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Tommy Udo R.I.P.

By Richard Marshall and Andrew Stevens.

Tommy Udo at 3:AM Magazine’s very first event, Leaving the 21st Century (Horse Hospital, London, 26 August 2003.

I first met Tommy with Steve Wells (Swells) way back in the early noughties when they were doing the Attack Books! stuff. The idea was to do to literature what punk had done to music. It didn’t happen of course, but the energy and ambition of it was wonderfully inspiring and made the writing scene back then very interesting and lively. He was both funny and serious and we had some great chats in coffee places about the book he was writing at the time for Swells’s Attack! project. The novel he finally wrote, Vatican Bloodbath, was what he took on the road with Swells and myself to Stockholm one winter where, to a bemused and serious crowd, he performed his hilarious routine. He also read at 3:AM‘s Horse Hospital gig and gave a funny if not wholeheartedly appreciative review of the event afterwards.

He was smart and political and very funny — and versatile, writing for the FT as well as music journals. He was also a nice guy: he had a conscience and embodied the opposite of the laddish yob ethos that was prevalent back then in some chippy hip circles. I wrote a piece about his book at the time and ended by summarising it thus: “Udo is stomping around in the language used by his contemporaries. He is writing with the fast-paced humour of the social critic buckled to the stand-up comic. His book is a meaty fart in the presence of anti-democratic forces symbolised by the British monarch and the Pope. And yet it is also delicate like a child’s drawing is delicate because it writes out in its bold, unrefined lines the mute sanctity of the oppressed and the uncultured, their voices and desires in a kind of Molly Bloomian ‘Yes’.”

He was a talented and lovely guy. It’s very sad that now both he and Swells have gone.
Richard Marshall

Tommy actually read at our first-ever event at the Horse Hospital, alongside Swells, who died a couple of years later not long after we’d worked together on a little-read book on a sub-Creation imprint (I remember Tommy posted on Facebook “I can’t believe Thatcher has outlived Swells!”). The next day after the Horse Hospital event, Tommy blogged a ‘mixed review’ of it, saying he was glad he’d arrived late and missed the part Swells told him about, which consisted of “Marina Warner reading about a king having sex with a turnip” (that story was, in fact, the next reader after her, Mitzi Szereto).  Tommy was mentioned in a piece by Liz Young as one of the potential saviours for British writing at the turn of the century, when she didn’t see much on the horizon.
Andrew Stevens

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 14th, 2019.