I sit here at 12.15pm with “Off the Map” spinning on the turntable, Pete Molinari’s signature pressed into the cover but 25 minutes ago. In old media terms this is ‘hot off the press’. I’ll transcribe my notes as honestly as possible.
8.45pm What’s Cookin presents Pete Molinari’s album launch at their night in the upstairs room of the Sheep Walk E11. One end of the room is like an altar to Tex Mex/ Americana via Honolulu (maybe the link is obvious to those in the know but I don’t remember seeing Johnny Cash in a Hawaiian shirt) – gold lame pleated drapes, garlands of flowers hanging from the ceiling, potted palms and ferns, red flower fairy lights, 1950’s lampshades and candle-holders. It’s ‘Blue Velvet’ without the psychosis, a corner of Graceland, a forgotten country singer’s trailer pulled up on a dustbowl roadside. Not a face in the room under 30, lots of sideburns and the odd quiff, charity shop shirts. The two fellas in front in discussion about a song playing – the be-quiffed one gets up to speak to the DJ, examine the sleeve notes, returns to his friend, argument not settled he goes back to the DJ for clarification. The boys are character studies not used for Nick Hornby’s ‘High Fidelity’ (Cusak was too relaxed, not OCD enough) – vinyl obsessives who could sail through the notoriously impossible Record & Tape Exchange Staff Entrance Exam (I failed twice).
Billy Childish’s discovery of Pete Molinari in Chatham is like a Medway re-invention of the Jeff Buckley creation myth (but give me Molinari any day). And the tone of the evening is given a distinctly Medway feel by the when the mic is taken by Wolf Howard doing a set irreverent-punchline poetry. Delivered in 1981 this would be great, quite good in ’85. Amusing for 5 minutes in 2006. The room love him, he has them quiet and laughing – with a gig audience that is an incredible achievement. I realise that my two years of running and MC-ing a poetry night (Brixtongue) has made me hate live poetry. But his book title “Journals of a Jobseeker” is much better than the one for my forthcoming self-publication “Mink City Journals”, I may have to reconsider.
There is something wrong with my bladder – every time I piss I want to go again. I was one of the first in the room, now it’s packed but I notice that I have about 3 feet of space all around me, maybe one of my boys peed on my trousers today (they certainly have poster paint on them), or is it that a man scribbling in a notebook scares people. This evening makes me wonder whether the counter-culture has the ability to manifest itself physically anymore. As soon as a gathering happens that on paper marks the cultural fringe, it becomes ‘reasonable’ and ‘ordered’, filtered and mediated. If such a thing as a counter-culture still exists it must be in cyberspace, from a bedroom or a park bench via WiFi.
I guess Kris Dollimore isn’t with the Medway Mafiosi as he plays his blistering Blues to a noisy room that the poet had pin-drop silent. The noisy corner should take their cue from the great Bluesman Billy Childish who stands rapt in the performance.
The Blues and the beer are getting me into the spirit of the evening at 10.30pm. A fella in a suit drunk dances away. In this most multicultural of boroughs the audience is 99% white – that’s an observation not a criticism.
Molinari starts up with a broken-hearted voice, a Dylan comparison does him no justice at 40 years distance and the fact of living in this Blair-World where to wear a red hat and sing folk songs is to get you on some MI5 watch-list. I think back to the arc-lights I saw flicking off the shore line as I passed through Chatham on a train early one morning – if you were looking for cultural references here you’d be bound to look West, to plaid-shirted pioneer stories, coast to coast journeys hopping on and off freight trains. The M11 outside the pub is recast as The Lost Highway. The duets with Billy’s wife Julie are beauty itself. I’m lost, I’m sold, I’m off the map.