At the movies · Notes from West London

This t-shirt is 30 years old

30 years ago this week I was at the Dublin Film Festival. As the saying goes (and it’s a saying that I never use), “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt”. I still have it, as you can see here:


As I noted in this piece, some people are much more organized than I am, and much better at moving things on when they are no longer current. I quoted a business consultant who offered this advice: “Take a look at your wardrobe; if there’s anything there that you haven’t worn for a year, get rid of it.”

I haven’t worn this Dublin Film Festival t-shirt for at least 15 years but don’t plan to get rid of it. It will turn to vapour before I throw it out. I still have every commemorative t-shirt that I have ever bought, from gigs, bars, film festivals and sports events. I even have a few items of clothing acquired at trade shows in the early 1990s promoting barely-remembered software vendors like WordStar and WordPerfect.

I was in my 30s before I bought a t-shirt at a gig. As a teenager I couldn’t afford them. These days I know that most artists make more money from each t-shirt they sell than from each ticket they sell, and am happy to add to my collection if only to support the performers. My collection of Undertones t-shirts (including a long-sleeve number, promoting their album “Dig yourself Deep”) is now into double figures.

Many years ago I learnt that if there is only one t-shirt left, pinned above a bar, or unwrapped on the artist’s merchandise table, make sure that you buy it. You might not get another chance. My only opportunity to acquire a t-shirt from my favourite bar in the world (Rocky Sullivan’s, Lexington Street, New York City) came in 1999. It was priced at $15 and pinned above the bar. The barman half-heartedly offered to climb up and get it for me but I didn’t pursue it. The bar itself has moved to Brooklyn and if they’re still selling merchandise it won’t have the old address on it.

I learnt from this. Three years later, at Shanghai Kelly’s in San Francisco, and the following year at the Fiddler’s Elbow in Venice, I insisted on buying the last remaining t-shirt at each place, asking the barman each time to unpin it from the wall. At the time the Fiddler’s Elbow was a small chain of Irish Bars in Italy (Florence, Rome, Venice) and the Rome venue is my favourite bar in Europe. I have only worn the t-shirt once. It’s too tight and the logo is an uncomfortable and frankly rather hideous plastic transfer of a leprechaun playing a fiddle. Still, I’m glad to have it, and like the Dublin Film Festival t-shirt that celebrates its 30th birthday this week I don’t plan to get rid of it, ever.



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