Do You Remember Those Nights?

18 Mar 2021

By Natalie Jayne Clark

I am writing this in March and Paisley Book Festival 2021 is now over. This is a month for collective anamnesis – a recollection of a past life. This is the anniversary of our first lockdown. We are allowed to simultaneously mourn what we have lost and celebrate what we have gained.

Imogen Stirling opened her Big Night In event with a performance recalling the squeezes we could once give each other. Regarding social connection, she shared the loss we feel of the ‘gluttonous luxury of company’ and those (booze-filled or otherwise) ‘earnest declarations’ made in pubs and on sofas together. We miss live performances. Yet, we have created new spaces to connect – yes, they lack physical touch, but they still contain intimacy and art.

Through these online events, we have actually been offered a new layer of intimacy with our favourite artists: a glimpse of the insides of their houses. With each, I imagined what kind of house party I might be privy to, were I to be invited.

Iona Lee performed from a darkened kitchen, houseplants curling and reaching upwards in the background – fitting for a witchy performer. At a house party there, I feel like I would find a deep connection with a circle of people I had met that evening as our shared experiences and passions overlapped. I would never feel overdressed. Her poetry draws up meaning from the depth of objects and settings and connects them with ‘what is inhuman about the human experience’. Iona’s statements seem so assured and make me feel less assured; her words cause me to question my life. How often do I stop and really notice things? What meaning do I give to my life? Where can I find it? Do I interrogate and play with the language I use enough? Truly?

She was followed by Dean Atta, who sat next to a William Morris patterned curtain – which I had already made note of as something to remark in this blog before he later actually performed poetry about it! In this house party, I envisage that the focus would be on the food and storytelling, both of which we would share and praise lavishly. At this PBF event, he performed poetry which touched on his experiences of the last wee while and of his identity. Part of his magic is being so personal and specific whilst also wholly relatable and giving a call to action to everyone listening. One year ago, I taught his poem How To Come Out As Gay in one of my first online lessons in lockdown and gave that initial shock to my S4 pupils by reading the first line which is simply: ‘Don’t’. It feels unreal to consider how much remote teaching and learning was to occur after that lesson. Not many weeks prior to that, I had met Dean Atta in person at a Sonnet Youth evening where he signed my copy of The Black Flamingo. Do you remember those kinds of nights?

The final performer was musician Emme Woods. In her flat, I see thick looped wires, myriad amps and speakers, and an old patterned rug. I see the end of a sofa – I can picture myself perching on it to have an absorbing conversation with a randomer whilst I sip my drink from whatever receptacle I could find there – a mug or jar perhaps. At this house party, people would take it in turns jamming, people swapping themselves in and out intermittently, new styles brushing and melding with each slight change in performer. Emme’s performance echoed like a basement gig, her guitar was alive and deep and expressing a character all of its own to hold up her beautiful voice. Her repetition of ‘I just want to dance’ echoes my greatest desire for the post-pandemic world.

At the end of the event, Imogen brought the performers together again and thanked them for allowing us to be lost with them for an hour. Her cosy night in gave us a moment to remember that ‘art is not lost, it is perhaps just waiting’ until we can exist in offline spaces together again – although I would argue art is an omnipresent element, whether experienced digitally or in-person.

Imogen's Big Night In is still available to view via this link until 26th March