Day seven: BLOCK THE BRIDGE
We came back to London for the day to join in with Ukuncut’s “Block the bridge, Block the bill” event.
Thousands of people were there, including Shirley, the star of the show, the 80 year old who recorded a video for the Guardian website explaining life before the NHS. She led a sing song with new lyrics to “daisy, daisy”. It was great. I felt proud to be there. In part it was just that I was really chuffed that the gig was to celebrate and defend the NHS and wasn’t part of some fucking vodaphone tmobile advertising campaign faux flashmob. I got a bit carried away and got the crowd to shout “you’re definitely a twat” at Nadine Dorries. I stand by my actions.
I love UK Uncut. They are inspiring, generous and fun.
Day eight: BEDFORD
Bedford is quite a lovely town. It was the first place that we’d played that when I said “Who here likes Bedford?” everyone, even the teenagers, cheered. The point of this wasn’t to only visit one type of place, it was a big experiment, and every day has been different.
We set up at the bottom of the old castle mound, at the gateway to the secret chamber. Once you find there is a gateway to a secret chamber in a town, you’re pretty much legally obliged to run things there. We’d not been able to flyer and we were worried about getting a crowd, but they came to us. People from twitter ambushed the park, and teenagers who’d gone to the mound for a smoke were coaxed down too.
We had a proper stacked bill: David Trent showed some delightful street art, Tiernan Douieb talked about his Bluetooth pancreas and we even had Sir Iain Bowler, a conservative MP (A CHARACTER played by brilliant Nat Tapley who stormed block the bridge. Jeez, what do you clowns take me for?) (We did also have Zac Goldsmith.) (OF COURSE WE DIDN’T. – As an aside, I once read an interview with Zac Goldsmith where he said “in an ideal world I’d run a little farm and be self sufficient” and I thought “you are a billionaire. It is an ideal world. You’ve won at the world, you obviously don’t want to do that.” That was him owned, right?)
AND we had Simon Munnery as Alan Parker Urban Warrior. Simon is such an inspiration- he has done this kind of thing better and funnier and cooler than us already.
The teenagers left early, apologising and saying “that was the most random thing ever” “yeah, but it was funny though”. Win. After the show the crowd stayed and chatted as we left. It was so cool to think that we’d brought those people together, and they seemed quite chuffed that something like that had happened.
I got to rant a bit about something I’m disproportionately annoyed by. I hate M&S advertising itself as “Your M&S”. It’s not mine. I know because once I tried to have a sleep in there. What are mine and should be mine are public services and public spaces. Those are the only things I actually have a stake in, and these are the things that have been and are being sold off to make private profit. It all clicked into place onstage that these gigs help us to make public spaces ours a bit more, and that I’d like to be more and more audacious and adventurous in the future.
Day nine: GLOUCESTER.
I got to Gloucester late, to find that the others had scouted a brilliant venue. A little bit of grass behind the eastgate shopping centre and st mary le crypt church. Floodlit, with great acoustics and ready-built benches, it was already like a theatre. It had everything. Gloucester is so spoiled for historic places too. Right by us there were the ruins of Greyfriars, but just kind of sat there without a sign or a plaque, as if to say “what? We’ve got loads of this shit”. Opposite that was Addison’s Folly- a building with a plaque commemorating the pioneers of the Sunday school movement. We would be surrounded by the ghosts of do-gooders, spurring us on.
The other building next to the theatre (I am enjoying calling it a theatre immensely. When I’ve been tweeting the locations I’ve also really enjoyed writing “venue to be created 7pm”. That and spouting manifesto style propaganda.) was a youth centre, and we went in and see if anyone might be around for the show. It turns out Grace knew the youth centre leader. There have been some brilliant coincidences on this tour. I’ve been close to suspecting that we now have superpowers.
A less cool coincidence is that this youth service had suffered 80% cuts to its government funding. It seemed fitting that as we set up the stage there was another building being demolished behind us.
The crowd was big and fantastic! About 35 people and a proper mix: middle aged people we’d coerced from the pub, cool vegans off twitter, drunks who usually hung out at this theatre, and 12-17 year olds from the youth centre. They were such a good crowd, too: enthusiastic and supportive and unpredictable.
Tom asked some of the kids “what usually goes on here?” “nothing”, they said. “Well, something’s going to happen tonight”. That is exactly what we can do with this and it feels wonderful.
It was a bloody fun gig. The youth club kids lent me some streamers and I danced with them like Barry Manilow. There is appalling photographic evidence of this. A slightly tipsy woman “Aunty Jojo” made the whole event like a family wedding. She then outed her friend as the mum of a Gloucester student who was the winner of Chinese X factor. I absolutely didn’t believe her BUT IT WAS TRUE and possibly the strangest cool claim to fame ever. Basically everything you need for a good gig.
Tom parry made an appearance as Dr. Foster, returning to Gloucester again after all of these years- you can read some of his poetry here. And we had some brilliant special guests in Henry Widdicombe and Will Hodgson. Some audience members brought cupcakes and beers, and Grace did a cover of the semi-recent chart hit “Down” that blew the teenagers MINDS!
By the end of the show, watching Grace sing her song “Farewell to Welfare” under the full moon, in this ramshackle, unusual circumstance felt so strange and fated. The day before the house of lords’ vote on the NHS “reforms” it felt almost like a kind of incantation to try and stop it. I felt like: I am exactly where I need to be right now. This is exactly what I want to be doing and what I can try and do to cheer people up. (At the risk of sounding like a hippy.)
Afterwards we stayed with Union News’ Tim Lezard and his wife Ruth, who were incredibly kind and generous to us. We ate all of their cheese, and all of their bourbon biscuits, and drank their cider. They showed us the pigs, goats and donkey that live behind their house. We played shithead, for hours, pretending to be French. BOEUF! It was brilliant fun.
It was Thom’s (the documentary maker not the historical impersonator) last night on tour, and Aisha couldn’t make the last couple of dates, so the gang is sort of breaking up already, and I’m heartbroken. It feels much longer than ten days and incredibly significant to me, if you can’t tell already from these gushing blogs.
Dr Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain
I fell in a puddle
Right up to my middle
And never went back again
Dr Foster went to Swansea
And it began to snow
I slipped on some ice
And broke my leg twice
And an icicle went up my nose
Dr Foster went to Bristol
It was very sunny
I started to sweat
Then fractured my neck
And did diorhea that was dead runny
Dr Foster went to Manchester
And there was a fog,
I couldn’t see
And got both my knees
Bitten off by a dog
Dr Foster went to Glasgow
The weather was very changeable
Some soil eroded
Then my penis exploded
Now my bollocks are rearrangeable
Dr Foster went to Wolverhampton
The weather was nice
But Wolverhampton was a shit hole
So I thought fuck this I’m going back to Gloucester.