honesty to admit he had his own learning issues as a child. This gives him even more credibility as both a poet and a performer as he is giving a voice to those without one and it’s a voice which deserves to be heard and respected.

In contrast to Mark who delivered a serious sensible sort set our next performer Stefan went for a more comic approach and his pieces Let My Love Be A Horse, Pan Sexual, and What You Wish For showed flair to tackle the ridiculous and see the humour in it. At this stage I went for a wee wander to find out what people thought of the night. During this process I got talking to a group of women and I am pleased to report everyone I spoke to were enjoying both the acts and the atmosphere. This is exactly what I hoped they would say especially since I had given up a chance to go to the Rally And Broad Luminate Poetry Slam at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. Before returning to my seat I passed on my feedback to Kirsty who was very pleased with my findings.

As I arrived back at my seat I was just in time to hear Peter Russell deliver his poems to the audience. In his first poem Athenia 2015 Peter who in my view is one of the best new voices I’ve heard this year explored the theme of Multiculturalism in a piece which I consider to be very relevant to our times. It seems to me that too many people are believing the right wing Tory establishment lie that ‘foreigners’ or people from different countries and traditions as I prefer to call them are to blame for all of our society’s problems. This is of course drivel and Peter in that most poetic of manners ripped this myth to shreds.

In his next poem The Bird The Brain And Getz Peter paid homage to his jazz influences and the legendary saxophonist Stan Getz as the poem transports us to a Chicago speakeasy. After this poem a gifted poet reminded us of the contribution of one of poetry’s greats and the fact it was 60 years ago to the day since on 07th October 1955 since Alan Ginsberg’s first performance of Hell. As he moved on to his next poem Blues he dedicated it to the late Christopher Hitchens who once said there are five arguments to be had every day. Peter’s humour really came through in this piece and it showed the razor sharp intellect of a man well versed in his craft.

In his penultimate poem this Portsmouth born wordsmith wrote a protest poem United States Of Americanisms on the Americanisation of the English language by our transatlantic cousins I have to say I share his concerns on this issue and I really enjoyed this not so gentle mickey take on the way we use words differently and illustrate the truth in the saying that we are two countries (or more) divided by a common language.

For his final piece Peter performed his own translation of the poem Him which was originally written by the German poet Gunter Grass. This brought to an end an immensely enjoyable set by a well read and well respected poet whose work I’ve enjoyed getting to know.

Next up was one of the genuine good guys of the spoken word scene Jim Ewing. A regular at Words and Music at Lebowskis formerly Sammy Dow’s, Last Monday at Rio and host of the poetry discussion group Faith and Unbelief Jim started as he so often does with a few haikus to warm us up before moving on to perform two of my favourites from his catalogue Carpe Diem and Men At Lunch.

As Jim rejoined the company it was the turn of Andrew to take the stage and perform a few songs including Goodbye Vermont and Savannah which I enjoyed immensely. This was a musician with a gentle laid back style which is always enjoyable at a night when all you want to do is soak up the atmosphere.

As we neared the end of the night it was the turn of Jamie And Andy collectively known as Jandy to entertain the crowd. Well if combining names worked for Jedward I don’t see why it can’t work for people of a different musical style. For their opening song they performed a song titled I Wasn’t That Drunk. Now I don’t know about you dear readers but I think I’ve heard that line rather a lot. Well I am after all a Glasgow girl and Glasgow boys have a tendency to spin that line a wee bit too often for my liking. Now I can’t remember which one of them it was but one member of this double act treated us to an excellent violin solo but whether it was Jamie or Andy matters not to me what matters was the outstanding quality of their musicianship.  

It has to be said Jandy were  a tough act to follow but if anyone could do it was Courtney and trust me she not only did it she did it with a bit of style performing three excellent songs and I must admit I particularly enjoyed her cover of Dancing In The Dark. Trust me Springsteen may have made it famous but never sang so it good. This was one classy performance and seriously easy on the ear.

Now it was my turn to entertain the company and it was only when I was looking through my poems I realised that I had selected the wrong poetry bag. However there are times when working as a trainer required me to make some intelligent adaptations and I was grateful that my former employment had stood me in good stead for such an emergency. Though not my first choice of set I read two poems on the theme of romance and Leave It To Fate And A Single Girl On Valentine’s Night went down well with the audience and I got a better reception than I perhaps deserved when you consider I had left my first choice of poems at home in the bag I forgot to lift. I don’t know, sometimes you get a lucky break just when you least expect it and I think that was me on this occasion.

As I made my way back to my seat it was I think appropriate that Grace was called up to the stage to be the last act to grace us with her presence and bring a magnificent evening to a close with a song called Goodbye as that’s what we had to say to each other at the end of a very entertaining evening.

As we made our way home I reflected on the amazing night I had enjoyed comibing all that is best about variety and cabaret. This most open of open mics showed why the Blue Chair is such an excellent and indeed itimate venue and why it must be saved. This was a night of chaotic, creative madness  but more than that it was a night of singing penguins and little dinosaurs and single girls on valentine’s night. It was also a night  when the colours in the painting box showed a picture of humanity and a  Wednesday night historian did something MacLean would be proud of.

Love And Best Wishes

Gayle X

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