Alternative Reality Tour
Josie’s Tour Diary from the 2011 AR Tour
The Alternative Reality Tour starts today. It runs 3-12 October across England!
We fight for social justice! We will have fun and remain audacious. We will never
admit defeat. We are the better team. #ARTour
The Alternative Reality Tour has begun! It runs 3-12 October across England!
We are coming to car parks, to playing fields, to nowhere places near your town.
We have singers and comedians and writers. We are anti-cuts. We are pro-youth. We are awesome.
The shows are free. We have no profit motive. Our motive is to be wonderful.
We support public art. We despise austerity measures. We like adventure. We will travel.
Fight the cuts. Oppose the austerity agenda. Dress up as the mayor of margate. Encourage 10 year olds to jump off sheppey’s seafront steps.
We do not care for those who do not agree with us.
We seek to find, console and empower those who do. We are morally right.
We bring unabashed politicised music and comedy. We bring blankets in case it’s cold.
We are on the side of justice. Hence magical things happen to us. Another world is possible. Possible and awesome.
Dates below. Tell your friends. Come and see us!
3/10 – Margate,
4/10 – Isle of Sheppey,
5/10 – East Bergholt, Suffolk,
6/10 – Milton Keynes with Alan Moore!,
7/10 – Hull,
8/10 – Leicester,
9/10 – London. Joining UK Uncut to Block The Bridge!,
10/10 – Bedford with Simon Munnery,
11/10 – Gloucester,
12/10 – Tapeley Park
Days one and two, the tour so far.
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-compereing 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 in Cliftonville.
The Newgate Gap Shelter, where we actually performed, was a lot better. I think the technical, old fashioned term for it is a tramp’s toilet. An oblong open shelter with built in seating and grandiose little design elements, it’s sat, slowly dilapidating at one side of a park. I’m not sure what its purpose would have ever really been, but it is definitely no longer fulfilling it.
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 like Disney mice. 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. This was my biggest fear before we started the tour. I’d been scared they’d move us on, or arrest us, or report us and stop us from further gigs, but they were friendly and interested in watching. They’d seen me on twitter and probably didn’t really understand how twitter works as they were worried that all of my followers would turn up, at once. So I think they were mainly relieved not to have to marshall the great crowds of people they’d assumed would be making the event into a kind of terrifying facebook party. Grace had the following chat with them:
Them: “So, is this pretty anti establishment stuff then?”
Grace: “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 not just Tom dressed up as a pirate. The best part of the appearance came five minutes in when the audience pointed out that the mayor of margate is a woman, and tom emphatically agreed that’s who he was and his pirate’s moustache was part of a campaign to promote tourism.
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 all stayed in a dorm room at the Margate YHA which is right on the seafront. The best thing about it is on the front door there’s a notice advising “mr/mrs sandy shoes” to stay away. superkawaii. Although one day that will backfire horribly when the real sandy shoes goes there on honeymoon.
DAY TWO: Sheppey
I woke up in margate full of zeal and on a bit of a high from the night before. We swam in the sea, in the unseasonably warm October weather 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 very succinctly explains why we want to go these places. I hate it when people slag off towns 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, which goes as follows: A knight was really cocky and thought he was great. A witch found him and said “oh, you think you’re bulletproof mate but you’re going to be killed by your horse!” (nb this is paraphrased). This made the knight totally raging, so he killed his horse and buried it on the beach. A couple of years passed where the knight felt pretty pleased with himself. One morning he was out running along the beach like Sheppey is Santa Monica and one of the horse’s bones jutted out of the sand, cut him, gave him gangrene and killed him, and the witch was like “ohhhhh! Gutted mate I told you!”.
As I say, heavily paraphrased.
In Sheppey, there’s a building that housed the first ever cooperative society. There’s an amusement arcade with terrifying grafitti in the toilets. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know. 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, people came. Not fans of our stuff, or even comedy club regulars but people who were nearby and curious. 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 and secretly I was crushed. 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 thought “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. They blew the sky 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 another true fact about the Isle of Sheppey. I love Sheppey too but what’s the fact. Gah! It’s this: There is a world war two warship, filled to the brim with explosives that is sunk just off the coast of the Isle of Sheppey (I love Sheppey too but where is it sunk?) (I’m sorry, i know you will get sick of this before I do.), and if those bombs were to detonate then the ensuing blast would completely flatten the entirety of Sheppey and the surrounding medway towns. And the Kent County Council knows this. They just don’t care. Their response to this has been “chillax guys! Those bombs are perfectly safe. The only way they could possibly ever go off would be if they came into any contact whatsoever with salt water.”. Phew.
