Sunday, August 30, 2009

Homage (from a beach) in Catalonia

I'm not going to claim that I got any great insights into the local musical/political/social milieus whilst lazing round in the sun in Catalonia recently. The closest I got to radical politics - other than reading Planet of Slums by Mike Davis on the beach - was buying an Accio Antifeixista(anti-fascist action) t-shirt from Partisano, a militant ska punk emporium in Girona.

As for music, well let's just say that all I learned was that Swedish indie pop band I'm from Barcelona have reached the dizzy heights of having their epynomous theme song used in a TV advert for San Miguel lager.

Still I did come across some interesting stuff in Colm Toibin's book Homage to Barcelona (2002) about how the politics of war, revolution and dictatorship were played out musically in the 2Oth century.
The fascists in Spain sought not only to crush worker insurgency but to impose one unified Spanish state with one language (Castillian Spanish) and one Catholic culture. Under the 1920s military dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, not only the anarchist CNT union was banned but also the Orfeo Catala, the main Catalan language choir (there was a strong choral tradition among factory workers with 85 workers choirs in Catalonia by 1861). For a while Barcelona FC matches were stopped after the crowd booed the Spanish national anthem.

CNT sticker in Catalonia last week

Under Franco the Catalan anthem Els Segadors was banned along with the public use of the language and Sardanes, a popular Catalan circle dance. During the dying days of the dictatorship these elements became expressions of resistance, including songs from La Nova Canca folk movement. Lluis Llach's 'song L'Estaca became the battle hymn of Catalonia in the last years of the old regime. It was about a stake in the ground, and how if youi beat at it for long enough it would fall. The chorus repeated the word fall, and everybody who sang the sing wanted it to fall, fall, fall. On Sunday nights in the mid-1970s the sardana would be danced in the Placa de Saint Jaume, and afterwards they would join hands in the square and sing "L'Estaca". Sometimes the police would come in jeeps and attack people, but most of the time it was quiet and orderly, there was just the fervour of the chorus "Segur que tomba, tomba, tomba"' (Toibin).

Image from the Franco period (I found this on a 1975 Calendar)

Toibin also notes how a new political elite was waiting in the wings to take over from Franco. Interestingly, in view of earlier discussions at this site about dancing and class formation, he identifies a Barcelona nightclub situated by Santa Maria del Mar as the key location for the emergence of this elite.
Zeleste was set up in a former clothes shop in 1973 by Victor Jou to offer 'a venue to more marginal and left wing groups, to jazz bands, and to people who wanted something new and different' in a city whose nightlife was dominated by flamenco bars; 'Twice during the early years of Zeleste the police came in vans and arrested the entire bar - all three hundred clients - and took them in for interrogation'.

Increasingly, the club became where 'the new ruling class, the men and women who later came to run the city, used to meet in the years before they took power. Zeleste was the place where the young designers and architects, painters and writers, politicians and journalists had discussed matters of mutual importance late at night in the last years of the dictatorship'.
In the 1980s it was replaced by Zeleste Nou, a 2500 capacity converted warehouse with a dancefloor downstairs and passageways along the roof for those needing some fresh air. By this time some of Zeleste's former denizens, the Socialist politicians who now ran Barcelona, were working hand in glove with ex-Francoists like Juan Antonio Samaranch to plan for the 1992 Olympics. The latter had gone from running Barcelona under Franco to becoming President of the International Olympic Committee.

Poster in Girona last week promoting musical and other events 'per la Independencia i el Socialisme'

Sunday Dancing in the 17th Century

In England the 17th century saw frequent conflict between church authorities and people who wished to dance or otherwise enjoy themselves on Sundays. These examples come from the county of Shropshire:

'In the village where I lived the Reader read the Common-Prayer briefly, the rest of the Day even till dark night almost, except Eating time, was Spent in Dancing under a May-Pole and a great Tree, not far from my Father's Door, where all the Town did meet together... we could not read the Scripture in our family without the great disturbance of the Taber and Pipe and Noise in the Street... And sometimes the Morrice-Dancers would come into the church, in all their Linnen and Scarfs and Antick Dresses, with the Morrice-Bells jingling at their leggs. And as soon as the Common-Prayer was read, did haste out presently to their Play again' -Richard Baxter (1615-91), writing about the period 1625 to 1640 in Eaton Constantine.

