‘Clubbing for grown-ups’: Book Slam, London’s literary nightclub [INTERVIEW]
For those who have never been, what exactly is a literary nightclub?
It’s an event that celebrates live storytelling in all its forms: from authors, poets, songwriters and comedians – and, most importantly, in a bar serving a wide range of beers, wines and spirits. We’ve been described as ‘clubbing for grown-ups’, which I think sums us up.
And what kind of folks turn up?
A strange and beautiful mixture: from 17 year-old English Lit students to, on one occasion, a 90 year-old fan of Zadie Smith. We get a broad range of races and faces at Book Slam and consider ourselves very lucky – the only thing that unites us is a love of good books and good music.
How does each night differ?
The style of the events is led by the guests really – they each bring their own flavour to the proceedings as well as their own fans. In our experience, though, while people may come for the first time for a specific author, they come back just because it’s Book Slam.
Have you changed your format much since you started?
Not really. It’s a format that works really well for us, so why change? The fact is that people have short attention spans and tend to zone out and that’s fair enough. So we always keep the music and words to short bursts: 25 minute music sets and 15 minute readings – it’s such a special experience to be able to hear your favorite author’s voice. It gives much more weight to the words and helps you understand the tone and rhythm of their work. All this is interspersed by a DJ playing Swingbeat from circa ’95. We’re still unsure whether this is done ironically.
And why should we come?
You’ll have a good time, simple as that. We know from experience that trying to persuade people to come to a book reading is a hard sell, but Book Slam’s fun … honest. It’s the comment we hear most: ‘I didn’t want to come but I was dragged by my mate/ girlfriend/ probation officer etc, and I had a brilliant time.’
I like the podcast idea. Is this something you are going to continue with?
Yes – we wanted to document some of the content from the event and make it freely available to a much wider audience, so Arts Council England very kindly gave us some money to cover costs and helped us on our way. A few years back we picked up a Gold Sony Award for Best Internet programme and audience numbers are now over 100,000. They’re fun to record with my Book Slam partner Patrick Neate – we normally end up in fits of laughter. So, at least we find ourselves funny ….
Have you had any slip ups running the event, that you’d like to share?
Too many to mention – the wrong furniture, the wrong venue, the wrong author, the wrong sound system, the wrong drinks in the wrong order, the wrong trousers ….
What are your future plans for Book Slam?
We’re getting into publishing, which is very exciting. Earlier this year we commissioned 18 writers (alumni from the event) to contribute new material inspired by a song title to the first Book Slam Annual (‘One For The Trouble’). It’s coming out in November. We’ve put together a brilliant and diverse line-up (if I say so myself), including the likes of William Boyd, Helen Oyeyemi, Simon Armitage and Irvine Welsh. The book will be available as a beautifully realised, limited edition hardback, signed by the contributors. It will also be simultaneously released as an e-book, multi-platform App and audio download. We’re only printing 1,500 copies and the books will be available at Book Slam events and through our website – it’s a cool Christmas present, right? Just saying … www.bookslam.com