Ghosts of St. Leonard's
In Lockdown 1 in London, I finished recording a short story, Ghosts of St. Leonard’s. I’m forever indebted to Kelli Ali for recording my vocals. I learnt so much. And also Danielle de Picciotto for playing violin. But more, to Gil De Ray, who’s written the music after years of working out what’s best with spoken word, having collaborated with John Martyn, Mark Safranco, UV Ray, Dan Fante, Tony O’Neill, his late brother, Mark Gilroy and many more. We met at a Tony O’Neill reading at Waterstone’s bookshop in Piccadilly, and first collaborated on a poem which I performed at Red Gallery before he played with his old band, back in December 2015.
In New Orleans in 2017, I chalked up a poem on the streets. We filmed it. I read the poem, and Gil made music to accompany it. We showed the film, Double Play at the Jeffrey Wengrofsky’s Secrets festival in New York, and then again at Gallery 46 in London, by which time we’d written a handful of stories, which we performed. We’ve since done shows at Byline Festival, Pikes Literary Festival in Ibiza, Bridport Fringe Arts Festival (c/o Clocktower Music), the Volksbuhne in Berlin and The Social in London.
I started working as a music journalist as a teenager, and DJing - so to record my own music, comes with terror. I have lived and died for music. As my forthcoming debut novel does the best to explore.
You can hear Ghosts of St Leonard’s here. Paying subscribers can email me back, and I’ll send you free downloads. x
I apologise for the delay in updates here - I’ve been super-busy since getting back from the residency in Berlin, getting to grips with Zooming 200 people for Ambit. You can see the recording of the launch for the 241st edition here.
Some background on Ghosts of St. Leonard’s:
I wrote it remembering a tour of Shoreditch Church’s crypt, encouraged by the late James Goff, the man behind Stirling Ackroyd estate agents, who sponsored the seminal Hoxton art fair, 1993’s A Fete Worse Than Death organised by the artist Joshua Compston where Tracey Emin sold snogs inside a tent she’d embroidered the names of all the boys she’d ever snogged, and Damian Hirst did his first spin paintings, selling them for a pound each.
There’s a full interview with James Goff in the Making Something Out Of Nothing book I wrote for Red Gallery, telling the stories of arranging warehouse parties to interest photographers in taking massive studios, which have largely been chopped into pieces of lifestyle now. In the scramble of gentrifying the East London, the Rev. Dr. Paul Turp of Shoreditch Church was an integral player, supporting the seedier sides of the city, the rehabilitation unit, the strippers, and offering some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.
The crypt appears to be built around a tomb. The bells of Shoreditch struck over the old sewers of Shakespeare, through stolen bodies, Jack the Ripper.
HERE’S THE STORY. It’s been published in zines, and by Pravum Book’s Haunted edition last Halloween, and also appears in my Now Is Now book, which I send to paying subscribers, or you can order it here.
I don’t know when I started seeing ghosts but the new ones all have cancer. Skin putrid, shoe carcass-in-the-desert faces. I see them, black bruised glinting, gasping for fags: in shopping lines, they lock my psyche, smiling, deep-lined, eaten from the inside, knowing the secret to life is death. And flash frame gone. Where the fuck did they go? In cars, I’ll sidle up aside, look in, passengers looking all morgue, mouthing incantations of mutilation. Fast absconding. Edited out of time.
Fucking meetings. Full of naïve, desperate, used-up Blame on everyone but themselves. I don’t want to bring it up here, in this church dedicated to the mentally ill, that cancer causes cancer. All of us are living on borrowed time, in this 17th century yard of Shakespeare, amid the graves of the Burbages. Our pyramid temple, wrapped around the tomb of Leopold Hapsburg, our Keith Richards meets Lil Richard, born in Austria in 1612, 999 miles from here, prancing through Europe with his opium pipe, arriving as Leonard. Saint Leonard.