In 1637, Richard Titherland of Westbury was accused of playing the pipe and tabor on Sundays 'before the whole service was ended... and by his meanes hath drawen divers to profane the saboath by daunceinge at unlawfull times'.

Source: The Folklore of Shropshire by Roy Palmer (Logaston Press, 2004)

Friday, August 28, 2009

History of the Flyer (2): A Masquerade in London 1886

Here's another very old flyer (click to enlarge). This one is for a Grand Masquerade, Garden Party and Fancy Dress Ball at North Woolwich Gardens (East London) on 22 July 1886. This event featured 'Dancing on the Monstre Platform from 4.00 pm to 2.30 am' and 'Dancing in Theatre' from 9 pm to 2.30 am with 'visitors in costume or fancy dress only' allowed to dance in the latter. The gardens were to be 'illiminated with thousands of lamps and Japanese lanterns'. All this for a shilling - that's 5p of your modern money, albeit worth a bit more in those days.

There was a special train back to Liverpool Street station at 2:45 am or a boat across the river at the same time for those heading back to South London. You didn't think staying up late dancing was invented in the 1960s did you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Women Dancers killed in Pennsylvania

Earlier this month three women at a Latin Dance class were murdered at a Fitness club in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. Their killer was a pissed off misogynist who then killed himself.

People spend a lot of time analyzing the reasons why acts like this take place, the obvious point often being overlooked that most murdered women are killed my men, for such crimes as not sleeping with them, and indeed most murdered men are killed by men too, for such crimes as offending their masculinity by looking at them in a funny way.

I remember many years ago, when I was at college, going to a debate on the Yorkshire Ripper murders entitiled 'The Ripper: mad or male?'. Radical feminist analyses might have fallen from fashion, but I must admit I am increasingly being drawn back to the notion of 'male violence' if only because it describes an empirically observable reality. That doesn't mean that there are simple solutions, or that other socio-economic/psychological factors aren't important - after all most men don't go around killing people - but to pretend it's not an important factor is to ignore what is staring everybody in the face.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Festival Communication, Festival Time

'Festival communication actively engages the participants. It is this feature that distinguishes festival from those large-scale forms that may be observed from a distance or by television or those events in which the participants passively receive messages but have no choice in their roles. Therefore, we can describe festival action as a combination of participation and performance in a public context. Very little festival action is private; those acts that are, such as courtship or religious devotion, are nevertheless made possible and defined by the special purposes of a particular festival. Moreover, what is spo­ken, acted, or displayed in festival - public or private -anticipates a response, social or supernatural. This active mode, then, makes demands on participants, requiring their attention. And this concentration of attention heightens consciousness, creat­ing an intersection of individual performance and social reflex­ivity.

Festival communication involves a major shift from the frames of everyday life that focus attention on subsistence, routine, and production to frames that foster the transformative, reciprocal, and reflexive dimensions of social life. Such a frame shift does not rule out the mundane or the dangerous; com­mercial transactions flourish in many festivals, and mask and costume have on occasion disguised bloody violence. The shift in frames guarantees nothing but rather transposes real­ity so that intuition, inversion, risk, and symbolic expression reign.

The messages of festival concern the shared experience of the group and multiple interpretations of that experience. Shared experience may be enacted as myth, music, or drama; it may also be the marked representation of a segment of everyday life such as harvesting; it dominates the rhetoric as well as the action of an event clearly defined as "ours." In all socially based festivals, however, the messages will be directly related to the present social circumstances as well as to the past. Because festival brings the group together and communicates about the society itself and the role of the individual within it, every effort either to change or to con­strain social life will be expressed in some specific relationship to festival...

