Colin Cross writes about a poetry reading at Bristow's

I think Colin Cross' work of fiction might be the most accurate description of the reality of what occured underneath Bristow's Paperbacks. Colin Cross (right) ran the Studio Four Arts Lab and wrote as a freelance for the Eastern Evening News "Here And Now" page for 18 years from 1969.     

 His book "Encyclopedia of British Beat Groups and Solo Artists of the 60s" was published by Omnibus Press in 1980.     


Names have been changed "to protect the guilty" but I think I can safely tell you that Dominic Sutton is Tim Sillence, Tom Motson is Bob Cobbing, Dick Carmichael is Dave Glendenning and Damian Marshall is loosely based on Colin Cross.      


The picture below shows Oly Accola (AKA Oly Aldridge) doing a reading with Tim Sillence (right) in Bristow's. Oly wrote:

"Poetry readings usually took place on a Saturday before retiring to the Wildman. Many meetings were held in the Wildman pub. Pernod chasers were the favoured drink and paralysis below the waist was the accepted outcome".



 A haze of smoke from French cigarettes filled the oblong cellar, and there was a clinking of wine bottles on the stone floor, as the scruffy, dark haired young man in the leopard skin swung on the child’s swing suspended in the middle of the room. Dick Carmichael swung slowly at first, then gradually gathered speed as his "concrete" poem built up. Faster and faster he swung, until he was banging his feet against the wall above the crowd sitting round the edge of the floor. "HE! SHE! IT! SHIT!" he screamed, flying from the seat of the swing and crashing headlong into a group of people who had just arrived. Visitors to the city, who had merely looked into the room out of curiosity, they took one look at the assembled throng and fled. All around the walls of the cellar were seated between twenty and thirty young people. Nearly all of them clutching folders, notebooks or scraps of paper. Each of them eager for the chance to display their literary talents. There were also a couple of guys with guitars, hoping for the chance to play, and in the midst of the throng sat the older, bearded and rather distinguished figure of Tom Motson, the celebrated Radio Three sound poet, with his tape recorder.     


 He was the "quest" for the session and at the appointed moment he would slip a pre recorded tape into his machine and bewilder, or thrill, the crowd with his seemingly random sounds that he classed as poetry. It was at this point that Damian Marshall would decide it was time to go for a piss.     

 Meanwhile, it was down to the regulars to entertain themselves and each other.     

 "I've got a new one", said Amanda Banbury, commonly known as "Bang Bang" because of her sexual exploits. This comment was greeted with a mixture of grins and groans.     

 "A new what?" sneered Marshall. His face half hidden by cascading blond hair, his eyes covered by a large pair of shades, Damian Marshall was a young man of few words, but a born cynic. "Bang Bang" wrote at least one new poem each week, although basically they were all the same. Only the names were different each time. Every poem retold, in vivid detail, her latest sexual conquest. This one, as usual, featured a big thick, steaming cock piercing her moist, "and pox ridden" muttered Marshall, pussy and filling her to the brim with hot juicy cum. She spared no detail, and as she reached the climax of the poem she also achieved her own personal climax and collapsed against the wall in exhaustion, her face fixed in a wild manic grin.     

 "Stupid fuckin' slag" muttered Marshall through the haze of smoke.     

 With the poets coughing and clearing their throats, having smoked too many French cigarettes, it seemed the appropriate time for a musical interlude. But who would provide it? Would it be Roger Cooper, one of the city's poorer buskers, whose complete repertoire consisted of three, badly played, Bob Dylan songs, and had never needed to be expanded as nobody ever stopped to listen past the first verse of the first one anyway? Or would it be flamenco guitarist Martin Jones who, under his professional name of Ricardo Sorento dazzled the Spaniards each summer with his lightning fingers? At least that was what he told everyone at every opportunity. In reality, he was a boring little man whose playing was as monotonous as his boasting.     

 It was, in fact, Jones who unfastened his guitar case and stood up. Taking his guitar from the case, he rested his left foot on the swing and while tuning up, began a long-winded introduction to what he was going to play. It would, of course, be a world premier performance, as what he was going to do had never been attempted before, "by anyone in the world". As he began strumming it became easy to see why, and the rest of the people in the cellar started to talk amongst themselves, uncork more wine or light further cigarettes. After twelve minutes, Jones finally ground to a halt, bowed, and sat down as a murmur of "thank fuck for that" echoed around the room.     

 Also, among the gathered crowd each week were a few timid, rather insignificant young souls who felt that merely being in the gathering made them important too. They would then take their turn to read their poems. Normally tortured tales of lost love from suicide hearts. Each one of them believed that nobody else could ever have loved and lost quite as strongly as they had. Their efforts were greeted with polite applause and occasionally would evoke some deep and meaningless discussion as to why a certain word had been used in preference to another similar one. Normally these discussions would stem from the students in the room, who somehow felt obliged to show off their superior, if often pseudo intellect.     

 During a temporary halt in the proceedings, following the sixth of these poems, a voice broke through the smoke and the clatter of wine bottles. "The dog sat on the bog", hissed Damian Marshall. "it was house trained." "Life has no point", he continued the self-proclaimed master of the short poem. "Only curves." "The moon in June sings mainly out of tune. You made the bed, then I made you, then you made the bed again."     

 "Wow, gosh, super!" Squealed the spotty faced, bespectacled youth beside him. "God, I envy you, you bastard." Crooned public school educated Simon MacMillan "You manage to say in two lines what it takes me three pages to say." Actually, this was not so much of a compliment as it may have seemed. For MacMillan was noted for sending most of the room to sleep with his ten-page epics full of long words and deep meanings. So deep that nobody else could bother to fathom them out. Marshall wondered what it was people got from attending public school. "Certainly not intelligence." He scorned. "Who fancies a fuck?" sighed "Bang Bang" from her place in the corner of the room.     

 Suddenly the scruffy dark-haired figure of Dick Carmichael, who had remained motionless since leaving the swing, leapt up and with eyes glazed from the drugs he had consumed earlier, stood before "Bang Bang" lifting his leopard skin. Hungrily she whipped his fully erect cock from his underpants.     

 "All right then! Alright then!" announced Dominic Sutton. who had just awoken, and was still staggering from the effects of the bottle of whisky he had drunk in an attempt to rid himself of his cold. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do now." Sutton was a wild eyed, long haired eccentric, heavily into drug and alcohol abuse. When not propping up, or lying in, some bar, he "worked" in the bookshop above the cellar. It was he who was responsible for organising, if such a word was appropriate, the weekly events. He staggered, with a little help from the wall, the full length of the room and grabbed the receiver from the phone hanging on the wall. "Hello God! Is that you, big chief? This is Dominic here! Are you receiving me loud and clear? Over." He crashed against the wall. "Do what God? Can you speak up a bit? I can't hear you properly with all this fucking noise going on."