Stoke Newington Literary Festival will always have an important place in my heart and eight cuts gallery’s history. After 18 months of one-off shows, it was at Stokey last year that The New Libertines was launched. We have a very simple mission to be “a celebration of light in dark corners, desire in the face of boredom, despair hidden beneath the underskirts of affluence – of everything it means to be human” and an equally simple premise for the format – a rapid-fire smorgasbord of writers each offering a taster of their work with no headliners and no support acts. After having the privilege of selling out last Stokey, in the last year we’ve played to full houses in Oxford, Birmingham, Chipping Norton, and Manchester, and it was a joy to be back.
We were back for a second time at Baby Bathhouse or, as it had been renamed just a couple of days befre the show, White Rabbit. It’s a fabulous basement venue, with dark purple walls, gold trim, a birdcage-strewn alcove for performers and a general feel of fin de siecle France. And for the second time we had a sell-out crowd, which was wonderful – huge thanks to tireless and wonderful festival organiser Liz Vater.
Not only was the set wonderful, it was a memorable day. Not stress-free it has to be said – from worrying (unfounded) about transport issues during the Jubilee (though sadly one of our poets succumbed) to mic strife (it arrived, after a week of phone calls and emails with just 3 minutes to spare!). Indeed I ended the show so fried by the pre-show worries that I totally fluffed my lines through Alibi. Fortunately there was a green room full of free books and french fancies and wonderful company, and Paul Askew’s “have sex with poets” plea was a genuine pant-wettingly funny moment.
I’m getting used to and spoilt by our performers delivering their very best, the gigs at Manchester and Chipping Norton standing out like beacons of brilliance, but yet again I had goosebumps on my goosebumps. It was the first time I’d heard Danni Antagonist live and her energy and intensity were incredible. Marc Nash gave the best set I can remember in all the years I’ve been performing with him. Hay Brunsdon absolutely owned the room with her deliciously filthy set and Emily Harrison continues to grow every time I see her. Claire Trévien and James Webster shone and Anna Percy’s lyrical, powerful delivery and stunning material is almost transcendental, whilst Paul Askew’s The Extremely Abridged History, Present and Future of Paul Askew in Five Dream Sequences remains the best performance piece I have seen.