The manipulation of temporal reality

The temporal reality of festival incorporates time in at least two dimensions. In the first the principles of periodicity and rhythm define the experience. Not surprisingly, this cyclic pattern is associated with the cycles of the moon in cultures in which the lunar calendar is or has been used in recent history. With the passage of time festival occurs again and again, marking the cycles of the moon, the annual repetition of the seasons, and the movements of the planets governing the solar calendar. Festival occurs calendrically, either on a certain date each month or on a specific date or periodic time each year. The cycles of lime are the justification for festival, independent of any human agent. Unlike rites of passage, which move individuals through time, and unlike private parties, which structure a way out of time, festival yokes the social group to this cyclic force, establishing contact with the cosmos and the eternal processes of time.

In the second of these dimensions of temporality, expres­sions of tradition and change confront each other. Meaning in festival derives from experience; thus festival emphasizes the past. Yet festival happens in the present and for the present, directed toward the future.

Thus the new and different are le­gitimate dimensions of festival, contributing to its vitality. In the festival environment principles of reversal, repetition, juxtaposition, condensation, and excess flourish, leading to communication and behavior that contrasts with everyday life. These principles can be applied to every code in use for com­munication. Repetition, for example, operates so that the sound of drums, fireworks, or singing voices may be continuous throughout an event, or the major visual symbol such as an image of a bear or the symbol of corn or the cowboy/gaucho may be shown in many circumstances...'

Beverly J. Stoeltje, 'Festival' in Folklore, Cultural Performances and Popular Entertainments, ed. Richard Bauman. New York, 1992. See this post for another quote from this essay.

Photos of Carnaval del Pueblo in Southwark, August 2009 (a Latin American festival in South London), by love of peace (top) and vertigogen (bottom) via flickr.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

History of the Flyer (1)

When did people start passing out flyers to get people to come to their club or dancehall? The earliest I have come across so far is this card in Southwark Local Studies archive, advertising 'Dancing every Evening in the Gorgeous Al Fresco Rotunda' at Anerley Gardens. (not far from the Crystal Palace). The gardens were were open from 1841 to 1868, and featured a hotel, tearooms, a maze and a bandstand (see my South East London history blog for more details).

Does anybody know of other early examples of flyers?.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Racist Violence in The Jazz Age: Tulsa 1921

An acccount from the excellent Keep Cool - The Black Activists Who Built the Jazz Age by Ted Vincent (Pluto Press, 1995):

'The musical achievements of the 1920s must be seen in the light of the hard living conditions that Black people endured. Lynching claimed over 100 victims a year between 1910 and 1919, and these official annual figures document only the reported terrorist murders. But by 1920 reported atrocities were down to sixty-five and had been further reduced to eighteen by 1927.
Before the Jazz Age it was dangerous in most Southern towns for a Black to be seen walking fast, or talking loudly, let alone trying to make a reasonable contract for a musical performance. These dangers were a prime reason that musicians of this period poured into those oases of opportunity, New Orleans and Memphis. The decline in lynchings, beatings, cross-burnings and the like helped facilitate the Jazz Age by improving working conditions for musicians, especially in the South.
Harrowing accounts of the life of a Black musician travelling the South in the decades before the Jazz Age are plentifully provided in W. C. Handy's autobiography. On one occasion in Alabama, Handy and his touring band were ordered to accompany a menacing fellow to a murder trial. Handy's uniformed band was marched into the courtroom. They were told that they should play 'Dixie' as soon as the judge announced the acquittal of the threatening fellow's brother. The trial proceeded. The judge indeed ruled for the defence. And Handy and the band immediately obliged by filling the courtroom with the sounds of 'Dixie'.

