Review: John Hegley the Weavers Arms, Stoke Newington: A riotous night of glorious nonsense

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The Independent Online
COMEDY POETRY, like performance art or avant-garde mime, is one of those artforms designed to fill mainstream audiences with dread and send them running for the cover of the nearest bar showing the World Cup.

The fans of the comedy poet John Hegley, however, obviously don't feel that way. Forsaking the joys of France versus South Africa last night, they thronged the Weavers Arms in north London (the sort of fashionably faded venue where curling posters for John Otway hang from the walls, the paintwork is peeling, and the taps in the Gents don't work).

It was a trendy black-clad crowd and I imagine Granita and the other favoured eateries of north London's ciabatta-chomping classes might have experienced a relatively quiet Friday night.

It was anything but quiet at the Weavers Arms. This was no tranquil contemplation of exquisite haikus, but a full-on rock gig, with added poetry. At one point Hegleywas giving it some serious Mick Jagger into the mike.

But despite the attentions of the accompanying drum, bass, rhythm guitar, sax, harmonica and flute, Hegley's words shone through. Done up in a splendidly unmatching outfit - a full house of dissonance - he revelled in nonsense verse about subjects as diverse as his glasses (a particular fixation) and his beloved Luton Town Football Club: "The Lord was born in a stable because it was full at the inn./ Luton are low down in the table because they're unable to win."

At his best, he can take inspiration from the most bizarre snippets of information and deftly craft them into sublimely daft, but often strangely moving poems.

For instance, he worked up the factoid that an armadillo can hold its breath for six minutes into a bittersweet meditation on pets, with such characteristically embarrassed Hegley lines as: "he did his indoor doings in his indoor doings tray.".

Despite looking like the bastard son of Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly, Hegley never allowed us to think he was taking the whole rock-star schtick too seriously. After a number about the man scandalously omitted from this World Cup - Jimmy Greaves - Hegley announced, "here's another political one," adding: "It's about a dog that keeps on farting."

Hegley has never been afraid to experiment, and the mixture of strong lyrics and loud music worked surprisingly well. So, though it pains me to say it, all those Sunday style supplements were right. Poetry is the new rock'n'roll.

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