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Stand up for your Writes

Reproduced with kind permission this article first appeared in the METRO, Tuesday 25 April 2006

When you cross a hip hangout with the written word, a new phenomenon is born says Kate Burt

It's 9pm on a Wednesday night and good-looking twentysomethings warm up at a new night in London's Great Eastern Hotel. To a party-friendly blend of rock 'n' roll, funk and soul, cocktails flow. Later, a hotly tipped East London band will play and people will dance tipsily until 1am. On the surface, it's a pretty average mid-week night out in one of the city's hipster-friendly bars...

It's only when you catch bits of conversation that you notice something unusual. They're all talking about the same thing: Tracey Emin's autobiography, Strangelands. And, in between DJ sets and band, there's performance poetry from Lemn Sissay and a reading from Grayson Perry: Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Girl by author Wendy Jones.

Welcome to the B Club, latest addition to a burgeoning 'live literature' scene, where the seemingly incongruous worlds of clubbing and reading collide.

Let there be lit
Launched in March, the B Club ('A Bi-monthly Bonding of Brains and Beautiful people, over Books, Bands and Bellinis') is the brainchild of fashion and art journalists Ruby Warrington and Francesca Gavin. 'The idea came from being in a book club myself,' explains Warrington. 'We enjoyed it so much, we wanted to do it for a wider group of people, with the focus more on edgy, cult - more rock 'n' roll - books. It makes it more attractive than sitting around being all intellectual.' Fashion stylist and member Julia Patterson, 27, agrees: 'The last time I talked about books was probably at school. I came tonight because it sounded a bit different. It isn't academic or bookish. There's no formal discussion. The fact that we've all read Strangelands is more of an ice-breaker than anything else. The book was OK but the best part of the evening was Wendy Jones.'

The joy of text
There's no set text, however, at Book Slam, a monthly night at hip West London hangout Cherry Jam. Promoted by Whitbread Prize winner Patrick Neate and Everything But The Girl's Ben Watt, the emphasis instead is on live performance.

Authors, poets and acoustic music acts take short slots during what otherwise appears to be a regular club night. Authors including Nick Hornby, Monica Ali, Jonathan Coe and Mil Millington have made appearances, as well as more underground names.

'When I first came a year ago, it was about a third full,' says club regular Mark Gurney, 27, a record label manager. 'Now, if you're not here by 7.30pm, you'll probably have to queue. When I started trying to get friends to come along, they were like, "you're going to what?" but most of them are regulars now. It's books made cool: it's refreshing to go out and indulge the brain - but not in too taxing or formal a way. I mean, we'll still get p*ssed out of our faces and fall over.'

Poetry is the focus at low-key live literature night Penned In The Margins. On stage is glamorous 28-year-old Canadian writer Heather Taylor. 'This one's for the ladies,' she announces with a knowing nod, before launching into a poem: 'They said he was trouble, and trouble never calls...' Taylor is tapping into what she describes as 'the Sex And The City demographic'.

'I swear some people think that if it's really convoluted and full of images they don't understand, then that's good poetry,' she says. 'But it's important to make literature accessible.'

And she's not the only one. The appreciation of a well-crafted sentence or simile is increasingly no longer the preserve of the class swot. From the Richard & Judy Book Club and Eats, Shoots And Leaves topping bestseller lists to Zadie Smith making it into Harper's Bazaar's 'Best Dressed' list and the lyrical prison diaries of Baudelaire buff Pete Doherty, reading and writing seem to be sexing up.

Back at Penned In The Margins, Vicky Shepherd, a 30-year-old radio producer and writer, thinks there's definitely a bit of a zeitgeist unfolding - and one that works both ways.

'The boundaries between music and words are getting more blurred for younger people,' she says. 'I happened to flick on to VH1 and was interested to see that they're running a Nation's Favourite Lyric competition - and, I mean, what's the difference between spoken word nights like this and The Streets?'

Kat Burt, Metro 25/4/06
Tue, 16 May 2006 03:52 pm
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