You never know what you will see at Wotever
Every Tuesday night is different, it is an open mic, open stage, and open decks. Performers book in with Ingo up to months in advance to match their schedules or come along on short notice as complete surprises. The acts on stage amuse, excite, entertain, and sometimes in unexpected ways they move you. It may be someone you’ve never seen before who reaches out. Or someone you’ve seen perform many times who steps outside of their usual style and surprises you.
I know Dusty Limits as a cabaret performer- a level of artifice and posture, with perfected routines- drop dead lines and snappy retorts delivered ‘just so’
To me, someone having their hair shaved sounds like a nothing normality, it’s a mundane thing, we see people every day who have taken clippers to their hair, and yet Dusty turned it into something a little bit more, his performance bringing the ghosts of collaborators, concentration camps, and prisoners to surround us. Those who’d forcefully had to submit to a degradation.
For me, there was a very particular ghost, my father, in all of this.
In being diagnosed with terminal brain tumours, he’d enrolled for radiotherapy. Two days before this was due to begin we’d had family portraits taken, where he looks hale and hearty, and it is only looking closely at how he holds his hands is there any hint of how ill he is, and how it will all end only 10 days later.
The next afternoon we all gathered around, my father, mother, brother and I, and we made a small ceremony of shaving Dad’s head. He was worried about loosing his hair with the x-rays and had decided in a last Fuck You to fate, to shave off his carefully managed quiff flick and side parting, before the radiation pulled it out strand by strand.
Dad sat on the kitchen chair, and for the first time he submitted to our collective care, over the next weeks that was the become our pattern of pride, respect and care. For now it was a new feeling for us all, as his hair came off we all tried to keep some dignity and our deeply dark sense of humour running.
Dusty singing Hallelujah, while Maria shaved his head woke that ghost of my father, and recalled him joking about his hair falling as his scars were revealed.
For years I’d know the story of Dad’s childhood, the tough one you don’t tell kids. He’d made parts of between wars Liverpool sound like Enid Blyton adventures, and not have that Orwellian or Dickensian edge. Until those afternoons we’d sat I’d made the childish assumption that the love he’d given me was the same he’d received as a child.
Then he told me about the beatings, the older siblings cowering as the stuttering target of choice was again selected. His father had tried to beat his stutter out and his father dying when he was young was his salvation.
I didn’t know no-one else had been told this side. So when the scars from those beatings some 65 years before, were revealed as his hair fell away, he had to finally tell everyone and break down those old images of him.
Maria leaned in to blow the hair from Dusty’s face as he continued to sing, a tenderness not usually given to those having their hair shaved, the condemned man never usually receives such care.
As part of the shaving process we’d all stroked Dad’s head, an unlikely gesture normally, but one of the main gestures in the last week. Right at the end, Dad’s barely grown, grey stubble was under my fingers as we said farewell.
Dusty stood up, shook himself free of the hair and some of the emotion, and stepped into ‘Changes’.
I just continued to photograph blindly as my eyes filled with visions of another room, my fingers felt stubble in warm late summer days, and my Dad and I gained another few minutes in each others company. I flatter myself that it is not possible to tell from the photos that for much of the last piece my mind was occupied with other things.
Afterwards, my friends, acquaintances, and Wotever family on hearing shortened snatches of this tale offered hugs and cares and their own tears.
This is what happens at any Wotever event, sometimes you are amused, bemused, entertained, delighted, and suddenly from unexpected sources, emotion runs through and touches you, alone or en masse, and recalls ghosts, opens doors, and makes you think.
Think about what can happen on a free night, on a Tuesday, in a cabaret pub in Vauxhall, South London, on a small stage with a slightly stained red curtain serving moderately priced drinks and food.