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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Sebastian Horsley = EPIC FAIL

I was between shows at the Chelmsford Fling festival, a good-hearted attempt at a smaller-scale and more Chelmsford-esque version of, I guess, Glastonbury. My killing time options were slowly running out. I'd had lunch - a charred veggie burger in a leaky cardboard box. I'd watched some local bands, who were everything good and bad that label entails, and here I was at the poetry tent. I kept finding myself back here, standing on the edge of the tiny crowd of 20 or so people watching spoken word performances of wildly varying quality. Some not so good, such as the blonde-haired white girl in a sensible fleece who delivered all her material in the voice of an Asian inner city teen. Some good, like the chubby east end bloke who gave us some genuinely moving pieces, and who's name I forget, sadly. And then there was Sebastian. Oh yes. Sebastian Horsley.

Tall, skinny, with dyed black hair and a scarlet sequined suit more suited to the end of week cabaret host at Butlins, he was something very special indeed, and so not in the way he hoped. One of those rich kid bad boys, is our Sebastian, and he was here to read from his book of memoirs. He was with his girlfriend Rachel, and he sat her in a chair on the 3 inch high stage while he paced in front of her. The audience numbers were nearly doubled by all of the other poets sitting to one side to watch, clearly curious to see if the content justified the packaging, and then quickly amused when it didn't.

He started reading. His gimmick was to attempt to shock us with tales of debauchery, anecdotes rich with prostitutes, class As and hate for his parents. It didn't really work too well. For someone who lives each moment as if it were his last and doesn't give a shit, he certainly had a lot of neat little pink post-it notes marking the passages in his book he planed to read. Funny thing - he never got through one of them. Not one. Rarely have I seen a performer so quickly rejected by an audience, and yet we almost wanted to keep him around, so entertaining was his squirming efforts to retain his cool in the face of failure.

"I'm so fucking bored", he'd say, his speaking voice a carefully cultivated but amateurish impression of Johnny Rotten, "Can I fucking go now?", to which audience members would reply cheerfully, "Yep. Bye then."

The thing about rich kids getting into prostitutes, drugs and hating their parents is that, well, don't they all? Isn't that pretty much expected? Surely for all his supposed anarchic danger, he just did what society expects of the young, stupid and privileged. There's a point at which, though, most of them realise that however well-funded that lifestyle is, it's ultimately as dull as shit, so they move past it. Either that or they succumb to an overdose. No such heroic fate has so far befallen our shiny-suited hero. Instead here he is in Chelmsford. Showing off.

About 15 feet from him there is a wire fence. This keeps out the people who haven't paid the entrance fee for the festival. Sat facing it, looking through the gaps, their bodies on the non-ticket holding side, but their legs under the fence on our side, are three scruffy teenage boys. They, ladies and gentlemen, are having the time of their life heckling Sebastian. And everyone loves them for it. They are vigilant. not letting the slightest opportunity for interruption pass. Sebastian will mention people being like "the weeds between the paving stones of..", and on hearing the word "weed", the kids will cheer happily and chant "weeeeeeeed!!!", to everyone's glee. Every time he tried to impress us by swearing they exclaim "Oooooh!", in the most theatrically sarcastic voice they can muster - and bearing in mind they're teenage boys, that's quite a thing. Poor Sebastian, the dangerous bad boy of literature can do nothing but try to ignore them. No clue, does he have for handling anything other than an adoring audience, and this audience is very much not adoring. Not dazzled by his adolescent prose, the stories of bad behaviour, or even the sequins.He has no come back. No put downs. He's intimidated. This millionaire's son is effortlessly outclassed by three cocky little scuffers in track suits who didn't even pay to see him. It was grand.

At one point he announces he will read a piece about Rachel, who is still sitting in her chair like a good girl, gamely trying to stifle grins at the heckles that are so crippling her boyfriend's already stunted wit. "Why don't you let her read it?", shouts one of the poets, "She can talk". Sebastian has a few seconds to be dumbfounded by this concept and manages to mutter "She just sits there looking gorgeous", so one of the kids shouts "Rachel! Get yer tits out!", to great hilarity.

He mentions John Lennon, and rants a little about how awful it was that he was middle class. Sebastian Horsley says this. The son of Nicholas Horsley, head of Northern Foods, who make frozen pizzas and pork pies and also made, in 2007, a turnover of £888 million. Not sure if they make black pots and kettles.

He tried again to read one of his carefully marked pieces, and as he gets to the second sentence, we all start laughing. He doesn't know why, so carries on reading, as, behind him, a very, very fat man in a vest, with a roll-up hanging from his lips, riding a lawn mower, moves by. Everyone is laughing at this brilliantly funny image, and finally Sebastian stops, looks around, and sees what's going on. This is his chance, he thinks, to be spontaneously witty. "He is", he says, savouring his delivery - Oscar Wilde in his mind for sure, "Almost as absurd as I am". He stops, smirking, waiting for the laugh of adulation. Instead he gets one of the poets, saying "No mate. He's entertaining". Good times.

"I'm so fucking bored", he mumbles. "You're bored?", says an audience member.

And so he calls it a day, and goes back to the little tent to sign books. Except there's no table for his books, and no people who want them signed. He never got around to finishing any of his pieces. He arrived arrogant and cocky, but left spat out onto the A12 by the good people of Chelmsford, mud on the trouser legs of his sequinned suit.

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