In 2011, I held a lovely gig in the basement of Modern Art Oxford. We called it Lyrical Badlads and featured a dazzling array of poets and musicians, award-winners like Lucy Ayrton, Claire Trevien, and Anjan Saha, multimedia genius Dave Griffiths and the band To The Moon, art from the wonderful Anna Hobson. At the end of the show, as I like to do, we had an open mic. Anyone fancy reading, I asked. A hand shot up. Just one. A tubby, bearded shambles of an old guy. A bit like me, in fact. I waved him up and he picked up the mic, adjusted his glasses, and blasted the room away with this
“Do you remember the good old days before 2008 when the low paid got thirty five grand a year tax free personal expenses? No? Come on, you must remember when those on Workfare got three hundred quid a day, just for turning up, or when you couldHn’t move in Aspinal’s or Stringfellow’s for pensioners blowing their annual million quid bonus on Krystal and Krug? No? Funny that I don’t either.
Yet we’re all in it together says ‘Call me Dave’ while his next door neighbour wields the axe, but it’s not their necks on the cutting edge, it’s ours: The flotsam and the jetsam, the detritus and dregs who live in the margins or out on the edge. I speak of my family the generation lost, sometimes remembered, more often forgot. Except, after a boom there’s always a bust, ask who’s to blame and they’ll tell you it’s us! It’s not greedy bankers or embezzling elites, it’s somehow the fault of those with the least; the old, the disabled, and us on the streets; who didn’t see the Olympics or feel the effects of any feel good factors, just the bite of the cuts, but, why should I worry, why should I care, I’m not pessimistic, but I’m gettin’ there.
Squeezin’ the last cup of tea from a tea bag, last of the milk, no sugar, stale bread, scrapin’ the last of the marge from the tub; just about breakfast, hungry to bed. It won’t be the first time, won’t be the last the good books all tell us that it’s blessed to fast, but does it still count when you don’t have a choice ain’t seen the light or heard the big voice? Me pockets are empty, the leccies on emergency, the last strands of baccy have just gone up in smoke, but the tabloids all tell me I’m living the life of Riley, in a poxy little bed-sit and flat stony broke. To say that we choose to live life like this is sheer discrimination and taking the piss, by those who’ve never had to survive on fresh air and water till a Giro arrives, but, why should I worry, why should I care, I’m not downhearted. No I’m not downhearted. I am not downhearted; but I’m gettin’ there! “
From that moment, Davy Mac was the first name on the list every time I was putting a gig together. It was my privilege to share the stage with him not only in Oxford but at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, and most recently, earlier this year, as part of the blues-soaked The Age of Absinthe at Chipping Norton Literary Festival.
Davy’s was one of the best performers, and the best poets, I’ve ever known. But he was also just about the best man I’ve ever met. His remarkable life saw him married as a teenager, running away to the army which he was forced to leave because he was gay, homeless, an addict, cruising the bars of Amsterdam, eventually winding up in a Japanese prison where he wrote, and won an award for his poetry. On his release, he worked with homeless charities, wrote the poetry for the Homeless Oratorio, and came to Oxford to study creative writing at Ruskin College as he entered his 7th decade. Which is where our paths crossed, where he became a multiple slam champion, where I got to know the biggest hearted man you could ever meet. Cantankerous is an overused word but it is perfect for a man whose humour and anger blazed brilliantly and so often in synch or syncopation. He was relentlessly committed to socialism in a way too few are today, he would draw a line in the sawdust by any bar beyond which he refused to let any bullshit pass. And he gave the biggest and best bear hugs you could find.
As the cancer that killed him affected him more, he managed fewer of those hugs but more than ever of his remarkable stories.
Davy was due to take the stage beside me one last time this August as I put together my very last show. In the event, he was fading too fast, and everyone there took him a signed poster while I read my favourite of all his poems, Almost Blue
Paris, post-Christmas another one night stand.
A gay cafe, a cheap hotel, Thallys booked to Amsterdam
tomorrow’s dreams on sale today, Coffeeshop smoke, and bullshit.
‘Hey who’s the white guy blowin’ horn? Damn! He’s good.’
Hank’s back, slick and slack caressing keys with New Jersey panache
shame he’s got that new guy in tow.
‘Jealous? Hell yeah, but I burned those bridges long ago.’
New Year’s Eve. Wandering streets with the Amsterdamned, Champagne bottles
hand to hand, tasted, wasted. Desperate times call for double measures. A good time
Will be had by all. Spliff enough, sniff enough – here today, gone tomorrow. Bareback
guys like Aids don’t matter ‘cause Armageddon’s on the way. Hell, its Armageddon every
day, for some poor schmuck. So, suck, fuck and cry havoc for tomorrow we die;
in the Arena, Paradiso, or OD’d in some deep, dark dive, ‘cause seeing you split
my heart in two; bled me like a sweet blood orange.
In the black coffee cold light of sobriety when my wrung-out emotions finally
accept you’re gone for good, I write this listening to Chet, thinking of you.
Davy died last month. Oxford’s slammers said goodbye to him in wonderful fashion when Andie Berryman, the best friend a beautiful, balding, brilliant poet could ever have wished for, read his last poem at Hammer and Tongue, the event he loved so much.
Sadly, Davy dies as he had lived for too long. In poverty. Without the money for a funeral. The poetry community, led by Andie, has done an amazing job of raising money so that he can have the send off he truly deserves. You can donate on this page.
I don’t really know how to end. End is such a horrible word, such a horrible thing to do. Maybe I’ll just leave this post hanging there, like an empty mic, an empty stool at the bar, waiting till the hubbub’s gone to turn back on the lights for a few moments and wait for the syncopated hobble of the grumpiest, gloriousest gorilla to tap tap tap across the floor, take his rightful place, clear his throat, and begin…