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LAST Saturday, after witnessing a stirring 4-1 win for the Seagulls in a six-pointer against Swansea, I got the train to London and cycled to Hoxton Hall on my fold-up bike — Hoxton is one of those strange, Tubeless places where you need to be a Londoner to work out how to get there on public transport — and travelled back in time.
Not that far back, really, in the scheme of things — just to the beginning of the 1980s, when I had recently emerged from the underground punk scene as an angry young ranting poet and been invited by pioneering cultural activists Roland and Claire Muldoon from the CAST theatre group (it stood for Cartoon Archetypal Slogan Theatre) to join their newly created London cabaret circuit New Variety.
For the next few years poets, jugglers, mime artists, the first wave of alternative comedians and other performers who simply defied classification entertained audiences across London in a truly diverse bill of entertainment reminiscent in its scope (though not its content – radical politics were well to the fore) of the old-time music hall shows.
There were quite a few bands in there, too. James supported me once at the Old White Horse in Brixton and I persuaded Roland and Claire to let me put on powerful protest punks Newtown Neurotics from Harlow and Anhrefn from Bangor, the very first Welsh punks to sing in their native tongue, as elements in the shows.
But stand-up comedy soon became the dominant force in New Variety, as it did elsewhere in our scene, and we saw less and less of the other types of performers. Not being a comedian, but a poet who likes to be funny sometimes, I went off to pastures new.
I am saddened to see that Roland Muldoon’s Wikipedia entry now simply describes the New Variety circuit as “promoting a new wave of alternative comedy.” It did that for sure but a whole lot more. It was brilliant and, now people are starting to get sick of endless bills featuring only comedians, variety is making a comeback.
Fast-forward 35 years and I’m at the beautifully renovated Hoxton Hall in East London, taking part in Ms Paolini’s Phantasmagoria Cabaret, marshalled by the effervescent and very Italian Patrizia.
She’s part of multinational female dance/mime/spoken-word trio Jesus Paolini Park and they’re exploring the nuances of English as a second language in a way that can only be described as surreal.
They're followed by Candi Gigi, a Jewish performance artist/comedian whose dance partner is an inflatable naked rabbi she waves around by the penis.
After some more very strange dance routines, including a section where audience members are given pins and invited to burst balloons attached to the dancers’ bodies, next up is naked poet Glory Perl from Tunbridge Wells, whose compositions are mainly about her own bits. Form reflecting content, and then some.
And then came the highlight of an extraordinary evening for me. When I describe an evening as “extraordinary,” it’s saying something — I’ve stood in for Donny Osmond and supported Saxon. Julian Fox is a singer-songwriter who is quite literally the missing link between Depeche Mode, Ivor Cutler and Ted Chippington. If you don’t believe me have a look at youtube.com/watch?v=6R_OpvgC-0E
I was on at the beginning of the second half and it seemed to go down very well but then had to head back to the Sussex coast. But not before finding out that the Muldoons’ daughter was in the audience, which seemed very fitting.
I can honestly say that if you live in East London and want to experience an evening like no other, information on future events can be found at facebook.com/patrizia.paolini.58
Next week’s gigs are less nuts. Stand Up For Labour with Arthur Smith and more at the Old Fire Station in Bournemouth next Thursday, RISC in Reading with my band Barnstormer on Friday and Hot Banana Music in Holmfirth next Saturday after my first trip to Goodison Park since 1983...
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