Wells Street in Chelmsford is opposite the bus station and was the home of Chelmsford’s first Indian Restaurant. The Bassment in Wells Street is somewhere I had never been. But on Wednesday night I went there, a deep dark space full of pillars, bars and wires, for the Chelmsford Arts Collective Christmas Shenanigans – On the Pulse. The driving force behind the event was Cheryl Hemmings of Hemmingway. She had organised an evening of poetry, music, stand-up – and me, reading from Beyond the Beehive, obviously a Chelmsford classic.
It’s strange to be introduced by a bear. But so it was. The compere for the evening was Carl Denham – we had bonded (I use this word advisedly) before the evening began because his day job is as an usher in Ipswich Crown Court. He has to wear a gown there, so perhaps (as is so often the case with barristers) he felt better in a uniform.
It was a hip crowd. Most people were wearing black. I felt a little formal and yet frivolous in my red waistcoat and velvet jacket.
If I say that there were no chairs I think I need say no more about the age of the audience. We had a short Masterclass in Mods and Rockers and I asked people to think which group they would have been in if they’d been there. It turned out they were all wannabe beatniks. But what a nice crowd. They listened, they really listened, as I read about a world they had only ever heard of in conversations over their heads as their mums and nans talked.
After me came stand up comedian Kahn Johnson, who had a robust personality, some good lines and a neat set. Then it was Ölmo Lazarus – a street, beat poet from Basildon. He had come hot foot from watching himself on C4 news.
And his poetry was good stuff, political, clever, funny. After him came Scott Casey in a reindeer costume (A little known fact about Chelmsford is its inate love of animals). It was a good set, and I loved the line ‘Every time Slade shout “It’s CHRISTMAS!’ a reindeer dies.” I know the feeling. And then it was Aunty Sarah’s Puppets – Aunty Sarah with an everyday story of pirate life told with stick puppets and audience participation.
I so enjoyed the evening. There was a photographer Andre Kimche (he remembered mods and rockers! hurray), and an artist Marc Sephton whose work included portraits of Twiggy, the Rolling Stones and Spiderman. So in fact, I was not alone. And even Ölmo Lazarus made reference to mods and style and the importance of clothes. I was only sorry that I had to slip away before the music began.