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 the chorus to one of grace’s songs, inspector morse, which goes: “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”. The first felt wonderful and like what we were doing might actually empower people. The second shocked me. These kids didn’t even know what the word “Tory” meant or represented, and prior to our little gig they’d just thought their stuff was getting taken and closed because life was shit, Sheppey was shit and they were shit. I felt that in some way us going there and meeting them meant that we could pass on that the these cuts were not their fault, nor were they necessary or deserved and that they weren’t alone in thinking that they were unfair, that plenty of people around the country disagreed with what was happening, they are just not able to find a way to connect with one another. It confirmed to me in part 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, in Britain, on the planet has thousands of years of human history, rich in life stories and achievements. 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. I hate the attitude, which I can really remember being held where I grew up (in Kent, too) of “we’re ok, but over there is a shithole!” or worse still “we’re ok in our private road, with our private school and private healthcare but over there the people are scum”, as if those two things aren’t related, as if the wealthier people in this country aren’t depriving those who are deprived.
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.
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. We were also thrilled to find out that we had made the front page of one of Sheppey’s local papers. To be fair, it is a bit of a slow news area, but nonetheless we felt like celebrities.
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 the UK 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. It tasted like tomatoes. It didn’t, sorry, it tasted like excellent milk.
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’s funny that after only two days a ‘proper’ setting felt almost stifling. That having been said, it was in a deconsecrated Franciscan chapel, 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 dorm rooms 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. After our performance we sat up in their large kitchen and talked enthusiastically about ideas for the future, about what could be made and changed.
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, I do not like, however. 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 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 sat 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 is a lot of work to live on a boat, I know this from one of my activist friends who spends a lot of time trying to fight damp and empty chemical toilets. 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. After we had finished, the people of twitter helpfully reminded me that we were next to the police station and the courthouse. I can only assume that the silence of the MK justice league meant their support and assent in our mission. 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 quantitive easing measures. 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. People build subtle defiance into the most drab things.
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.
Day five: HULL
I really like Hull.
One of my best friends moved to London from Hull and she inspires me to live a better life. She is one of those people who knows her neighbours and properly engages with the community around her. She treats London like a village and London totally reciprocates. It’s amazing. So Hull is like her, I assume. Your own assumption of a place is nearly always enough to shape your experience of it. if you decide a place is full of mystery and wonder, chances are you will find it.
Hull is another place that’s maligned as a dump, constantly, by people who never go there. It was right up there in “Crap Towns”, a book that listed the worst places in Britain to live. It is way out on a limb on the Humber estuary and to get there from the south you have to go right round the water. Philip Larkin described it like this “A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling/ Where only salesmen and relations come”. It feels quite removed from other parts of Yorkshire, let alone the rest of the country. But that to me just makes it feel independent, tough, unique and mysterious. Which is also how i describe myself on my dating profile. I don’t have a dating profile.
Also it has proper good museums: the whaling museum, the william wilberforce’s birthplace museum (where the kind, gentle and bookish Manchester based comedian Toby Hadoke is in a video playing a mean slave owner. I’ve decided to pretend that the video is a documentary about his real life and character) and a great art gallery with some Vorticism in it and everything. And Amy Johnson, maverick solo aviator, is from there.
When we got to Hull, we had three or four venue options already lined up but they all fell flat. A small park, too close to the theatre, a square with no option of cover from the rain. An ideal set of steps down to the ruins of the old city walls in the centre of town, by the shopping centre. We got too worried about the fact that there was an England rugby game on right next to us but oh my god the place is screaming for a gig to be set up there. We settled on Hull History Library. It has a covered expanse outside it. Like a terraced auditorium. We settled on it as we sat chatting in its reception in the afternoon. That felt as if we were proper spies. The people around us had NO IDEA. We parked our van up round the back and made sure we could sneak it round to use as lighting.
Ten minutes before the gig it started to rain. Hard. It was just chance that we’d found a covered spot and we felt totally relieved. It was the first time that autumn decided to intervene. We had a small crowd, from twitter mainly, apart from three teenagers we’d flyered. I gave several underage people whisky. But i also gave them oranges so it was like on the continent when people drink wine with a meal. And it was just a little tot, for the cold, and medicinally. What i am saying is= i am sorry that i gave whisky to children.
