The name always was a mouthful wasn’t it? Finding it was a bugger too. I can’t recall how I found out about it. It may simply have been a random Google search. But it came up, Poetry and Espresso Theatre evenings, in a back street dingy cafe. Nor was the venue much, a simple cafe room, 22 x 12 maybe. Jean and Lloyd, the proprietors, meant well and were invariably good hosts. And from these modest surroundings something pretty precious emerged. That it was coffee and cake in a space exclusive to the evening made all the difference. There were no boozy interruptions, or indifferent passers-by ,as you can get in some pubs.
A place where anyone could turn up and have their five minutes in front of the mic. Some performers were consistently good, others less so, but it didn’t matter. Everyone respected everyone else’s time at the mic. And no evening was short of a surprise, like the first time that Sean Colletti and Andy Cook bowled in, fresh, smart and brimful of ideas
Of course we had our characters. Where Martin Gibberd came from I’ll never know, and I have never seen him at any other events. Tall, lean, with a mane of long grey hair, a biker’s jacket and skinny jeans, Martin epitomised the ageing rock n roll troubadour. Hunched over the mic, he would take you into an hallucinogenic journey of 60’s America, Route 66, tumbleweed and road trips. After a while you completely forgot how the story had started, and at the end you were sure there was a meaning, but you were never quite sure what it was. What you always had experienced was an unique performer, and performance. The cd of his material which he gave me is much valued.
People travelled quite a way. Stuart Favell was a regular from the Black Country, and once, unannounced, a guy arrived from Barnsley, did his spot, and then went home! The Brum literati glitterati also showed, Charlie Jordan, Lorna Meehan, Louise Stokes, Roy MacFarlane, Fatima Al Matar, Adrian Johnson, Dave Reeves, Richard Bruce Clay, Claire Corfield, Janet Smith, David Calcutt all appeared. Yet Jasher and his ilk, stumbling in, out of the cold, to read for the first time in public made an equal contribution. Ian Ward even introduced the concept of the audience selecting his set by asking them to shout out numbers which matched those he had ascribed to his pieces.
Writing and reading poetry is rewarding, but there is no replacement for hearing it, and delivering it in front of an audience. Seeing the faces in the audience as you speak, detecting how words and phrases do, and don’t work. It is a real test. The cafe provided that opportunity in a friendly supportive environment, and it will be missed. Whether it was full with thirty people, or more modestly attended with ten, the atmosphere never changed. The variety mattered, it was never a shouty, ranty performance poetry gig, but nor was it a heavy serious page poetry vibe. No-one ever had any idea what the content was going to be like until the last word of the last poem had been performed.
When the Cafe diversified into acoustic nights, Charity nights, “Espresso Theatre” and comedy it was equally successful. The mini-plays in “Espresso Theatre” were of a consistently high standard, and the “Lafacino” comedy nights provided a platform for the likes of Aaron Twichen and Claire Corfield (aka Lady Jospehine Whittle) young talents who have the capacity to “make it” on as big a stage as they choose.
Stuart Zola, MC, organiser, and spiritual head of the event was the heart of it. It was free, because he believed that art should be accessible to all. He wasn’t a regular poet at all, primarily a musician, lyricist and talented playwright. That a non-poet, who rarely read, should have devoted such time and energy to the project tells you all that you need to know about the spirit of the place.
Now a landlord dispute has resulted in its closure. Yes it might re-open, but the regular cycle of events as they were has ended. And although that saddens me, I reflect on Roger Daltrey’s cry ,“I hope I die before I get old”. Because the Cafe did not stop through decrepitude or indifference, but through external intervention, whilst it’s heart was still, beating, and for that I am grateful.