In another incident, Handy and his band were kidnapped in Mississippi, put in a waggon, and taken to what they were told would be a murder. Their captors' plan was for them to commence playing as soon as the deed had been committed. The intended victim was a White store owner who had 'insulted' some of Handy's captors' Black workers. Handy and his musicians were stationed outside the store while the prospective murderer and his friends confronted the store owner, calling him names and trying to provoke a fight. But the store owner refused to fight or to take the gun that was thrust in his hand so that he could be shot 'in self-defence'. Handy and his group were finally let go after being forced to play at a dance for the would-be murderer and his crowd. The women, it turned out, were not in a very festive mood and the dancefloor was largely empty. The men remained in the angry mood they had attained in getting pumped up to kill somebody. The next night three local Blacks were lynched.

This uncertainty for African-American music continued into the early Jazz Age. For instance, a Chicago Defender item of 4 February 1922 reported that six members of a Black orchestra 'beaten by a mob of fifteen men, at Miami, Florida, are back home' in Columbus, Ohio. The Defender went on to describe the incident in Miami as a case of 'professional jealousy'. Thomas Howard, manager of the group, explained to the Defender, 'Down there the white union musicians do not recognize the colored union.' Howard emphasised that all the members of the Columbus, Ohio group and all other groups that he managed were union men.

A race riot where Whites invaded a Black neighbourhood was one type of trauma Black musicians experienced in both the North and the South. In June of 1921, the Broadway star Cleo Mitchell and her touring Jazz Repertory Company had the bad luck to hit Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a week's engagement at Mrs Williams's Dreamland Theatre just in time to get caught up in one of the more gruesome of these White invasions.
Tensions had been mounting in fast-growing Tulsa. The mile-square Black neighbourhood was located on prime real estate near downtown. Pressure was being brought upon Black residents and businesses to sell. Among the outstanding buildings was Mrs Williams's 'beautiful theatre'. On the one hand, this well-to-do Black businesswoman had the only theatre in Tulsa for l3lack patrons (one of the mere nine theatre/movie houses in the whole state of Oklahoma that then catered to a Black clientele - according to a survey by Billboard's Black reporter James A. Jackson). While Williams's Dreamland was an important asset to the black community, it was also serving to bridge the gap between the races by drawing White customers, who came to see the high-quality acts WilIiams booked for her stage.

Then came the bloody and fiery Tulsa riot, the last of the nearly three dozen White mob invasions of Black communities which occurred between 1917 and 1921. These riots typically began on such pretexts as a White person being jostled in a streetcar, Or a black appearing in the 'wrong part' of a public beach. In this regard the Tulsa riot began routinely enough: a Black was arrested for allegedly bothering a White woman in an elevator. A White mob headed for the jail in the hope of lynching the alleged culprit.

But this last of the White mob invasions had a new twist. The community had prepared in advance. A group of armed Blacks surrounded the gaol before the White mob arrived. The Tulsa branch of the revolutionary African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) had announced earlier in the week that any attempt at lynching in Tulsa would be stopped, by whatever means necessary. At the gaol, one White man tried to take a Black man's gun from him. In the ensuing scuffle the White man was shot, and the riot was on.

Cleo Mitchell and the performers of her jazz Repertory Company sought refuge in the large Dreamland Theatre, hoping to wait out the riot. For better than two days the White raiders were kept out of the Black community. ABB militants and other armed Blacks had effectively barricaded the streets leading into the Black community, and Marcus Garvey's Black Cross nurses mobilised and volunteered aid. Over the next two days many Whites died trying to get past the defensive positions. 'Casualty list favorable despite handicap,' headlined a Washington DC Black newspaper in its report from Tulsa.

Frustrated by the barricades, the enraged Whites hired aeroplanes and loaded the planes with dynamite and petrol bombs, which were dropped into the Black community from the air. Fires raged. The Black defenders fell back to try and save their homes from fire. The White mobs breached the barricades and headed for a Black church, which they torched. When Blacks inside ran out they were gunned down. The Dreamland Theatre went up in flames. Mitchell's jazz Repertory Company fled for their lives, leaving behind their costumes and wardrobe and all their personal possessions except what they were wearing on their backs. The theatre was then burned to the ground. According to the Chicago Whip, Williams's Dreamland was located 'close to a white theatre ... [and] it was said to be picked as one of the first targets because it materially reduced the white theatre's patronage'.

