Nothing Left to Read by Mark Mayes

It was in a folk club just up from Kentish Town Tube. Ten minute walk. I was a lot younger and I bounded up that road, with a youthful spring, passing a jazz club that I would never visit. In my memory it was always either the middle of April or early autumn – times in the year that I feel most comfortable in.

A large old house, set back, and a place with a large collection of folk songs, and dances, and everything traditionally folk in nature, going back ages, into the mists of folk-lore, you would suppose. I never checked out the collection, but was glad it was there. I never looked at their library.

In a large room, which I think was in a basement, or possibly sub lower-ground, as not wholly beneath the ground, for there was a window, I remember, through which some greenery was visible – that’s where the folk club took place. Every Wednesday night, from 7pm until 11pm. And I went quite bit over a three years or so. Sometimes to the singers’ nights, mostly those, and other times when there were invited guests – semi, or actual pros on the folk circuit.

I preferred the singers’ nights for richness and variety – a singaround where anyone who wanted to offer a song or tune, or poem even, was more than welcome to. And sometimes I joined in, and gave a song, and sometimes I just listened. And I got on speaking terms with some folk there, and began to feel at home, and part of the scene.

I remember one man, in his late forties, slim, with a dodgy leg. He had a stick, but once he was sat, you wouldn’t know anything was up. He was somewhat northern, though where from exactly I have no idea – I don’t remember his name even. But he often sang a song, which on my first hearing, captivated me. It was Silver Coin – a song popular in the 70s, and by the folk group Hunter Muskett. I eventually would learn the song, and record a version of my own, and put it on Soundcloud. And that song has stayed with me, as a friend and comforter, ever since those folk club days, which were thirty years ago now – long before Soundcloud ever was a thing.

The job I wanted to do wasn’t going well, in fact it wasn’t going at all. And love was a foreign game to me then, and I was mired in dark regret and a sense of the permanently lovelorn. I thought I’d never get out of that hole. But the folk club was some consolation, and whenever this man played Silver Coin, some chip of ice in me melted, and I felt love might come again, if I was open and patient enough, and ready for it. And it did. It did.

The man sang this song with a kind of astounding ease, as though it were not singing but a necessary way of talking in melody. You didn’t think how well he was doing it because you were so inside the person’s experience in the song itself, how those lines yearned and found the object of their yearning.

It would be hard to choose a line that I love best, and the only thing to do is go listen to it, anywhere you can find it, but the line that haunts me and pulls me in afresh each time, and into the larger romance of it, is: But when I read what her eyes said, I knew there was nothing left to read.

And with the man singing this song, his guitar so plangent, on those April or September evenings, as I nursed a half a bitter, or orange juice and lemonade, there was a quality of listening as he played the melodic fills between the verses, ghosting the melody and tantalising us with gentleness, a quality of listening that I’ve rarely experienced in a group setting. The song was not being repeated merely (it being one of his go-to numbers), rather always growing in nuance, in heart, in memory. 

About the Author:

Mark writes mostly stories, poems, and songs. He enjoys reading a wide range of things, both fiction and non-fiction. He likes old sit-coms, old TV plays, and is trying to keep fit with the help of his trusty pedometer.