We had an amazing special guest in Emma Cooper from Standard Fare, whose album The Noyelle Beat I had listened to and loved on non-stop rotation all of the previous summer. And, even more extraordinarily, the ghost of Philip Larkin, Hull’s most famously dour and sexually frustrated literary resident.
AND he wrote us some poems. Definitely was him. I have proof..
Hull. By the Ghost Of Phillip Larkin
Mother always told me,
The glass is half empty- not full,
I wrote a poem saying fuck off mum,
And then I moved to Hull.
Daddy always told me,
That poetry was dull,
Well you can fuck off too old man,
I’m buggering off to Hull.
William Willbeforce, of course,
Thought slavery was bull,
He’s another cracking chap,
Who came to live in Hull.
A pattern is emerging,
Hullensians are great,
Maureen Lipman’s acting,
Puts dinner on her plate.
Paul Heaton does singing,
With words from out his mouth,
He was in the Housemartins,
And Beautiful South.
When Mick Ronson played guitar,
He pulled out all the stops,
No wonder Bowie hugged him,
When on Top Of The Pops.
Let’s not forget the diagrams,
Of logician John Venn,
He would draw two circles,
And join them up again.
John Godger he writes plays,
And Amy Johnson flew a plane,
If I could live my life once more,
I’d come back here again.
Hull Hull Hull you’re wonderful,
I’ll dream of you when I slumber,
Hull Hull Hull you truly are,
The jewel of the Humber.
Old Age. By the Ghost of Phillip Larkin
When I was a young man,
I had a lovely time,
I was good at poetry,
I dearly loved to rhyme.
When I was middle aged,
I felt a bit tireder,
I could only half-rhyme then,
Poetry was harder.
Now I am an old man,
And poetry is tough,
Instead of rhyming nowadays,
I shit myself in public.
Day six: LEICESTER
We started the day exhausted, after having driven back from Hull so I could do a radio show in the morning in London, and so that Tom could get up at 6 to watch the rugby, like a NUT. After I croaked through my show, I was grumpy all round London at people on the tube. I was grumpy and sleepy getting into the van.
When we got to Leicester, which is Grace’s home town, she had already scouted us some venues, the most promising of which seemed to be a covered area outside the New Walk museum, similar to our hull venue, or an old gate by what used to be the Charlotte music venue. Neither seemed perfect, and walking around nearby, a bit despondent, I saw an underpass and i got a very good feeling about it. That’s not a sentence you get to say very often. I say underpass- it used to be an underpass, now it’s some steps that lead down to a sealed up wall. I like the way that without meaning to the thoughtless march of time creates these weird wastes and then leaves them there.
I didn’t want to perform in the covered bit outside a museum again, as we’d done that, and it didn’t seem like enough of a challenge. That’s been a funny thing about this tour, how quickly we’ve all acclimatised to what we are doing. For the first two days I kept getting shivers of excitement that we were putting on a gig like this, at the audacity of it! By day six i felt almost blase flyering people, like “yeah we’re setting up a gig for an hour and then disappearing, for no reason, in a public space, what of it?”. I wanted to take a bigger risk with it.
The steps down to the underpass were crying out to be made into a tiny studio theatre, with a backdrop at the bottom. I could imagine a theatre space so vividly it reminded me of when I was a student and obsessed with a skateboarding video game. In the game you would do skateboarding tricks off buildings and architecture around you, and I played it so much one easter that wherever I went I would look around me in real life and think about the tricks I could do if only I were in the game. The same thing has stayed with me during the tour, everywhere I look, I keep seeing perfect venues, potential free show spaces. Grace and her girlfriend drove to B&Q to get a tarpaulin to cover the “raked seating”, and we flyered students. Will fixed the tarpaulin so expertly that i wanted to marry him to one of my future daughters.
And then, 85 people came. I can’t overstate how thrilling it was. i kept beaming at the others, and saying “we made a good call”. At one point watching the show i thought “anything is possible!”, which i know to cynical readers might sound ridiculous, but i honestly do not care.
It was a real home gig for Grace and her performance was phenomenal. She is the real deal. Check out her songs, buy her albums, and most importantly, book her for your gigs and see her perform live. Her songs are so astute and say everything that needs to be said without ever preaching or lacking lyricism. I am secretly writing this in the bus with her here and she doesn’t even know i’m being such a superfan.
Fab stand-up special guests came too, Leicester were totally spoilt. James W Smith got political, John Luke Roberts insulted everybody and Nathaniel Metcalfe insulted Danny Dyer. (Was it worth it? Course it facking woz!).
