How the Crusties And Anarchists Learned to Put Up, Shut Up and Love Thatcher; Or, I See No End To This Wild Road And These Wicked Women

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September 7, 2007 by cosmoakacitizensmith



Personing the bar in Eco-Arcadia at The Big Chill

I’m at the Secret Garden Party. No, nothing to do with the Cardiff crew of the same name. It’s a festival somewhere near Huntingdon. Or Cambridge. Or both.

I don’t care. It’s not raining.

I get a lift up with Felix and we stop on the way up to visit a man called John Bedingfield. He plays and repairs double basses. He’s from a classical background, rather than a bluegrass one, which is Felix’s speciality.

He is a delightful eccentric who has learned how to make globes from the only globe maker in England. He is skilled and knowledgeable in his subject beyond my meagre comprehension.

You get the feeling that if the world was left in the hands of people like him, everything would be fine.

Anyway, the Secret Garden Party is wacky beyond belief. It feels like a 1920s posh people’s party, like F. Scot Fitzgerald without the mansions. The site surrounds a beautiful lake.

It’s more decadent than revolutionary. Be wild, wacky and crazy for the weekend. Oh dear.

Highlights….

Passing out on the ground next to a friend and then waking up minutes later, putting a pair of boxer shorts on my head and saying “I’ve got to see Frank Turner…He’s playing on the main stage!!!”

Going to see a Beans On Toast gig by mistake and waving the said boxer shorts at Jay while he is singing.

Playing at the Front Room………

The Front Room is a small Marquee furnished like…someone’s front room. It has a settee, a mantelpiece and a few easy chairs, tasteful wallpaper and a piano player.

The piano player sits there and takes requests from the audience. It’s all Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, even ELTON JOHN.

But it’s bloody great. Absolutely funny as fuck. The small crowd get so into singing along to the cheese that they stay for hours, even if the music isn’t their bag.

I jam there one night with the piano player and his mate on trumpet. The power goes down. Fortunately I’m playing through my busking amp so, I carry on…. I hear a plink plonk of a mandolin in the darkness. Fuckin hell, it’s Hippy Joe….!!

The power comes back off and the four of us are off on planet jammin till the small hours….I end up on the piss with the piano man. He’s laughing about the time when him and the trumpet player had a band and they put on a performance of The Wall by Pink Floyd at their local theatre in Basingstoke. They still have arguments about their performance to this day.

Sounds nuts. I can’t believe this man has a day job, he should be playing for a living.

I bump into Andy Broon and Magnus from festival stalwarts Tarantism at 5am in a bar. In fact, I bump into them every night that festival in the same bar at the same time. What tha…..?

At the end of the festival, I leave Felix and Joe as life has taken an unexpected turn. Instead of heading off to The Big Green (Hippy) Gathering, I’ve been employed by Eco Arcadia – the world’s first biodiesel powered pinball arcade, run by my mate Tom. And I’m off to the Big Chill. Help!!!!

Tom…rumour is you are a bit of a dude!! Eco Arcadia in action. If your name’s not down…

Tom is an old mucker and it’s been a long time since we caught up. Too long.

It’s good to see him in the festie environment cos he lives and breathes it. He runs a slick operation, travelling around from festie to festie all summer with a changing crew, keeping the Eco Arcadia show on the road.

I’m not all that hot at lifting and shifting stuff, which is a big part of what a crew is supposed to do, but these guys are really easy to work with and I’m told to do only what I feel I can do, no more.

Tidy.

The Big Chill is outside Malvern in the West Country. Malvern is a little England enclave, with Union Jacks and St George’s crosses everywhere. For the tourists, I am told.

I thought it was because it had become a BNP stronghold.

There is only one black man in the village. He talks as posh as all the white people and he tells me he’s the plumber.

The festival site is long, long, long. The clientèle seem quite retrained and middle class. I do some gigs on the fly but, unlike the other festivals I’ve been to, it seems spontaneousness is sometimes met with complete befuddlement.

