I am writing this in the back of our minibus enroute to East Bergholt for the third gig of our Alternative Reality Tour. So far we have performed in a park near Margate, and on the seafront steps in Sheerness on Sea. I am feeling giddy and a bit hoarse from shouting outside like a wino.
On Monday at lunchtime we went to pick up the van and it hit me then that we are really doing this, for no reason other than it is a good thing, and a fun thing, and an adventure. The van is a beaut! We picked up the core group who are touring for the whole ten days. They are:
Will – our tour manager- he is instrumental in making this a real thing, and has managed to make the two gigs so far feel like thousand seater theatres by constructing a real, windproof backdrop and bright (van, head-) lighting. Tom – one third of Pappy’s and one-man fun machine! He has been co-compering the shows and driving the van (until Will turns 25 tomorrow). Thom- helping us to film and document the tour online, and providing massive political inspiration, as well as flyering for the shows. Aisha- filming and documenting and flyering as well as singing beautifully each night. Grace Petrie- the inspiring and talented protest singer. It’s been electrifying to hear their acoustic performances both nights.
As we drove to Margate we announced the tour. We have been as last minute as possible to give us the most flexibility and to mean the tour is as close as can be in atmosphere to “the amazing race”. Grace was given a tip off about a bandstand in Cliftonville that sounded perfect. We thought we’d found it so I tweeted about it instantly because I am a woman of action and scant patience. It turns out we were two minutes away from a beautifully refurbished bandstand. The Newgate Gap Shelter, where we performed, was a lot better, I think.
We had no idea if anyone would come, and Thom and Aisha went off to try and round up a crowd while Will and Tom magicked an intimate theatre space out of a tramp’s toilet. Then, wonderfully, people started to arrive. More and more until we had a real crowd. At an hour’s notice, in a town I’d never played in before.
The crowd was a proper mix, people who already knew about our stuff, a man from the local paper who told us tantalizing stories about margate history and politics and a group of teenagers who’d been persuaded to come from across the park. Early on in the show, the police arrived. I’d been scared they’d move us on, but they were friendly and interested in watching. They’d seen me on twitter and were worried that all of my followers would turn up, at once. So I think they were relieved. Grace had the following chat with them:
“So, is this pretty anti establishment stuff then?”
“it’s anti-tory, I guess?”
“oh THAT’s alright”. Margate constabulary, we salute your coolness.
The show even had an appearance from someone who was definitely the actual mayor of margate, too. And at one point while grace was playing I couldn’t stop thinking “this is really happening. We are really doing this!” I can’t tell you how exciting and strange and intimate the gig felt. It is so rare to do something so out of one’s comfort zone. We got to talk about fighting the government cuts at the end of the show, too. Afterwards we took a photo of the crowd (we’ll put up a gallery soon). It felt like something incredibly special had happened.
That night we stayed in a dorm room at the Margate YHA. The best thing about it is on the front door there’s a notice advising “mr/mrs sandy shoes” to stay away. superkawaii.
DAY TWO: Sheppey
Woke up in margate full of zeal and on a bit of a high from the night before. We swam in the sea before heading up to the isle of sheppey. I love sheppey, too but where did you go? Best joke in the history of jokes.
When I tweeted that we were going to sheppey, as with margate, people reacted with a kind of contemptuous disbelief. “Why are you going there?!” is the standard response. That sort of explains why we want to go there. I hate it when people slag off places as dumps. These are communities where people live and deserve the best. We want to bring them something magical.
I have wanted to visit Sheppey for ages. There’s a legend about a witch correctly predicting a horse would kill an old knight. There’s a building that housed the first ever cooperative society. There’s an amusement arcade. There’s something for everyone.
We got told about another bandstand, but we couldn’t find it. What we did find was the steps to the seafront staring us in the face, like a perfect little amphitheatre.
We flyered for hours, and again were terrified of attracting nobody. And then, again, astonishingly, they did. We played to 40 people, mainly aged 10-17. There were rowdy, funny kids divebombing off the seafront steps; a cool gang of boys who named themselves Anthony 1,2,3 and 4; mothers with their little kids, a couple of old grizzled gentlemen. And they all stayed for 90 minutes! A group of kids appeared to walk off. They came back with extra jumpers and their mums.
Again I got the feeling of “I can’t believe we are doing this!” but this time it came with “I can’t believe how easy it is to stage an ad hoc show. Just pitching up, using the van and getting on with it!”. I want to do this all of the time.
We were joined by Brigitte Aphrodite and Tom Allen for the show. They blew the (imaginary) roof off. It felt incredibly special and rare to be on that seafront, playing a gig just metres away from a sunken munitions ship full of ACTUAL UNEXPLODED BOMBS!
This is a massive learning experience for me. I was scared to be playing to so many 10-17 year olds, I felt like my material would be too garbled and irrelevant for them. It was hard, and instantly afterwards I realized that the key is to ask as many questions as possible-to ask what they know about the government, how they feel about them and to try and share what I know and feel with them.
Afterwards, two things happened. A group of teenage girls walked off singing grace’s chorus “Be strong, be resilient, be young, be fucking brilliant”. A boy came up to Thom and said “them, that word on the flyer..tory..they’re doing that to us..they’re cutting our youth centre”. It was really shocking and sad to hear that, and it confirmed to me why we are doing this, because it’s worth highlighting that austerity measures really are affecting everyone’s lives for the worst.
There are no shitholes. Everywhere in England has thousands of years of history, rich in people’s life stories. If places in this country are deprived, or have nothing going for them then it is our collective problem and our duty and mission to change that for the better.
That gig was one of the most thrilling, brilliant and singular things I have ever done. I cannot wait to see how the rest of the ten days pan out.