A truce was arranged whereby the Oklahoma National Guard entered the Black neighbourhood and disarmed most of the Blacks. Mitchell and her troupe were ordered at gunpoint to accompany the National Guard to the stockade. White mobs were then allowed back into what was left of Black Tulsa, which was then burned to the ground. In the end, the cost in lives had been estimated at 150 Blacks and fifty Whites. Garvey's Negro World noted that the loss of the Dreamland was a painful blow in that 'it was the pride of the Negroes of the city'.

Mitchell and her company left Tulsa as soon as possible, heading for Texas, where 'the company was relieved by the kind efforts of Mrs. Chintz Moore, wife of a Dallas theatre owner, who took them into her home and relieved their immediate needs', noted reporter jackson in Billboard, adding that two Black vaudeville troupes then playing Dallas gave benefit performances for their distraught comrades from Tulsa. A Black journalist in lndianapolis, Indiana, offered to co-ordinate benefits from around the country to help 'in placing the unfortunate on their feet again'.
Living up to 'the show must go on' tradition, by 20 june, a matter of days after the riot, Mitchell and her jazz Repertory Company were suf­ficiently recovered to open an engagement at the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans.
The riot at Tulsa had important, and double-edged, repercussions for the growth of the jazz Age. It took place at a time when many Black communities were under stress. Around the nation moves were afoot to strip Blacks of power in the theatre business. The summer 1921 riot that saw a lynch-minded mob burn the Dreamland Theatre in Tulsa occurred around the same time that mobsters of the Chicago gangland variety brought pressure to bear in Chicago's South Side to end Black control of the jazz cabarets, including a memorable cabaret that also carried the name Dreamland.

The barbaric riot that removed Tulsa's Dreamland did, however, have one salutary effect. Invading White mobs had lost many lives, and coming on the heels of costly White mob invasions of other Black cities, the Tulsa experience proved to be the convincing example that ended raids into Black urban centres by old-fashioned types of mobs in white sheets (the Chicago-style 'mob' was another story). The White invaders in Tulsa expected to have an urban version of the old rural 'lynching bee'. But the brave and organised defence of Tulsa raised the ante beyond what potential future mobs were willing to match.

Within a few years, following the crude version of 'urban renewal' which was the riot that had cleared the former Black community, Tulsa had a new Dreamland Theatre in the neighbourhood that became the new Tulsa Black ghetto. Part of the rebuilding of Tulsa involved re-estab­lishing trust between the races. Inter-racial commissions were formed. Choirs from Black churches visited White churches, and vice-versa, with visiting jazz troupes.'

Thursday, August 13, 2009

5 words: Funky, Surrealism, Pirates, Exodus, 121

The '5 word meme' is just that - somebody gives you 5 words to say something about. Bob from Brockley gave me my five (as well as prompting Shalom Libertad and Waterloo Sunset to respond among others). If you want to join in, say so in a comment and I will give you five words to ponder.


A while ago, Cornershop declared that Funky Days are Here Again. What they didn't predict was that Funky would return as a noun rather than a verb, the name for the latest blending of bass and beats on UK dancefloors. It's always been hard to define funk, but there are certainly plenty who would argue that UK Funky doesn't have it (including Paul Gilroy). It's true that the rhythm owes more to house and soca than to James Brown, but who cares. I've always liked up on the floor female vocal anthems, so can only rejoice that a whole new seam of them has been uncovered in the disco goldmine. Check out Grievous Angel's Crazy Legs mix, which has the temerity to mix Brian Eno & David Byrne's Jezebel Spirit into Hard House Banton's Sirens.


