My evening began appropriately enough sitting in a pub, pint in hand listening to a man “banging on”. Arriving early for the latest True Stories Told Live I slipped into the main bar of The Compass pub on Chapel Market, Islington with a view to having a quiet pint while I waited for my friend Huw to turn up. I made the mistake, however, of turning to the man sitting next to me to ask if he was going to the event in the function room upstairs. He tutted loudly, rolled his eyes and answered in the absolute negative. He was a local. Having a pint. On his way home. A busy man, obviously, but he was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and opinions with me. Amongst the subjects he covered was his belief London had been taken over and proper Londoners (like him, born and bred) had been banished to the fringes. He was particularly aggrieved that BBC London couldn’t even find a newsreader who had a London accent and mentioned it a couple of times. He also had a great love of (proper) 80’s music and proceeded to tell me the pop music story of that decade despite me having lived through it myself and having indicated as much to him. He even told me a string of stories about Smash Hits; David Hepworth (a former editor) did this, Mark Ellen (another former editor) did that. I saw a chance to interrupt. “They are both going to be in the “do” upstairs” I said, “they might even be the ones doing the story-telling.” His eyes flickered briefly with a dull interest before he resumed telling me his version of how Strawberry Switchblade made it onto the front cover of Smash Hits. Luckily Huw arrived at that point and we headed to the upstairs function room for the main event.
Clearly there is nothing new about peple telling stories in pubs. True Stories Told Live, which is a relatively recent venture by the aforementioned David Hepworth (along with Kerry Shale and Kate Bland), takes it to the next level. The format is like a stand up comedy night except people tell stories, rather than jokes. There don’t seem to be many rules other than the story has to be true, be told live without notes and it can’t last longer than 12 minutes. There are five tellers of stories during the evening (they are looking for suggestions for a fitting noun to describe the performers, “anectdotalist” being the current favourite) with three people going in the first part and the final two following on after an interval. One of the turns usally does a song or two as well. The show began slightly later than advertised at 7.30pm and ended promptly at a very civilised 9pm, leaving the audience free to drink in the bar or go off for dinner.
My friend at the bar downstairs would have been disappointed by the dearth of proper Londoners involved. TSTL is hosted by a Yorkshireman and MC’d by a Canadian and the anecdotalists last night included a Welshwoman, a Canadian, a Midlander, a woman from Chichester and a man from the Home Counties. The subject matter of their stories included training soldiers in Mozambique, Robert Plant meeting the Dunvant Male Voice Choir, playing a gig in New York, dealing with Nazi heritage in Austria, flying to Miami and being arrested as a suspected spy in a Bosnian war zone. Yet London is nothing if not a melting pot and this combination of people from various origins and panoramic subject matter made TSTL feel a distinctly “London” affair; on the one hand it was obviously cosmopolitan but on the other it remained small scale, local and villagey.
The quality of the stories and the story telling (and MC-ing) was high throughout the evening and the format works very nicely. Its clearly well organised. I particularly enjoyed its relative brevity and its 9pm finish which gives you the option to attend the evening , be entertained and then go and do something else as well. If truth be told most of the people involved ended up staying in The Compass which is a cracking local pub with good beer and good food. Most of us until closing time.
This was the fourth TSTL and last night was over-subscribed. I suspect that demand for tickets (which are free, by the way) will only increase. You can find out more about forthcoming True Stories Told Live and get on the list to reserve tickets, here. And, if you fancy having a go at telling a story, they are keen to for people to get in touch with them.