An audience member from Michael Omer’s gig at the Pizza on the Park on Thursday recounts a disturbing evening.
Now that the landlord of Pizza on the Park has finally given the venue its deadline to vacate, now that he has issued the grim command that every last cruet and microphone clip be removed by the crack of dawn on 24 June 2010, those of us who love the place are starting to anticipate what the grieving will be like. We try to squeeze the last drop of enjoyment out of every last artistic offering. We are counting down the evenings till it closes.
On Thursday night Michael Omer bravely stepped up onto the stage in front of his extremely faithful and voluminous audience. Omer’s bravado and his audience’s loyalty had been tested only last January when he and they planned to attend the very same venue, only to find the evening cancelled at the last minute due to the extreme weather conditions. His following show in February sold out. Last night we were back, to dice with whatever fate might throw at us.
At 8.30 pm, I settled into my favourite seat at the back of the room. The lights dimmed. After a rousing and creative opening piano solo, Omer turned the heat down and swept us though a sensitive rendition of “Anyone Can Whistle”. Just as he was starting, the waitress gently placed my large glass of red wine and a sizzling pizza before me. Bliss.
I had hardly made a single inroad into the pizza, when I noticed something resembling a whirling dervish speeding past my table. The restaurant manager, eyes wide with terror and hands rotating feverishly at the ends of his upturned arms was racing across the room. He crouched down with the sound guy. He garbled something to him. From the face which the sound guy made, it had beeen totally unintelligible “What?!” The manager tried again, and then hurriedly departed in the direction of the stage, snaking his way round all the full tables. In a flash, the bemused audience found themselves watching Omer straining to extemporise at the piano whilst simultaneously trying to catch whatever the agitated manager was trying to say.
Then came the announcement: “Everyone please remain calm and leave immediately by the emergency exit. FIRE, FIRE, the place is burning down!!”
Like any other good woman, my first thought was for my handbag. Clutching my bag to my bosom, I elbowed my way aggressively to the exit. Others were wilier: they also grabbed their wine.
The drama then unfolded as the scene shifted to the forecourt outside. Three bright red Fire Engines parked screeched to a halt at the kerb side. Dozens of young and muscle-bound (I didn’t really notice) firemen in yellow helmets marched determinedly into the building. Before our eyes, panels were torn from the restaurant ceiling, ladders wer erected, torches were shone into the dark depths. Now and again, a brave man would mount a ladder and venture inside. Smoke billowed forth. I remembered that earlier an acrid smell had greeted me as I entered the building. At the time I had thought no more of it: a new pizza variety, perhaps.
We all waited on the pavement. It was all taking an age. Michael Omer circulated gamely amongst his crowd of as if at a cocktail party – quite unflapped. I was starting to miss my glass of wine.
After about an hour, we were told that the evening would have to be cancelled. It’s a tribute to Michael Omer that only at that point did people start to disperse.
I found out the story later. The source of all that smoke had been something left burning in the offices above the restaurant – something left by the builders employed by the landlord who is so impatient to stop the music.
I shan’t forget the experience of being smoked, like vermin, out of my favourite cosy den, just a few weeks before I finally have to say goodbye to it.
By some bizarre coincidence, Jim Moray's gig at Foyles on the same night was interrupted by a fire alarm – although not half as dramatic as your experience! Thankfully he managed to continue an acoustic set outside on Charing Cross Road. See story here: http://www.colmangettypr.co.uk/newsblog/blog.php#