When I first got interested in politics I was greatly attracted to Dada, Surrealism and the Situationists, initially through second hand accounts in books like Richard Neville's Play Power, Jeff Nuttal's Bomb Culture and indeed Gordon Carr's The Angry Brigade. The emphasis on play, festival and the imagination still resonates with me, but I would question the notion of desire as an unproblematic engine of radical change. Desire is surely formed amidst the psychic swamp of present social conditions and I would no longer advise everybody to take their desires for reality - sadly I have seen far too much of the impoverished desires of men in particular. Just look through your spam emails.


The untimely death of 'pirate' Paul Hendrich scuppered our scheme to raise the jolly roger and declare a pirate republic on a traffic island on the New Cross Road. Still the appeal of some kind of autonomous sovereignty beyond the reach of states lingers on- even if its contemporary reality of sailors held hostage in Somalia doesn't sound quite so romantic. I was also once in a short-lived Pirate Band, our one gig playing the yiddish potato song Bulbes in the Pullens community centre at the Elephant and Castle, supporting the fine indie pop duo Pipas.


I grew up in Luton but had moved away by the time of its greatest counter-cultural contribution, the Exodus Collective. I made it to a few of their events though, and their massive free parties were as legendary as their tenacity in defending themselves in the courts. If Rastafarians transposed the Exodus myth to Africa, the Exodus Collective were more modest - an actual practice of leaving the Town (and in particular the Marsh Farm council estate where some of the them lived) for parties in the Bedforshire countryside combined with plans to create some kind of alternative society of community housing and support. Some of the people involved are still keeping the faith, but Exodus itself seems to have imploded at the end of the 1990s. Not sure exactly why, but I guess it was the usual story of conflict involving drugs, money and personalities. Still the land of milk and honey did materialise briefly next to the M1 motorway.


121 Railton Road was a squat in a Brixton terrace that ran from 1981 to 1999. During that time it served as an anarchist centre, radical bookshop, meeting place, print shop, office for feminist and anarcho magazines and venue for countless gigs and parties, including the far famed Dead by Dawn events. As I lived in Brixton from 1987 to 1995 I spent a lot of time there, the best of times (dancing and chatting all night) and the worst of times (seeing somebody die in the street outside after a party I was helping with). And also the plain dullest of times, with seemingly endless meetings of bickering and intra-anarchist faction fighting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Police Assault at Liverpool Street

Last year's tube party in protest against the drinking ban on the London Underground resulted in a court case last week in which a man was acquitted of assault after being beaten up by police at Liverpool Street Station. The following story comes from The Sunday Mirror (9 August 2009):

These shocking pictures show a man cowering in fear after being punched by a police officer.
A PC lunges at Chris Leonard and grabs him by the neck as police try to clear a train station packed with party-goers. A PC lunges at Chris Leonard and grabs him by the neck as police try to clear a train station packed with party-goers.

Astonishingly it was Chris – who claims he was punched in the face up to four times and got two suspected cracked ribs when the officer threw him to the floor and knelt on him – who was charged with assault. This week the case was thrown out of court after prosecutors reviewed a police video and Press pictures of the incident. Chris, 26, is now preparing to sue the police over the assault and for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.

And he is planning to go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission about PC James Hendrick – the officer he claims assaulted him at Liverpool Street station in May last year.
PC Hendrick is in the Met’s Territorial Support Group. Other members of the same squad were linked to the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson during the G20 protests in London this April.
Chris, a land surveyor with no criminal record, was one of around 1,500 revellers packing the station. The Last Orders On The Tube events were held the night before a ban on drinking on public transport came into force.

Chris says: “It was a really good atmosphere. There were loads of people drinking and dancing. I maybe had about four or five beers, but I wasn’t drunk.” At around 11pm, senior officers decided to clear the station and around 50 PCs formed a line across the concourse. Police digital camera footage shows them coming forward in an effort to move the crowd towards the exit. In the footage, Chris can be seen smiling and talking to some of the officers.