My job in the Eco Arcadia marquee is to give change people’s money for tokens so they can use the pinball machines. As well as these, there are space invaders and pac man: big table-sized games like they used to have in pubs years ago. It’s like going back to childhood.

The kids love it and we give them the odd free go. The adults come in and they love it too. The adults put the kids to bed, and then come back in the small hours for the party. We get regular punters turning up throughout the festival.

At the Big Chill, I see Ritchie Havens. Religious. Plus The Blockheads minus Ian Dury and plus some strange looking bloke who looked a renegade from the 80s festival scene who can’t sing the songs. But Norman Watt-Roy and the rest of them rock.

And I see a guy called Shlomo the human beatbox and his human beatbox orchestra. Absolutely superb. What a concept.

I have a jam with a guy called Dave Cooper who played in the 70s folk band Dando Shaft. He is a sound geezer and I spend a very pleasant afternoon listening to him play his songs in his bus. He knows more about how to play guitar using loops and pedals and all the new technology more than I do. He gets some incredible sounds out of that box of his.

Festie politics and drugs abound. It sometimes combines to give the people behind the scenes in a festival an over-inflated idea of themselves. Lots of the big I AM monologues….It’s not like I didn’t know it before, but although the festival scene is an escape on one hand, you can’t get away from real world politics. With a big ‘P’ and a small ‘p.’

Even down to the fact that it’s staring people in the face but they still won’t engage in it.

Whole crews get jump started on various powders and pills. That’s the way the money goes.

On the whole though, it’s a fantastically chilled vibe. We have party at the Arcade on the Friday that wipes us out. We stagger to our beds at 6am. Touching the other side of the day….

Thanks to Tom and all the gang, great times.

Fluffying it up at the Camp for Clmate Action, (see later on…). Photo from Indymedia.

On the road, you have no space of your own. This can make me listless.

Staying in people’s houses/trucks etc or just working alongside them and being in their space the whole time can bring unforeseen problems to the fore:

How do you……?
Do you mind if I…..?
Can I use the phone?
Is there a knack to flushing this toilet? I can’t seem to manage….
Sorry about the wank stain on the floor, I was a bit on heat when I got back.

Etc, etc….

It’s difficult to know if your getting on peoples’ tits and/or abusing their hospitality.

Sometimes, hanging around in a field for days between gigs can be a bit….wearing. Was it Bill Whyman who said that rock n roll was mostly about waiting around?

Driving for hours and hours….The West Country is festival country. It is also the area most affected by the recent floods. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like summer at all. Just before I head off on tour, I spend some time with my mate Charlie in London. It is August but it is raining like hell. Flood-induced devastation fills the news. Biblical, Charlie says. The atmosphere everywhere is very strange, to say the least.

Welcome to the beginning of the end.

On the roads out west, I see the areas of massive flood devastation, and literally running alongside is the environmentally catastrophic natural gas pipline lying out in sections, waiting to be burrowed into the ground.

Hello, does anyone see the connection, or…..???

Workers are paid up to £600 a week to work on there. Over the summer, I meet one or two good friends working on it. It’s the only work going in some places.

A few weeks after the Big Chill, I’m at a free party in West Wales. The place is jumping. It is in a remote farmhouse. Every buidling and marquee has a sound system in it. I’m drunk to hell, wondering around and getting annoyed because there is no quiet space. Even the outdoor fire has about three sound systems pointing at it.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS??? ISN’T IT SUPPOSED TO BE FUN??!!! It’s all too much. Maybe I’m getting too old.

I’m supposed to play and jam with my mate Natty Rhymes and her sister Anna. But the night goes for a burton cos Tommy Tank, who I come up with, drives the car off site with all my gear and I can’t find neither it nor him.

Ah, fuck it….

A kid walks around with a Union Jack. Someone says, “Hey, this is Wales! Put it away!!”

