Word of Mouth: Performance Night Express Excess
“Spoken word,” says Paul Lyalls in defining Express Excess, the monthly performance night that he has hosted for twelve years, and which has just become bi-weekly, in the room above The Enterprise Pub in Chalk Farm, London. Though he goes onto quantify this further by saying, “The core of it has been poetry, but that’s quite a loose term” and that the night “blends and amalgamates lots of different styles”.
In this idiosyncratic mix, a night might feature a 15 year old contestant from The Roundhouse’s North London Youth Poetry Slam, sharing the bill with octogenarian Fran Landesman, reciting her poetry, or singing her songs which, amongst a long list, have been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Barbara Streisand, Georgie Fame, or sharing anecdotes about hanging out with Jack Kerouac, or The Beatles.
A key facet of Express Excess is that performers regularly step aside from what they are renowned for, and express themselves in different formats. A particular example of this is Express Excess regular, Will Self. Lyalls admits that Self’s performances are always “a very big surprise”. On recent visits, these have taken the form of an improvised interview between Self, as him-Self, or perhaps a heightened version of the persona he is famous for, and Matthew De Abaitua in the guise of the Editor of The London Free, “London’s free-est free newspaper”.
The mix of genres, attracts a mixed audience, which is “neither a literary crowd, nor a bottled beer in hand comedy crowd”, which Lyalls believes gives the performers a greater freedom of expression and encourages them to experiment. In which, he also feels that the fact that the venue has a lot of character, or, as he says glancing up, “maybe too much character, as bits of the ceiling come down” plays a part. The room is a terrifically eccentric mix of peeling Victorian pub-rococo and Eighties nightclub, which the offset stage, and mirror ball dancing to one side of the centred ceiling rose, make feel even more askew. Whilst the back of the room is dominated by a grand, marble-mantled fireplace, and a giant, scuffed picture of Billy Idol incongruously serving as decoration for a black out shutter.
Over the last 12 years, Lyalls has continued to attract many other well known names to perform, including poets John Hegley, John Cooper Clarke, and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, and comedians Reginald D. Hunter and Dan Antopolski. I ask Lyalls what he thinks the secret is, both to how the night has lasted twelve years and why big name performers continue to want to come back. ” I know there are a lot better paying places, and a lot better organised places,” he says, “but in terms of pure energy it’s a good gig, and reminding people of why they did this in the first place. I think this is one of the first stops for that.”
Watch a profile of Express Excess, featuring an interview with Paul Lyalls and performances from Will Self, Matthew De Abaitua, and Dan Antopolski on the Plectrum Broadcast player.
Express Excess, every other Wednesday at The Enterprise, 2 Haverstock Hill, London NW3. Chalk Farm Underground Station. Doors 8.30pm Performance 9pm. Tickets £5 (£3 concs)
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