London with Four Essex Lads, Alan Moore, and Ruth

Because no one would want to travel ruthlessly, surely: I zipped off to London this weekend because I could. Is there any better reason? Well, I suppose fun and a couple of Alan Moore performances were also a good reason. I got in rather late, so Friday also got a late start but my pal Murphy and I kicked things off with a good English breakfast in Essex before meeting up with his mates in the pub, three of whom came to London with us to see the performance at the Horse Hospital.

It’s a fascinating venue with an interesting history and provided a great space for an unusual performance. After a visit to the pub next door, The Friend at Hand, the guys were just happy there was a bar (although the ringing sound of empty bottles on concrete punctuated a few moments awkwardly). The opening act was the Scots singer MacGillivray. I’m not sure I’d envy anyone who had to share a bill with Moore, but it was a challenge to get into the mannered performance of overly earnest aggressively retro sensibilities. She announced after the first song it was for a wee child who died in 1842; while the Essex men may have led the giggles, they were not alone. It’s the kind of thing that Dame Darcy and Rasputina do quite successfully with humour as well as a sense of the macabre. It probably didn’t help that there were a number of rolling beer bottles as she sang about stoning mermaids, “wolf waters” and “steaming the eyes of hope.”

Alan came out with his usual aplomb and fancy black & white spotted shoes. He introduced the reading by saying we seemed too nice a group to hear it cold, so he spoke a little about Jerusalem and its unbridled growth, now “bigger than the bible and, I hope, better” before turning to the chapter he would be reading from which had to do with angels, or as they were known in the novel, “builders” (a more neutral term). In part his depiction of the archangel Michael came from the image of the archangel atop the Northampton church bearing his name, which Moore says carries a snooker cue. He introduced his ideas about the afterlife, dismissing the typical depiction of heaven. “All that marble,” Moore said, cocking an eyebrow at the audience, “It’s a bit middle class.” Instead he posited the idea that our lives repeat without our knowledge, taking us back to our happinesses over and over, “So, hello again.”

The reading held the audience spellbound, rushing from onomatopoeic whoomphs to the builders’ ambivalence about their charges and the nature of the all-encompassing holy perspective. Good stuff: I can’t wait to read the novel — well, when he finally decides it’s done. The audience responded with laughter and close attention and sent him off with enthusiastic applause. While coming out of the loo afterward, I heard my name and turned to find Ruth, a fellow member of the Kraken, the Russell Hoban gang. She had seen my post on Facebook about the event and decided it sounded fun. She recognised me from my picture 🙂 I asked her to join us, then peeked around the corner to see if I could chat with Alan. Fortunately he was still there, so we had a chat and I mentioned finally meeting Pádraig last weekend as well as the Marvelman-like curse on his Marvelman book: Alan joked that maybe he should write a book about Pádraig’s book and create a kind of infinite repeating loop. I mentioned I’d be seeing him the next night at the Barbican. Yes, got a hug and a kiss, too.

Ruth joined us and we all headed out for a tasty Indian meal then dropped by the Bree Louise for a pint before they closed. Then we hopped the last train back to Harlow, another late night. I’ll have to write up the second day a bit later as this has grown long: more Moore, Occupy London at St. Paul’s (the photo above from the old UK phone so poor quality), Rothko and Ruth. Anon!