Alan Johnson: Very humbling, very moving, and very entertaining. The very best of Marlborough Lit Fest
To sit in front of Alan Johnson at Marlborough Lit Fest in 2018 and hear him so gleefully describe his joy at discovering music was an absolute privilege. The charisma of this man - slum inhabitant, orphan, postman, union rep, MP then Secretary of State - shone from the Town Hall stage as he enthralled us all with his tales of playing his first ever discs to being a band on the run.
Such is the magic of the Lit Fest. Not only do you get up close and personal with enigmatic authors, you also become enveloped in their thoughts, views and stories. You get to ask them questions directly, laugh with them and chastise them. The interviewers are always thoughtful, respectful and extraordinarily well informed. Everyone is interested, so you’re in the company of like minds, and there’s a proper sense of bonhomie. Against this background, Alan Johnson became, for me, the best guest author so far. He was eloquent, funny, self-effacing, persuasive and - most important of all - he was clearly delighted to be in Marlborough and thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to his audience.
There was no sense of ‘just another book tour’ or ‘market town Lit Fest’. Alan Johnson had around an hour but I suspect he would have gone on and on, regaling tales of fifties London and bringing to life his family members and mates, and the formation of his band. His descriptions were so evocative it was as though the people he told us about were all on stage together with him, playing out his memories - initially trying to make the best of life in the squalor of a Notting Hill boarding house, to the excitement of receiving knock-off guitars, to the auditioning of band members – all against a background set list of rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and skiffle music.
So my favourite visiting author was Alan Johnson. Very humbling, very moving, and very entertaining. The very best of Marlborough Lit Fest.