The venue was so full that people came and sat all around the underpass, people stared down at us from the railings above like a gallery. A street light was in the perfect place to be a stage light. The crowd were brilliant. A group of students had forsaken LazerQuest to come. That is a very big deal. A man bought me a gin and tonic which i downed, finally closing the gap between preachy stand-up and wino in-an-underpass-wearing-a-sleeping-bag-coat. It rained. The crowd stayed. For over 90 minutes.
I was probably too preachy, and i know that, but it’s hard not to feel like a crazed preacher when doing this weird thing. Shouting myself hoarse, off mic, about how much I want a different kind of future and a more compassionate society. It’s only a few steps from performing to pigeons, but i don’t mind that. i feel a lot more in love with the country than i did before starting the tour. When you feel as if the government and the mainstream media are against you, it can make you alienated and suspicious, but travelling around and meeting so many different types of people, in such unusual settings, has been a real tonic. Leicester felt like a vibrant, brilliant city, and i was reminded that there are tens of cities similar to it around England (and scotland, and wales, and northern ireland!). How wonderful to think that.
And we got a brilliant veggie curry after, with masala dosas and everything. I like eating afterwards with the other performers because nobody else in the restaurant has a clue about the strange, brilliant thing that we have just done.
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, an 80 year old who had recorded a video for the Guardian website explaining life before the NHS. She led a sing song with topical 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 or tmobile advertising campaign faux flashmob. I got a bit carried away and got the crowd to shout “you’re definitely a twat” towards Nadine Dorries in the houses of parliament. I stand by my actions.
I love Ukuncut. 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 comedian 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, fifteen years before us.
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. As they were chatting, they were planning meeting up again, it was really gratifying to see.
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 those 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.
This gig got some excellent press coverage;
Day nine: GLOUCESTER.
I like Gloucester because it is genuinely very weird. There is an atmosphere to it that I don’t fully understand, a great character with a kind of underlying menace, or mystery, or something very unusual. I was excited to get to perform there because it is so neglected compared to other parts of the west country. It’s not on the stand up touring circuit that I tend to do. It doesn’t have as much going on as Bristol and it’s not conventionally goodlooking like Bath but it has a proper spirit to it.
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.With a name like St Mary le Crypt she was always going to have to go into churchbuilding. Floodlit, with great acoustics and ready-built benches, the space already felt like a theatre. It had everything. Gloucester is so spoiled for historic places too. Right by us there were the ruins of the ancient 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, no big deal”. 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.
One of the managers of a neighbouring pub came out and pretended to be pleased for us. The conversation went as follows:
“Oh, it’s great that you’re doing something with that space.”
“ah thanks, we’re really excited!”
“yeah, we tried to get a license to put on music there but they wouldn’t give it to us.”
“oh, that’s annoying”
“yeah, you aren’t allowed to do stuff there. if we told the council they would shut you down”
(mild panic from me as I sense the building resentment in her tone). It made me feel glad that we weren’t trying to do things by official channels, and it made me so glad that we had no money involved. I was reminded of the situationist slogan “we will demand nothing, we will ask for nothing, we will take, occupy!” and it felt so much easier just to act first and worry later. In the same way that the most audacious and entitled city traders deliberately commit vast crimes, or the coalition government forces through unwanted privatisations, but for fun and good and free.
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. That’s a good thing to seek out and do again.
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, which was later published in a local newspaper. Thanks gloucester. A slightly tipsy woman calling herself “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 THE INTERNET CONFIRMED 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 with some new poetry. And we had some brilliant special guests in comedians Henry Widdicombe and Will Hodgson. Henry doing stand up investigations into different products and their claims and Will telling stories of life in nearby chippenham. Some audience members brought cupcakes and beers, and Grace did a cover of the semi-recent chart hit “Down” by 32 year old UK singer Jay Sean 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 strange and fated. It was the day before the house of lords’ vote on the NHS “reforms” it felt almost like a kind of incantation to try and stop them allowing them to go through. 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 all of their special 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 POEMS
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.
Day ten: BIDEFORD
The day started out well. We’d managed to coerce Henry and Will into staying in the van and coming to Bideford and Tim had shown us the grave of a jester who got kicked to death in his village’s churchyard. (Initially I wrote “juggler” there by mistake. I think that is because it ought to have happened to a juggler. I should have written “someone doing poi at a music festival”). Then we found out from twitter that the amendments some Lords had tried to make to stop the NHS bill didn’t get voted through, the NHS bill was passed and ready to go, and the day became instantly fucking awful. Thom and Aisha had gone back to work. It was raining. We were tired and completely despondent. We got to Bideford and the general consensus was that we should go to the pub and get completely wasted. I bought 30 doughnuts. I don’t even eat doughnuts.
