I’m Weeping On A Night Bus

By Mark Montegriffo

I'm weeping on a night bus terminating at Tottenham Court Road while listening to a song in a language I can barely understand. This has become routine for my London Monday nights.

I have, in large part, a Gibraltarian to blame.

Gabriel Moreno is the mafia boss of Monday night revelry at Hackney's Empire Bar. He plays host to When The Witnesses Are Gone (inspired by the Leonard Cohen lyric from Dance Me to the End of Love), now a fixture of the London folk and poetry scene.

And a scene it most definitely is at this point. A self-sustaining community has been growing, particularly in the last few months. Coupled with the Lantern Society (think of it as the sister night to Witnesses), songwriters and wordsmiths have collaborated in a communion of 'poetical resistance', to borrow a Moreno-ism - yes, there is even a language of sorts developing in this underground collective.

But at a certain level, it is hard to pinpoint precisely what the original uniting factor is that pulls these individuals together. Maybe a good place to start is figuring out what exactly is When The Witnesses Are Gone...or rather, what it is not.

It is not a concert or a gig. There is no fixed bill of performers advertised publicly weeks in advance. There is no sole protagonist.

It is not an open mic. It is not a confused mix of beginners and beautifully deluded souls.

It is not a covers night. There will be no Ed Sheeran covers, although a frequent performer at Witnesses, Fiona Bevan, has written with the popstar, among many others.

It is, however, a night based upon a poetical theme. This sounds daunting and decadent. It is. But it is not pretentious. The focus is always on the wholesome and maddening love for the art. The prospect of a songwriter or poet writing or conjuring up material suited to a different theme every week is madness. But madness is the twin of bravery, and this is a brave scene indeed.

Take this Monday night that I'm writing this on the aforementioned bus. I made a list of the languages that were used to recite a poem or sing a song just this evening alone, by performers stretching from Australia to Texas, and Turkey to Argentina:

English

Spanish

Slovakian

Italian

Russian

Dutch

Turkish

Syrian (Arabic)

Portuguese

Portuguese (Brazilian)

French

Gaelic

Bulgarian

It's that spirit of bravery that unites the scene. Every individual is on their own distinct paths, musically, personally, creatively - whatever it may be. Something has brought them to London and though the reasons vary wildly, they need not be mentioned. The message is received on Monday nights in Hackney.

Although this event features artists from the world over, I can't help but feel there's something deeply Gibraltarian about this authentic creation. Perhaps part of it is because Moreno never fails to mention his hometown every week. Or whether every time it's my turn on stage (and often even if it is not) he will introduce me as a fellow Gibraltarian. More poetically, it could remind me of Gibraltar because, like the Rock, people from far and wide come and go but their stay is always meaningful.

Perhaps it is because, in the Poetry Mondays at Hackney's Empire Bar in East London, I've finally found something that resembles the feeling of home. The same Cohen song that the event takes its name also demands the listener to 'lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove'. By the end of the night many of us do not know which direction homeward is, but we know we are part of an olive branch across cultures, artistic tastes, and musical traditions...as we drunkenly curse Brexit's mother and the global capitalist economy in 47 languages.

I wish my bus could drive me to next Monday night to do it all over again.

When The Witnesses Are Gone opens its doors every Monday at 8:30pm at the Empire Bar in Hackney, London. Free entry.