A year ago today, we started our pandemic posts at The Social Gathering. Carl, or Robin, called me up – I cant remember which, they are both interchangeable to me – and suggested we turn the bar into an online iteration of itself for the two months or so we naively expected ‘this’ was going to be inconveniencing us. The UK death total was a modest one day cricket score not the attendance numbers at a World Cup Final in the Maracana; but all the same it felt like we had to do something, mainly because the alternative was to do nothing.
I was on the verge of publishing my first two titles at my recently formed imprint, White Rabbit Books, by two artists I had long-standing admiration for, Richard Russell and Mark Lanegan. At the very moment I took this call (from Carl or Robin), I was suffering a meltdown – an experience that would become quite familiar over the next 12 months – because the bookshops had closed and the ‘buy’ button on Amazon had disappeared for seemingly every single book published with the exception of Hilary Mantel, who had just released The Mirror and the Light. God Bless Dame Hilary and her immunity to the implosion of everything. My first reaction on the phone – to Carl, or Robin (these were the days BZ: Before Zoom, which you will note hasn’t made our list of 100 things that got us through lockdown) – was nofuckingwayhowamisupposedtohavethetimetodothat. I was about to publish my first two books at a new imprint, the office was closed, the bookshops were closed, and amazon had repurposed itself as an exclusive toilet roll, pasta and facemask retailer – un unholy trinity which represents something profound and dysfunctional about our collective response to a crisis.
On his 1974 classic, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, Bob Dylan sang ‘Time is a jet plane, it moves so fast.’ But what happens to time when the jet planes are grounded? We didn’t start the Social Gathering with a mission, a business model, or an endgame. We really had no idea what we were doing, what to expect, even if anyone would be interested. Our idea was to recreate the feel of the bar, its uniquely chaotic/convivial/creative atmosphere on screen (screens again, ironically, being one of the things that do not feature on our list) to keep people entertained and connected, but mostly to keep peoples’ spirits up and maybe even ‘feed your head’ in the immortal words of Grace Slick who is the inspiration for White Rabbit, proud co-hosts of the website/online bar we celebrate this week with this handful of ‘events’ and our collectively sourced and deliberately random ‘100 Things that have got us through Lockdown’ feature.
I have no personal investment in The Social, other than it having been a second home, sanctuary and occasional nemesis over the past 15 years or so that I have been a regular drinker there and programmer/promoter of nights in the bar. My investment in The Social is one of unconditional love because what the bar represents to me is everything that excites me about life (conversation, the exchange of ideas, the euphoria of hearing music, meeting people new and old), and so the only way to replicate those feelings and experiences in facsimile form was to invite hundreds of you to keep the bar open online – with heroic nightly drinks parties, over 400 posts from writers, musicians, artists, punters, with extracts from books we loved to help support publishers and (closed) bookshops. Because what the pandemic and the psychopathic incompetence of our government’s handling of it have taught us is this: our communities are strong, and they are strengthening. In literature, at record labels, in bars and venues, in home recording studios and underground cottage industries across the British Isles we have seen that there is a powerful community of people out there who will not be silenced, who have come together to show our spirits are unbreakable and our collective strengths can create hope and a platform for change.
The past 12 months have, almost unquestionably and universally, been the most difficult any of us have had to experience. I didn’t suggest The Social Gathering as one of my 100 things because so many of you did, with such generosity. But it is of course my invisible, no-need-to-mention-it, #1. It has kept me sane, it has driven me insane, it has sent me down so many rabbit holes. It has brought us together, kept relationships alive, and created many new friendships and partnerships. And a year on here we are, still doing it. Thank you.
Join us at 1800 tonight for White Rabbit afterwork drinks on Twitter then at 1900 for Social Gathering: We Are One, our one year anniversary online event