That night we were staying with errant, unpredictable aristocrat Hector Christie’s community at Tapeley Park. He came to meet us and was a brilliant, exuberant ray of sunshine. He let us mope in the pub while he went out flyering in the rain like a mad publicity machine. It’s cool to be reminded we don’t all feel despair at the same time. That’s an important thing to keep hold of. There will be times when it does not feel possible to have any strength or keep going, but during these times there will be other people who have just started and are full of vigour and excitement, or people who understand how exhausted you are and can look after you and help you to dust off and start again. Except you are never starting again, you have all of your experience and connections and knowledge all still waiting for you to keep going. It feels like starting again but it’s really just continuing, and always in a slightly better position in some ways than before.
We found our venue, a covered shelter where during the day people can buy tickets to visit Lundy Island and during the night people can drink super strength cider on the steps. We set out sleeping bags and blankets. Someone told us that Bideford is nicknamed Ten-bag on sea because of the heroin trade there. We felt grim and uneasy. Nobody showed up and I was very close to calling things off and saying “we’ve had a lovely ten days, and nobody can take that away from us but let’s stop here”, but then four teenagers sheepishly came up. Four people became ten, then ten became 25 and suddenly we had a gig! Plus, a security camera filmed the whole thing, so technically we have a live DVD out somewhere.
I started out talking about the NHS bill, because it felt like I needed to get it out of the way. I was (and remain) wayyyy too earnest sometimes, and it was hard not to simply speak earnestly about how sad I was that this mendacious bunch of wreckers were making everyone’s life worse. So Tom came on and pretended to be Sir Walter Raleigh, wearing a child’s knight’s Halloween costume. He is a big man. It was ludicrous. LUDICROUSLY HOT, am I right, ladies? The gig became brilliant and exuberant and cathartic. For me it became about getting through it and not giving up.
I had felt so bouyed by this tour. On some level it’d felt so powerful and defiant that I’d secretly believed maybe the government would comply or something. I’d imagined George Osborne on a red phone, saying “They’ve done WHAT? In where?…I love Sheppey too, but where?…oh!…We’ll have to have a rethink.” But the last day made me realise I can’t escape the reality of what the government is doing and will continue to do. We don’t actually have superpowers and we weren’t going to change their agenda. Austerity measures are actually, practically, definitely, in-real-life, making life worse for everyone but the wealthiest 10%. This government is robbing us of our public services, our welfare, our ability to pursue education… you bloody name it and they are doing something that you might disapprove of to it.
And that had me thinking: What are we doing and what’s the point?
And then Grace Petrie, my protest-singer-hero, sang a cover of a Get Cape Wear Cape Fly song, and these lyrics jumped out…
“For I would rather be a pebble
In an ocean vast
And drown alone
Than make no sounds”
I feel like we are learning to fight and we have to try, and to act. Action makes you feel better and positive action is how to change things. Think about this excellent quote:
“whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”Goethe
You don’t know what effects the things that you do might have on the world around you, and you won’t necessarily know the people you might help or influence. Keep track of what’s going on, but try to do something. Hope for the best.
This video was filmed on the last night:
“It’s not a call to arms, it’s a call to helping hands”
As we were leaving the theatre the van broke down. Our last act as a group was to push the minibus that we had lived in all tour along the Bideford Quay. I say “as a group”, I helped by filming it on my phone. I am a bad socialist. That night we got drunk in Hector’s big kitchen on homemade currant wine that a member of the audience brought. Nobody died so it wasn’t poisoned. Act first, worry later. We talked excitedly about our future plans, about trying to take stand up into places where people live that the tabloids say are threatening or cursed, about trying to go where we weren’t expected and have some fun.
After the winter we are hoping to tour long weekends in March and April and hopefully even longer in May, June and July. We want to meet new people, to go to new places and to play to people who otherwise might not come and see us.
Watch this space.
Thanks so much for reading this blog, I hope it’s not been too ranty or sanctimonious. I really wanted to document the tour because it has genuinely been one of the most brilliant, moving and exciting things that I’ve ever got to do. I want to say thanks to Tom, Grace, Will, Thom and Aisha for being inspiring, brilliant, cool and FUN!