Prior to lockdown, I was interviewed by the sartorially splendid Darcy Sullivan for the equally dandified spring edition of ‘The Chap.’ Darcy asked some unusually pertinent questions that included a fine quota of Thunder’s related queries and also provided the opportunity to recollect seeing Quentin Crisp in conversation at the Royal Court in Liverpool. Crisp was the first author I’d seen address an audience and he was as you might expect, very witty and engaging. He was also most gracious when the time came for me to get a copy of ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ signed. Pete Burns was also getting his copy signed. Both gone now in the twinkling of gloriously painted eyes that recall the mad decadent verse of Edmund Gosse:
‘Prince-jewellers, whose facet-rhymes combine/ All hues that glow, all rays that shift & shine/ Farewell thy song is sung, thy splendour fled.’……….
Moments away from the snarling frenzy of traffic on the main road and into the quieter arteries of Bloomsbury, a sense of the past still lingers. Once an oasis of creative bohemia, the area has managed to hang on to its identity, there are second- hand book shops, coffee bars where you can hear Jonathan Richman and Roy Orbison whilst corner pubs feature some of the original Victorian exteriors, sea green and damson purple tiles glimmering in the late afternoon sun as they have done for the last century or so. I am nervous and suggest to my companions, ‘Lord’ & ‘Lady’ Darcy that we venture to the small park on the next block from ‘Gays the Word’ bookshop, where we will be launching ‘Incurable’ – the selected writings of Lionel Johnson, featuring a biographical essay and some photographs as old as the pubs. (Available via Strange Attractor Press.) I wonder if Lionel, a desperate tippler, ever drank round here. The vast Gothic hulk, The Russell Hotel, probably belonged to the family of one of his dearest friends, Francis, Earl Russell. It is a fascinating monolith, the exterior decorated with plump garlanded cherubs and shell-shocked Merlads coiled around lights that no longer work. How fantastic it must have once looked, like a magical ship sailing on a sea of night.
London has become a very difficult place to live in, uncomfortable, over-priced, and competitive – circumstances keep me here but it also has so many poetic ghosts fluttering around like spectral white moths that I am inclined to stay until I too join them. It is nearly twilight, the day giving itself up to the evening and I’ve begun to procrastinate – part of the pre-event ritual. I insist politely that we stop off at the little park to watch the last of the sun’s rays glancing off the leaves on the tall trees, like tiny golden darts. Lord Darcy, dashing dandy about town, press officer for the Oscar Wilde society, who will be asking the questions that need to be asked, reminds me that we really should convene to ‘Gays the Word.’
I’ve done many literary events over the years but none have been as enjoyable as this one or as thoughtfully prepared, a big thank you to Uli who did all the organising. What makes an evening special? The venue has much to do with it, ‘Gay’s the Word’ being a historical and community landmark, as well as a Queer safe space and a very fine bookshop. The audience are brimming with good-will; Jamie from Strange Attractor gives a stirring speech about how independent publishers and independent bookshops are part of the same precious fabric. Lord Darcy’s moustache is impeccable as is his knowledge of Oscar Wilde. One of the microphone’s break, but that happens at every event, usually I blame the ghost of Johnny Thunders but tonight it’s Lionel Johnson being the little trickster, despite his melancholy visage on multiple copies of ‘Incurable’ taking up most of the shop window display. The past always interweaves with the future, however, and just as we are about to start, Walter Lure arrives with Mick Rossi, currently playing in Walter’s LAMF band. I cannot believe that a Heartbreaker has attended one of my gigs!! But stranger things have happened. They always do.