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on reprinting b/w: from one bohemian to another …

by Royston Murphy

Waterloo Press expresses thanks to our friend Royston Murphy for generously part-funding the reprint of b/w (2010) by the late Niall McDevitt. The last few copies we had of b/w sold out in the wake of Niall’s tragic premature death in September this year and the reprint is the first in our new ‘Adopt a Book’ scheme. Book Adopters are invited to dedicate the reprint to a person of their choice, and, as Royston has done so movingly here, to write a blog post for us, explaining their personal connection to the volume.

Don’t Google the London Consortium ‒ you’ll get a furniture shop. It was the ICA, Tate, and the Architectural Association through Birkbeck. The poets and artists you met forced you into London Bohemia, even against your will. Like numerous elements of that London, for me focused on Hackney and its pleasures, it is now gone. Another loss was explained to me by Naomi Foyle, bastion of occult bohemianism in Brighton.

I didn’t know Niall, but I understand grief. My younger sister, Cordelia Murphy, had died of a similar cancer a few months earlier. Naomi and I danced and drank and ate, as you do at such times. She suggested that I part fund the reprint of b/w, which I was happy to do.

The London Consortium produces couples, and in at least one case I know of, a genetic legacy. Over raclette with their kids in Brixton Village, I explained what I was doing with Naomi and this book. Lina thought it was a lovely way to remember Cordi. “Niall’s dead? That’s terrible…” said Matty. It turns out that he went with Lee Scrivener (any relation to Bartleby?), also of the Consortium, to Glasgow and played guitar with Niall.

People’s lives spread like melted cheese on potatoes … Knowing Naomi’s love of these two key ingredients, I had bought her a raclette machine powered by tealights last time I visited her in Brighton. She supplied some Albert Bartlett Apache specials; I supplied the good cheese. I remember eating raclette with my sister. Or was it poutine? No matter. The Irish and their potatoes.

Cordi’s death raised tributes and memories from Brighton’s squatting scene, a place she left 25 years ago, to Hampshire, from Jess, a friend from art school who told the story of a letter she received from Cordi that consisted of a sock with the message sewn into it. Friends and lovers from her various incarnations, from her fairy dread persona, burlesque dancer and 1950s pin up, and lately urbanite Nottingham jewellery maker. Travel companions from India, Thailand, South America and Europe. She got around, always looking great.

Like good food and wine in good company, the bohemian brings pleasure to a table, leaving memories. Neither Cordi nor Niall wanted to leave the raclette bar. They hadn’t finished. For Cordi, we had a party at her outdoor burial place, dressed in many colours, then repeated it at Beacon Hill, site of Britain’s oldest rock formations. I have seen the wakes, the requiems, the keening and kenning for Niall. Let us continue the bacchanal in their names.

Cancer’s a bastard, the good liver’s nemesis, a carrion crow at the fondue. Potato eating bohemians, whether starving in their garrets, empty but for paper memories, or satiated in their favourite pub, are one of its prime targets. Poetry or jewellery, guided tours or burlesque dance, the city is whatever map you chose to draw from its raw materials. To London, to Brighton and, perhaps surprisingly, Loughborough for the visionaries, flaneurs, nihilists and bohos. To Cordi, Niall and Naomi. To those gone and those left. See you in the French House.