And so it’s from the market square of historic Shrewsbury yesterday to The Royal Haymarket of Piccadilly London tonight. In total yesterday was eleven hours and five hundred km travel and midway three performances.
Should’ve attended rehearsals at The Royal Haymarket at 3pm. I am so shattered from the previous days output I can barely make it out of the apartment. I make a request to be there for five and arrive on my bicycle at 6.30pm and in so doing miss the opportunity for the most important part of the event, the bonding. Not cool. I could have had a car pick me up and and drop me home. But I like to ride.
This event is one of the most special in the entire year and I have done it the past five. It’s called Cries from The Heart. As my bike spins down Haymarket from Piccadilly I see the photographers and the crowds stationed outside the main house. It’s sold out. The seating capacity is nine hundred, tickets begin at £37.50 ($70) and end somewhere in the region of £70 ($140). It's for charity and it is worth it.
My recent friend whom introduced me on stage at Hay on Wye, Lisa Dwan, is on her way from Hampstead while I swish past on my bike to the stage door where I meet Patti Smith camera in hand. It’s two years to the day since she did Meltdown at The South Bank where I also read on stage in the ballroom just before her. I amateurishly remind Patti that I have read with her before and that I shall be reading with her tonight. She doesn’t remember but she’s nods graciously. Autograph hunters descend the second before we enter the stage door. I immediately get out my pen and set up a little table and chair so they can form a Que only to realise my name is not Patti Smith.
In the makeshift dressing room John Hurt is sat with Dan Stevens and Yang Liang. Yang is still buzzing from last nights reading at The South Bank. It makes me proud, to hear him speak of Yellow Mountain the poetry in translation event which took place both in the misty yellow mountains of China and last night, it’s final destination, The South Bank. He gushes to John Hurt and I about how wonderful it was. And here he was, ready to read on stage accompanied by John Hurt who was to read the English version. Mr Hurt gives me some diamond advice on how to stop smoking, something he did a while ago. The last person who did that backstage to me was Alice Walker over ten years ago. “Lemn, why don't you stop smoking today and you'll always have a story to tell”.
Yang Lians entire involvement at this event has a direct South Bank connection. I got his email from the literature department at the request of Laura Boardman of Human Rights Watch who then asked him to perform tonight. Yang seems on top of his game. Everyone here seems so. I am the only one whom missed rehearsals and therefore I also missed the group photo shoot which is something of a tradition at The Cries From The Heart.
The Photo of the event is here. Fortunately this photo was taken at the end of the event. A rehearsal is important. It is organic a meeting of minds between venue and artist. Jarvis Cocker’s attending as audience member which is cool as he and I are on the Cape Farewell tour this year. Backstage is surreal. Simon Callow paddles past in full Brechtian character. Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart float by – The X MEN. I wonder if there is going to be some kind of interplanetary telepathic battle. I could've got the popcorn out there and then. Juliet Stevenson whom I recently heard in a play directed by Gordon House is here, Joanna Lumley occasionally wafts through, Miranda Richardson, Richard Wilson, Rageh Omar, John Hurt, Patti Smith to name a few of the people milling backstage. Roger Waters co-founder of Pink Floyd was nervy. Just before I walked onto the stage, I was nervous, Julie Christie cupped my cheek in her hand as if to say enjoy.
Finally it is my turn to walk onto the stage and that I do. Because I hadn’t rehearsed I the acoustics, lighting and space caught me unawares. I'm immediately swallowed. I read a piece by a Rabbi Hattenstone the character from a piece I wrote for Radio Four Called The Queens Speech as part of its fact to fiction series. The Rabbi was played by an actor, Michael Horovitch, whose last job was with Woody Alan. The Rabbi is speaking to The Queen “I was born as you were born, 1926. So much has changed and yet so little, Fidlesticks” But here I am reading it myself. the writer reading his own words hmm? In its first five seconds I wondered if audience could hear me at all. The piece picked up after that, the audience lights up with applause and ends “Let it be, Let them come, Let it be , Let them Come!”. I am off stage right and walk throught the wrong exit . Wrong freaking exit. I virtually stood upon Julie Christie. Oona Chaplin, dances, virtually floats youthfully backstage and offers carefully placed but warmly given compliment which is much appreciated.
After the event I meet Lisa Dwan, a diamond in the dust. We walk off into the balmy night and find a café on Heddon Street, next to Moro. It is a kind of Moroccan tea house. We eat humus and kebab, drink tea and talk ‘till late. It's what I needed after the event. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to come down after a gig. Presence is a powerful powerful thing and should never be underestmated. It’s been a perfect evening except I am wearing a cotton John Smedley shirt which is all well and good but I am cooking in it after rushing off stage and I think it's kinda stinky too: the thought about this really starts to worry and gnaw away at both my confidence. Oh dear. Damn! Some people have just no class! I can go on stage in front of nine hundred people but I am honestly more bothered about the stinky shirt in a gorgeous cafe on a blamy night in piccadilly.