by Stan B.
Before Jef-something Brian Thomas Ormston (Jef) (who is much more humble than his name would lead you to believe) sat on his chair behind the mic and started playing that electric guitar like an orchestra of sound, a million bells, he said to anyone who was listening, “And now for my last piece”, and when that one was done, which was an astonishing rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon, with waves of notes scrambling, piling, sorting themselves out and upward, Jef said, again to anyone and no one, “Do I have time for another?” I thought, “He’s only started his set, what’s he talking about?” But big Bill Paul, London’s Town Crier, who has known Jef for ages, along with most everyone else in the city, leaned over and said, “Jef never knows how much time has gone by. It’s true. He really lives in the moment. You have to keep telling him he has more time.” I listened more carefully from then on, and yes got lost myself in some of those moments.
The sudden vocals on the next piece were a bit loud for some people, and I was scrambling to turn down the level when I realized it was one of my favourite songs from the Woodstock festival soundtrack, “Freedom”, which big, black, Richie Havens had opened the festival with, but which here was sung, just as deeply, by this scrawny little Jef-something. “Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home." Yeah. At home Linda and I listened to it again on YouTube. “Freedom is scary when you’re young, when you first have it,” Linda said, “but then when you’re older, after having so much reponsibility all your life, you can’t get enough of it.” Yeah that’s for sure. More, please.
Our new co-host for this season, Joan Clayton, (me being the other co-host), thanked Jef and introduced Bill Paul (who really is London’s official Town Crier, but who goes by the name Laffmaster Bill on Facebook, for anyone who might want him to host an event or provide entertainment, or who might even want to be interviewed on his radio talk show, Straight Talk with Bill Paul, which, after 39 years, is the longest running talk show in Canada, on 106.9FM.)
It’s undeniable that featured poet Roy McDonald holds some fascination for people. He’s a bit of an old leprechaun, and maybe reminds us of Gandolph in Lord of the Rings -- that combined with street person, hippy, but mostly, being old but spry, he’s the embodiment of the mystery of aging. As I watched him do his well-rehearsed thing on the stage, booming out those old poems, which he’s practiced so often busking on the sidewalk in front of Joe Cool’s Fridays and Saturdays, I wondered how all the so-much-more-normal lives in the audience saw him. The other older people, like myself, where and why did we get off the bus? And why did Roy refuse to ever change after he’d returned from Woodstock? Is he the better for it, or are we? And the young poets in the audience -- are they seeing wisdom in him that they somehow haven’t acquired yet? Or just some archaic remnant of an age long lost? I think each one of the 65 of us in the audience tried to imagine being Roy McDonald to some degree, living his very unique life. As we compared our own to his we all became a little wiser.
By the time Roy was into his Q&A, answering questions about the washrooms at Woodstock, (“you had to wait half an hour or an hour”), about his spirituality, about the influences on his poetry and his life, and about conversations he had had with Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen and so on, there were still stragglers coming in, but they were finding only standing room at the back of the big enclosed terrace of Mykonos Restaurant, while the rest of us sipped our wine and munched on souvlaki and Greek salad. We had never had such a packed house before and my mind couldn’t figure out whether to be happy about it or just more anxious.
The open mic section provided again all the pleasures I’ve come to associate with it: the huge variety of people, all displaying the equally various intimacies of their inner lives sculpted into their word art. There was every age, poetic ability, sex, kind of person, and of personality. And the audience was also a microcosm of humanity. The one thing everyone had in common was the enjoyment of poetry in this room together. At the end of the evening, open mic reader John Nyman, whom we will feature one day, told me how much he enjoys our events and compared them to the readings he attends regularly in Toronto when he’s there. He said he likes the strong feeling of community we have, whereas in Toronto there are so many events to choose from, a number of them every week, that none attract very big numbers, and they tend to be more specialized in one way or another.
I asked our new Internet Manager, Shelly Harder, for a few words on how the event went for her: "My first night at the Open Mic was all I'd hoped it would be,” she says. “Between the welcoming ambience of Mykonos, the pleasure of chatting with Roy McDonald, Joan's warm hosting, the passionate talent of the open mic readers, and Jef-something's guitar soundtrack, the evening was an exceptional one, and I look forward to many more!" And the rest of us chime in, “Me too!”