Days three and four

Day three: EAST BERGHOLT

Driving to Suffolk we were all excited, and talking about how best to keep this thing going. We’ve decided that this’ll become a monthly thing after the ten day tour is up. We’ll respond to specific cuts to services and bring as many ad-hoc artistes as possible. Like Batman but with less punching.

Our gig was at the Old Hall community (check them out www.oldhall.org.uk). I had never visited a commune before and it effectively blew my mind. The fact that these people live in this way, and have done for 37 years made me think that there are whole dimensions to England that I don’t know about. It’s so heartening to be reminded that you can be creative in all aspects of your life if you put your mind to it. We had a big communal dinner and breakfast and our sponsor and facilitator there, the wonderful Rosie, took us round the community’s massive farm. The community has a small dairy farm, and makes its own cheeses. We had real fresh milk that tasted incredible.

My only disappointment with the place is that we didn’t all do it with each other after the show. It’s like they don’t understand what the word commune means.

The show was weird insofar as it was indoors, there were chairs and there was a stage. It was in a deconsecrated Franciscan chapel though, and preceded by wild commune children shouting and dancing as our “warm up act”. I persuaded Grace to do a cover of “The World Turned Upside Down” after we found the dorms we were staying in were called Diggers and Dreamers. Tom came onstage as st. frances of Assisi, saying “the problem is I dream of digging, so I don’t know where to sleep. I ended up staying in both dorms and I had a marvelous time!”. He also came on as John Constable, who was born in the church opposite the hall, probably, sort of, and was a policeman, definitely.

The crowd was mainly people from the commune but people came from all over :Felixtowe/Colchester/Manningtree (a man who told us what it has going for it: it has a railway station). After the show, a teenager who lives at Old Hall informed us that it’s the “second most haunted house..in east bergholt”. Which is a pretty small ghostly pond but I was absolutely gutted not to have my skepticism disproved.

This gig, again was completely different to those before it. It inspired me just to think that these are people with jobs, who attend mainstream education but also choose to live in a more sustainable and sociable way. They aren’t hippies or drop outs, they are people who thought of something outlandish and then managed to make it work.

I couldn’t live in a commune though. Not enough super sweet boning.

I can’t believe I even wrote that. What have I become?

Day four: MILTON KEYNES

I tend to like places that are run-down. I think that means they have a bit of character, and I think I’m turned off by ostentatiously wealthy places. I like to think that I will give anywhere the benefit of the doubt.

Milton Keynes terrifies me. That’s why I wanted to come here.

Grace tells me that it is named after a pair of free-market economists. It’s designed for the car. The city centre feels kind of city-centreless, empty and impenetrable. As soon as we enter the place I feel like it’s making me ill. I get headaches in shopping centres and I got a headache in Milton Keynes straight away. The city feels slick, strange and straight.

I hate to slag places off, and I wanted to confront this prejudice, but I was finding it hard. I mentioned it onstage (I like how I say “onstage” when I could as easily say “I shouted this in the park to people I’d tricked into sitting down) and a woman down the front, who was a lot of fun, said “it’s what you make of it” and I said “so, do you like it?” and she said “I think it’s fantastic”.

Touché- beautiful point, well put. She was a cool woman though. When I asked her what her job was she said “I used to live on a boat” and that prompted all kinds of silliness. It made me think- you may well think that you live somewhere that you find contemptuous and boring, especially as a teenager. I definitely thought that about Orpington. I couldn’t wait to leave it. But you can always try to change and adapt it. To see it in new ways and to try to make it more humane.

Look at this stupid ten day jolly. You could probably do this better than me. You could put on a free show every week. What do you love? Can you work out a way of organizing and sharing that? I hope that you guys didn’t answer that first question with “super sweet boning”.

I’m so anti austerity because I think that it’s wonderful and civilizing to be a society that funds public arts and public education and offers things for free to its citizens to make their lives more beautiful, challenging and fun. If the government doesn’t agree with us then the small acts of free, DIY arts we can do can at least make the point that a lot of things are better than money.

Anyhow, enough clumsiness. The show was great. We performed in a yuppie-lunch-picnic-park behind a church. Will and Tom had to hold the set the whole time as the wind was blowing a gale and it was so freezing we passed round whisky- we had special guests in Nadia Kamil, who’d printed us some money to counter the govt’s QE. Hers had Nye Bevan on and couldn’t be spent in the financial sector. Joe Lycett brought US celeb comedian John Roast, who gave a powerful anti-cuts roast and the fantastic force-of-nature ALAN MOORE (!) came and spoke about how he helped to build Milton Keynes, and told the actually true story of how midsummer boulevard, where our gig was, is built to reflect the sun on each summer solstice. There are acts of rebellion and heartening facts to find everywhere you look, I promise.

We stayed at our friend Simon’s house in Bedford- he is the guardian of part of a stately home. For a band of money-hating lay preachers for socialism, we are doing very well for ourselves on the places to sleep front. I’m a brilliant hypocrite! I don’t want the revolution unless there’s dancing, the card game shithead and at least some kind of sparkling wine.

In other news I’ve completely lost my voice from shouting in the cold like a bag lady. I also have a jacket that’s like a sleeping bag.

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Days one and two, the tour so far.

By Josie — Published October 5, 2011
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.

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