Hootenanny Reunion

Before someone had the idea of naming it 'The Hootenanny' after the American word for an improvised folk-music singalong, the pub on the corner of Effra Parade and Brixton Water Lane (London) was called the George Canning. Last August, I went back there for the first time in two decades. It was still as big as two barns and hadn't lost its stage or its long darkwood bar. I arrived ahead of time but it wasn't long before Max - organiser of our get-together - stepped in with Mal and Winston and there we were, four middle-aged men indulging in a little hard-earned nostalgia for the early 1980s, when we were thinner, bereft of grey hair, and at a permanent loose end, in part courtesy of the politics of a hawk-with-a-perm who had often declared publicly in a piercing voice that unemployment in Britain would remain high for at least ten years. Trapped though we were, then, in the amber of the dole, it is those Brixton years – the heart of which was ever to be found in the Canning - that I still most miss: Mal and his collection of knives the shark one of which he pulled on a man who was persistently bothering his girlfriend one evening, making the eyes pop out of our table neighbours; the elderly cross-dressing busboy who used to waltz in his tutu from table to table at closing time screeching 'fuck off the lot of you'; all of us sitting glued to the video jukebox to watch Jackson light up the pavement in 'Billie Jean', the odour of discreet weed and lager-stained wood, music to our nostrils; and all Brixton milling around, from the funereal-faced dope dealers to the eco-artists in Peruvian sweaters, from the dedicated lesbian cadres to the soused old locals, from the ex-boxer behind the bar to Winston and Mal and Max and me, the alchohol sizzling behind our eyes as we laughed, and laughed, and laughed, swinging on our loose end, squirming in our amber.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, Setembre 2009

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