There are only eight of us in the 10am. It’s why I come, there’re fewer people looking for answers. Less ego-soaked lives. But there’s a new girl - a victim, to drugs, to life - walking in, her heels unfashionably tall. Her days are most definitely numbered. She rolls back on the metal legs of the institutional chairs, retreating from Posh Charlotte, who says: "I’m not going down to see that festering cunt today.”
We look down the stairs that lead to the crypt. Every time we become the death cop dissenters calling satan for our Necromancer downstairs, the reeking spirit infects us.
Hippy Frank keeps his mouth zipped, but can’t quite help himself from peeing out words like he’s wetting himself: “We are just fractals of ourselves, man. Saint raped me in my sleep again last night.”
Leonard gets me in my bed too. I’d do anything for my prince of death, deserter of the house of Hapsburg; he’s so hot for a goth without a band. Night terrors are easier to ride than his lucid dreams. He pulls me into the darkness of night. Chemo sun won’t save us.
“Dead cunt stealing my energy,” sneers Dodgy Dave. “‘He manages to get his end away with all of us, every fucking night.” Dave dips a fifth chocolate Hob Nob into five-sugared Nescafe, “We’re obsessed, why can’t any of you think of me when you’re wanking yourselves off?”
“We’ve done our deals,” I mumble.
We call the meeting to an end. Three smokers retreat to the honey-tone limestone steps outside. Rest of us traipse down the crumbling damp flight to the crypt, over the plague bones and air-cooked splitting coffins. Metal and wood splinter with phantasmagorical crunch. Bone-conjuring jakeys hide in the warmth of the basement, sleeping on bombshelter pews, catatonic dreamshakers, covered in the dust of crushed bodies as the sacrifices howl. Their fears sonar around us. Morbid. I spark up a fag.
New girl slams up all black-patent behind me, light on her cheeks, translucent as the moon-marble grave slabs behind her. I see cocaine caked around her nose, leather jacket soul, heavy from the bullets heading straight towards her. She’s a fashion ghost anyway.
So in this subterranean vault, a slaughterhouse cellar, decent girls are not encouraged to walk past at night. Footsteps disappear in vibrations of the bells above. Swallowed in the shelter of our Lord. We kill for him. We consume corpses. We take out the stupid lil marketeering PR influencers. Drunk on their highlife blood, as if their stupidity could sanitise us from the growing divide of the planet. Smashing their faces of bullshitting - finally not lying. New girl. She’s so about to get it. It’s gone on for so long. Backdoor bodies, plague-pit chop chop chopping of meat - of experimental flesh, learning how the veins joined up the maze of bodies. Serving Saint Leonard.
We say our little spell, and feel the haunting.
“We will grow rich, b’neath the bells of Shoreditch.”
Starworshipping this soul-feasting disease. Kill. Kill. Kill. “From the dwellings of the dead, we offer you the haunts of the living.” Fashion ghosts. Fashion ghosts fly.
The PR we sacrificed last week: screecher. She’d had a long millennia 20 years in. All the up-all-nighters, none of us can catch up with their young years. We suck their neg vitality on this confluence of fermented grape juice, unleavened black bread and Roman pentangle sewers, and lay out all the engendered: the strippers, the whores, the heroines, nurses, fishwives, beer slags, gin drunks, the artists, the PRs, the marketing cunts, the dicks of social. They all fall into our meetings, dragged in by legacy, stories of old Shoreditch and rumours of our spirit-licking ghost, his tomb adorned with talismans in the shape of sigils, draining the streets with our slaughters, “We are bonemasters to the church, and the church is me.” Our Romeo, who flattened protestantism. As long as we energise Hapsburg in the dark ark heart of Shoreditch - we will all kill. We will all kill.
released October 31, 2020
Music by Gil De Ray. Words: Kirsty Allison. Violin care of Danielle De Picciotto, Studio 65 Berlin. Vocals recorded with Kelli Ali. Mixed by B.A.M. (Sheffield, UK)