Monday 4 May 2020

Mind your hats goan in

On Saturday May 4th last year  - and what an age ago that now seems - I organised Finneganight,  a literary shindig to mark the 80th anniversary of the publication in book form of Finnegans Wake.

It was a gathering of enthusiasts, sceptics and the well-disposed uncommitted who wanted to celebrate the world's most difficult book. The venue was a derelict former Conservative Club in Paddington. 

It was emphatically not an academic bunfight, but intended as an antidote to the commercial cavortings of Bloomsday, with live music, songs, readings, performance, and a trail-blazing all-woman panel. Also lashings of booze and cake.

Those taking part came from Dublin, Paris, Los Angeles and London. It's a pleasure simply to type out their names once again: Alba Arikha, June Caldwell, David Henningham, Jen Hodgson, Dan O'Brien, Melanie Pappenheim, Alex Pheby, Jessica St Clair, Susan Tomaselli, Tony White and Eley Williams.

The night began with Melanie Pappenheim performing the ballad 'Finnegan's Wake' with Alice Zawadzki on the violin, a song usually belted out by growling hairy men but in their hands transformed into something lyrical, haunting and strange. This set a high bar which each subsequent act vaulted over fearlessly. Tony did a bravura reading of 'The Willingdon Museyroom' passage ("mind your hats goan in"); Dan and Jessica performed the 'Jute and Mutt' episode; David performed the unperformable 'Ballad of Persse O'Reilly', hurling a turnip into the audience at the climax (said turnip now archived in a cabinet of curiosities, suitably labelled), Jen chaired a Settee Salon with June, Susanna and Eley and kicked off with the excellent question "When did you first not read Finnegans Wake?'. What followed was (as somebody later emailed me to say) the most brilliant and hilarious and original literary conversation they'd ever overheard. It certainly was. Alex Pheby read movingly from his prize-winning novel Lucia, Alba read a passage from the Wake translated by her godfather and we had more songs and poems and more talk and much laughter. Sixty bottles of Guinness and six bottles of Jameson's were polished off by a thirsty audience of around fifty, there were proper sandwiches, black and white pudding, and plenty of 'shop cake'. The evening ended with the shoutmost shoviality as the audience roared through the Wake's one-hundred letter thunder words followed by a boozy reprise of the ballad before weaving our way to a nearby sticky-carpet pub, after which all memory fades.

Here are a few blurry pictures from the night. We really should do this again. But it won't be the same. Nothing will ever be the same.

Mind your hats goan in
Let us propel us for the frey of the fray! Us, us, beraddy!
Melanie Pappenhiem and Alice Zawadzki perform 'Finnegan's Wake'
Dan O'Brien and Jessica St Clair as Jute and Mutt
The Settee Salon (Jen, Susan, June, Eley)
David performs 'The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly'
The lottery prizes
The Programme (designed by Henningham Family Press)
It's called a 'quarko' - ingeniously engineered . . .
Signed by the Company, and a souvenir thunderclap

Mind your boots goan out.

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