Cathy Galvin of The Word Factory, hosted an evening of story and song at Sutton House, Hackney, London, Friday 19th April. 

Katy Evans-Bush, Vanessa Gebbie and Tom Lee read their own work and song collector, Sam Lee, sang  ballads in response. 

The beautifully maintained and restored Tudor house was an atmospheric venue and as we wandered from oak-panelled saloon to herb-scented apothecary, we told each other ghost stories or scoffed at such nonsense.

“I knew an old lady who was a ghost, when I was two,” said the Oxford physics graduate.

“I see,” said this creative genius.

Then Cathy Galvin herself, possibly sensing a flutter of credulity, threatened us with two doggie spectres who might pitter-pat through the chamber at any moment.

Soon the talent gathered before the double crescent of comfortable chairs and the audience settled,  G&Ts, Harrogate water and white wine in hand.Image

The first reading was from “Oscar and Henry” by Katy Evans-Bush, a collection of poems about a well-researched relationship between Oscar Wilde and Henry James.  I had no idea that I antique gossip could be so entertaining. Katy was born in New York and her delicate American accent added charm and authenticity to the poems.

Vanessa Gebbie read a lyrical story set in Wales about a window-cleaner and an extraordinarily life-like window. She read with a gentle Welsh rhythm adding lush warmth to her tale.  Shivers ran up our spines as we listened, or perhaps the ghosts were making their presence felt.


Sam Lee is a remarkable singer.  He was nominated for a Mercury prize in 2012 for his album “Ground of Its Own”. Sam’s enthusiasm and openness are not mere charms; they are tools of his trade.  As a song collector he wins the trust of the often secretive keepers of oral traditions, in Scotland, Sussex, Ireland, America and beyond.  He told us how he has travelled the world learning songs from people who claim a musical and narrative heritage which goes back thousands of years.  He met people who know people who have seen ouroboros (the snake eating its own tail) and been bitten by demons. 

Tom Lee (no relation to Sam) told us a tale about the spaces in relationships. The yearning for greater trust and intimacy between a father and his son was portrayed with startling accuracy in his story called simply, “Reunion”. He read with an honesty which moved and intrigued his audience. 

I could not stay to chat as long as I would have liked but I will return next time. 

Anyone interested in stories should look out for future Word Factory events.


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