You begin in a place. The place is Soho, the venue a club built on a dream of Babette’s. To have a bookstore, to hold a salon, to be a publisher in a particular way... We need coffee, a drink, conversation and more – something happening. What? music, words, sense of community, uplift, magic –
That is the idea. Simple enough, evergreen, hardly new. But how is it made? Antecedents in Soho: the Colony Room? the Academy? But this is different. Analogues elsewhere? Something of the Left Bank? Bloomsbury? poètes maudites of the fin-de-siècle? Or are we Ferlinghetti’s heirs, a North Beach outpost reborn? Greenwich Village in the day of Dorothy Parker? a bistrot in King’s Road of the later ’60s?
None of the above maybe, or shades of all. I feel on some Fridays as Kesey must have felt while the self-selected gathered to ride on a bus driven by Kerouac’s friend Cassady. There is, for a moment, a band of merry pranksters – young guys to become Warlocks and in time Grateful Dead, bright girls to dance free-form at a thousand happenings. Glee is in the soul, sorrow – all emotions – as John stands up to recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138. Then there is Annabel reading her favourite Borges; next comes Carrie ventriloquizing for Alison White, whose first slim vol was published the previous week. (Come buy it! We are a bookstore.) Another original, Brendan, does his own take on 1939, prompted by his friend Susan, who reads from the opening of ‘Under Milk Wood’ while George plucks soft chords on his guitar. Cecilia takes her turn and reads another from Thomas (Dylan); later her companion Evelina invokes Ted Hughes from Crow. George plucks on guitar again as I recite a lyric from Dylan (Bob) as if it were on the near side of poem-as-song. Robert from Georgia declaims on the flight of an eagle (it is 4th of July) and before long Will is reading Baudelaire’s ‘L’Albatross’ in its exquisite French. Young Harry gives us another original offering, then George persuades his father to try out some saucy Bukowski. So the evening shapes itself, espresso martinis washing shyness away. Most who recite have never come in before or imagined that their hour here would develop like this. Some become members, most will return. Few want to leave as, following last orders, George covers an old rocker by Eddie Cochran and Babette entertains us with comic verse ending in the refrains ‘Everybody’s doing cocaine’ and ‘Casual sex’... Friday night – come join us, or warm yourself on your August beach with this thought: when September brings rain, there will still be sunshine in Soho, and moondust, in a place where a fond dream of exuberant expression can only continue to grow.