Book Slam

Last week I finally dragged myself along to Book Slam. I have been meaning to go for ages but had never been free on the night. This time Geoff Dyer was appearing, so I was doubly eager to make the journey to The Tabernacle in Notting Hill.

Book Slam describes itself as London’s first/best/only literary nightclub. It was started about five years ago by the writer Patrick Neate and has grown up and spawned some looky-likeys (according to the experienced slammer I interviewed in the queue to the bar).

You sit at cabaret style tables, drink wine, maybe eat, and listen to some readings by guest writers and then there’s music. Tickets were £8 in advance or £10 on the door. I had a delicious, if expensive, Tabernacle burger and lashings of merlot, and more of that to follow.

The readings are sensibly short and interspersed with breaks long enough for you to get to the bar again, or chat to the people at your table, or celebrity spot. Apart from the official guests we saw that woman from Smack the Pony and there were lots of others who looked suitably arty. There was also time to sidle up to Geoff Dyer and get three books signed. I had recently finished Out of Sheer Rage, his hilarious account of not writing a critical study of D H Lawrence. I’d spent my time when reading that book trying to work out if I liked or loathed its self-obsessed and chronically indecisive narrator (i.e Geoff). Much like the narrator I had swung from loathing one moment to loving the next. Having met the real Geoff when asking him for the signing, I was swept away by his charm and am firmly in the love camp.

Patrick Neate was MC. He did a great job being funny and self-deprecating and whipping up support for the writers on parade. He explained that writers are a shy species, not accustomed to the limelight, who spend their days locked away in rooms with computers. We, the audience, should encourage them. Patrick generously allowed us to heckle him as much as we desired, which some did. He said it was good for him.

Geoff Dyer read from his recent book of essays Working The Room which was entertaining enough to send me to the bookstall table in one of the intervals. Rupert Thomas read from his drug-fuelled memoir This Party’s Got To Stop. Diana Athill didn’t make it as she had flu, and that’s a big deal at 93 years. Patrick said he’d tried to convince her to risk it, but in the end he stepped in with a piece of performance poetry. It was impressive – how he managed to remember the whole thing.

The evening was topped off by The Mind’s Ear orchestra. They play anything, conducted by members of the audience who volunteer for a slot. We listened to styles ranging from disco to chamber music, with all sorts of variations. It’s a brilliant idea and the effects are riotous. You have to see them if you get the chance.

So, all in all, Book Slam didn’t disappoint, apart from possibly the nightclub bit – at the end of the evening everyone decanted almost immediately into the bar downstairs, away from the main hall and the DJ. Maybe that’s because they had the orchestra this time. Jess and I went on to find a late opening pub in which to dissect the evening – oh the joys of a non-working week, for me an essential part of the writerly lifestyle is the permission to get pissed on Thursday night.

We’ll be going again, and if anyone fancies coming along we’d love you to join us.


Helen Black said...

OMG - it sounds like a blast.
I'd love to give it a go.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Sounds absolutely brilliant.

Julie P said...

It sounds wonderful. I've never been to a book slam before.


Caroline Green said...

I've heard lots about this event...all of it good. Might come alone some time.

Roderic Vincent said...

Perhaps we should have a little Strictly Writing expedition. I'll let you know the next time we are going.

Gillian McDade said...

This sounds like a really good evening. Glad you enjoyed it, Rod!

Kath said...

So jealous. Cornwall is gorgeous but when I hear stuff like this I so want to be nearer London. Sounds fab.

Essie Fox said...

Yes...yes...I'll come! I've been twice in the past and just loved it so much. Great atmosphere. Very clubby. Good fun.

Caroline Green said...

My comment was meant to be 'come along', obviously I hope!

Roderic Vincent said...

Next time we go to this I'll post a notice so that others can join us if they like.

Caroline, lol.