I think to myself, hang on, is there something quintessentially British about festival/free party culture? Like I said before, isn’t it some kind of 21st century camping holiday complete with loud music and drugs?

Then I think, no, this doesn’t feel like Britain, or Wales, or anywhere. It’s a strange, temporary autonomous zone of it’s own.

But to what end?

The sun comes out, and Natty is about to go off to her bus to crash out. We look around at all the people gurning , off their heads on god knows what.

“It’s raw, isn’t it?” she says, “Watching all these people letting go.”

I wonder around for a bit with her other sister Alice. It’s no good, I’m shattered. Luckily I find an empty bed and crash out.

An hour or two later, a girl comes in the room and wakes me up.

“You’re going to have to leave,” she says.

“Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I crashed out here.”

Then the girl bursts into tears. “Somebody has just dropped down dead outside. It was drugs. An ambulance is on it’s way. The police will be here soon. We need to clear the site.”

She cries again. The guy must have been one of those people I saw only an hour or so earlier off their heads on god knows what.

Fuck……

You couldn’t manufacture a better news event if you tried.

August is a “non-news” month – or the silly season, as the press likes to put it. As parliament is on summer holiday, obviously nothing of any political significance goes on in the world.

And everyone else in the UK flies off on holiday.

So when a bunch of crusties and anarchists set up the Camp for Climate Action, an experiment in communal, sustainable living and direct democracy, direct education and direct action, then you instantly have a major news story.

The funny thing was even those who were slagging it off in the press appreciated that we had a point. Scary. Maybe it IS all true!

The science is quite simple. Check out “Cartoon” Kate Evans’ book Funny Weather. We’ve got ten years to sort get our house in order. Otherwise we fry.

The irresistible arguments that we have to set up a fully democratic and sustainable, just society notwithstanding, it’s proabaly going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

And that’s just the good news.

The bad news is that even people who know about these things and like to thing of themselves as concerned citizens – including me – use planes!

You could argue that if the aviation industry was taxed and we had better public transport then it would be different.

But the fact is, we’re suckers for our lifestyle, one and all.

Perhaps that’s why I took a back seat on the direct action and stuck with cleaning the toilets. Or maybe that was due to my compost toilet injury, (sustained whilst transporting a straw bail used to aborb piss in the urinals and doing my back in).

Activists were subject to constant police harrasment and scrutiny. Photos were taken of people as they came and went from the camp. People were stopped and searched illegally and then accused of stealing their own bank cards if they didn’t have any photo ID. Again, completely illegal.

Welcome to democracy!

I played in one of the marquees on Saturday night and lots of local youth from the surrounding areas seemed to enjoy themselves. I met two local lads the following night after the mass direct action. They told me they’d had their eyes opened about everything because of the camp and were really glad that people had gone to the bother of setting it up.

When I told them I worked with immigrants for a living, and they started coming out with standard Daily Mail racist bollocks. But when my mate challenged them about that and other stuff they were on about, you realised that they’d never come across alternative point of view before. They ran off into the night shortly afterwards.

I think their minds had been blown a little bit too quickly.

That’s one of the best things about actions like these, when random people get a chance to see different points of view in action. All the decisions that were made on the camp were done through consensus/direct democracy. That way, everyone has an input into what goes on.

However, when I think about all the meetings that went on to prepare the mass action, I think……how long would it take to make day-to-day decisions to run a whole society like this??!!!

Answers on a postcard, please!

This is the beautiful Spiegeltent. It is a portable venue with incredible wooden and stained glass fittings. The crew are from Australia, but I ran into them when I was playing at the Edinburgh festival. They had some incredible acts there, including the remarkable Orkestra del Sol You can check out their perfomance at the Speigeltent here.

I could go on, but I’m sure this entry would become even more self indulgent than it is already.

I’m back in the Diff, back at work, getting well stressed, feeling a little bit slack about blogging and starting the process of getting the new album together. Onward and upward!!

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