I first heard of the Songwriter’s Cafe when I was 15 . At the time, I was devouring Ocean Colour Scene records, and in particular their more acoustic b-sides, and discovering through those quieter moments, and via interviews with the folky frontman of that Britpop behemoth, the stripped-down delights of Harry Smith’s Anthology and Bob Dylan. In fact, I still remember coming across that first copy – vinyl, mind – of Smith’s compendium, in the wilds of Brum’s Virgin Megastore that was; its four discs were, alas, beyond my pocket-moneyed funds, but the packaging whispered all sorts of untellable tales.
Even without knowing about all the many other wonderful songwriters then plying their trade in Birmingham’s bars – from Mickey Greaney to Daniel Rachel – the Songwriter’s Cafe had for me a similar aura as that hallowed boxset: I discovered, by tracking down every mention of Simon Fowler’s movements, that he was a regular at an event held on a Sunday afternoon in the Factotum and Firkin pub in Birmingham city centre. Shyly, I wanted to go – even more shyly, when I read (whether true or no) that the venue was over-18s only, I gave up all hope. When I finally turned 18, the Factotum (it’s now The Sun on the Hill) had shut its doors – and so had the Songwriter’s Cafe.
This story is told much better, and characteristically rather more colourfully, by the SWC’s ringmaster, Paul Murphy, in Radio To Go’s recent documentary on the Cafe. Recent because Paul decided a few years ago to relaunch the event at a secret location in the Birmingham suburbs. 15 years or so after first hearing about it, then, I was finally able not just to attend but to play this hallowed Brum institution. The evening lived up to every possible expectation – intimate and encouraging, and serious about songwriting without being precious, its small silent audience and hand-picked roster of musicians makes for a quite unique experience. It is lovely.
Next Thursday is the 2012 season’s final outing – good news for Paul’s incipient aubergine allergy – and you really should tune in to listen. The line-up is always kept under wraps, but it’s not about who’s playing: it’s about the exchange that happens when they do. It’s special, and thanks go out to Paul, Valeria and everyone at SWC for inviting me to play – but most importantly for making the whole thing happen 13 weeks a year.
Mark your diaries for 2013.