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A Sage Saves Me From a Night of Destitution – and Provides Another Unique Night of Entertainment at Catweazle, Oxford

June 28, 2013



OXFORD – When Matt Sage began his unique, usually witty and sharp spiel in opening up the night of festivities at the Catweazle Club in Oxford last night, he talked about how he had met several interesting people just beforehand and how he had this feeling that swamped him about how human nature, when you got right down to it, was really sympathetic and nice. This, naturally, drew some nay-saying comments from the nearly 100 or more spectators and musicians in the hippie-like environment of the East Oxford Community Centre where this iconic open mic has taken place for more than two decades.

But what Matt did not refer to was his own sympathetic nature and the act of kindness he performed the moment I arrived after a nearly 1 hour 30 minute drive through thick traffic from the Silverstone racetrack to the Catweazle Club, also known as Catweazle Performance Space. I took my guitar out of my rental car and decided to put my computer bag in the trunk, and I suddenly started searching for my wallet and instantly realized I had left it in a locker at the racetrack. That meant that I was 1 hour and 30 minutes’ drive away from my cash, credit cards, every bit of my lifeline for the night, and with an empty, growling stomach after the trip from Paris to Oxford via Eurostar, walk, rental car, etc. And there was no way I wanted to drive back through the pouring rain AND miss my one chance per year to attend and play in the Catweazle Club.

So I entered the room where the gathering takes place, and I said, “Matt, hi, it’s Brad Spurgeon….” He immediately recognized me from past years, and I said, “I’m really sorry and embarrassed, but I have just discovered I have no money or credit cards or anything, having left my wallet at the racetrack.” My immediate thought was not my dinner, but how could I take part in the evening. I forget that as a performer I do not pay an entrance fee, but I would need to buy a drink, certainly. The entrance fee for the public – well worth it – is something like 5 or 6 pounds.

“We’ll sort you out,” said Matt without hesitating. He then pulled out an envelope from his pocket and from the envelope he removed 40 pounds and said, “Is that enough?”

I could not believe his kindness. He only knows me as a guy who has showed up annually once per year for the last four or five years, and even during that time he was absent on one occasion – replaced by someone else. So it was a risk he would not get the money back – but his empathy overruled any doubts.

Thanks to the loan – I ended up returning 20 pounds later in the night and will return the rest today or tomorrow by mail or special delivery – I was able to have a meal and a beer and to spend yet another absolutely fantastic evening at this amazing open mic “happening.”

Catweazle, in fact, has such an enviable ambience and approach to the open mic format that it has been imitated in several different places, including London, New York, and lately even in my home town of Toronto. (Last night there was a Catweazle happening in Oxford, New York and Toronto, in fact.)

What makes it different and cool is just subtle stuff, and personally, I think most of what makes it different and cool has to be Matt’s presentation and MCing – he comes up with the funniest lines between acts. It is also the hippie lilke vibe: Everyone sits on mattresses, pillows, cushions, chairs and couches, right up to the foot of the performers on the performance space. Behind the performers is a curtain – like a stage curtain – with Catweazle written in large freaky letters above. There is no microphone and no amplifier, and the audience knows that it is expected to be religiously silent for every performer – and the audience IS.

Furthermore, just about any kind of performance is allowed. Although I have posted only videos of music, there were several spoken word performers and poets. And this being Oxford, I assure you that they were good.

This being Oxford, the performers were also very cool. There were a surprising number of Americans and Canadians, too, as it turned out. And two Germans. I don’t know about the other nationalities, but it was clearly a cosmopolitan mix.

I must apologize for one thing, which is that because I did not want to be too obtrusive with my video camera in this silent, respectful space where few people make videos and none took photos, I chose to sit at the back of the room, and that unfortunately meant that not only the focus of the camera was not what it should be – since I used the zoom of the Zoom Q3HD recorder – but also the sound was often pretty low, and WORSE: I had to hold the camera high over my head and my hands were shaking through most of the filming. So bear with me on that.

Oh, by the way, I also did manage to do my song “Crazy Lady,” and as usual at Catweazle, I felt bizarrely more nervous than I do at most other places. It’s that respectful silence and the 100 or so faces at your feet…. it’s at once fabulous and frightening! But I will definitely return whenever I can.

So, yes, human nature can be incredibly positive and wonderful – especially at Catweazle Club, Oxford.

One Comment

  1. And this is definitely one of the places I’d like to go!
    Thanks for sharing and I love how what some think of as bad luck was actually a spring board to greater connectivity and an enriched experience because you gave it that space !
    I think that his the absolute highlight of such tales and what makes the telling of them of so wonderfully uplifting- spreading good vibes everywhere!

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