He says: “I did join in with some of the others giving the police some banter but - we were asking why they were pushing us back.” He adds: “At first, it was all good-natured. But as we got closer to the escalators near the exit there was less room to move and people were starting to get a bit crushed and panicked. The police shouted at us to get back and people shouted that we couldn’t move any more. I thought they were being heavy-handed. I was getting quite scared because I realised I was trapped and I felt like there was no way out. I also realised people behind me in the crowd were throwing things at the police – I saw beer cans flying over my head.”

Moments before he confronted Chris, the police film shows PC Hendrick being hit in the face by what appears to be a can of beer. He turns and briefly puts his hand to his face and seem agitated before he rejoins his colleagues in the advancing police line – some of whom have their batons drawn.

Chris says: “I only noticed him seconds before he hit me. I just had time to realise, ‘Oh god, he’s coming for me.’ I backed away as far as I could, but I couldn’t get away from him. I remember saying, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ as I saw him draw his fist back. He hit me three or four times in the mouth and nose in quick succession. I was left disorientated but could hear people around me shouting and screaming at him.”

Pictures taken by Press photographers appear to show PC Hendrick lunge at Chris’s nose and grab his neck as blood drips from his mouth

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Folk Against Fascism

The majority of folk musicians I have met have tended to be some kind of lefty/liberal/anarcho/counter-cultural type, and indeed the same goes for many of the people involved in Morris dancing and other folklore-related events. But the British National Party is trying to shift this, advising its activists to get involved in these kind of scenes to stoke up some spurious nationalist culture. Lancaster Unity quotes from the BNP's Activists and Organisers' Handbook which states:

"Ideally our units will lead their communities in organising, or at least supporting, cultural events such as St George's Day celebrations (April 23rd). Most regions of the country have cultural events which are unique to that area, or county. For example, Padstow Hobby Horse (sic) in Cornwall, Arbor Tree Day in Shropshire, Garland King Day and the Well Dressing in Derbyshire, the Marshfield Mummers in Wiltshire, the Haxey Hood in Humberside, and countless others.Some such celebrations, now very popular, have only been revived in recent years - the Hastings Jack in the Green and Whittlesea Straw Bear festivals show just how big such things can get. Why not do some research to see if there's a lost local tradition you can inspire a team of enthusiasts to revive?"

Meanwhile, folk musicians are getting increasingly pissed off about the BNP playing their music and selling their CDs to raise fund- both of which are pretty much out of their control. At the recent Sidmouth Folk Festival, Folk Against Fascism was launched to counter this. They say:

'The UK folk scene is a welcoming and inclusive one; folk music and dance have always been about collaboration, participation, communication and respect. Folk Against Fascism has been created to take a stand against the BNP’s targeting of folk music, a stand against the appropriation of our culture. Folk Against Fascism isn’t a political party or a bureaucratic, top-heavy organisation. It is any and all of us who want to make ourselves aware of the BNP’s bigoted view of our history and culture, and who want to do something about it. The BNP want to take our music, want to twist it into something it isn’t; something exclusive, not inclusive. We must not let them. Folk Against Fascism is a way to demonstrate our anger at the way the BNP wants to remodel folk music in its own narrow-minded image'.
There's a Facebook group and much more to come.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Border Controls

The new restrictions on musicians and artists entering the UK (discussed in an earlier post) are having a predictably lamentable effect. Henry Porter has publicised a couple of recent examples - the banning of Moroccan poets Hassan Najmi and Ouidad (Widad) Benmoussa and Indonesian poet Dorothea Rosa Herliany from a poetry festival; and the treatment of Canadian singer Allison Crowe who was detained at Gatwick for 11 hours, questioned, fingerprinted and then deported because she did not have a Certificate of Sponsorship when she arrived with her band in May.

There are lots more examples in the Manifesto Club report UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled, by Order of the Home Office.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

If it's called a festival, is it one?

'Festivals are collective phenomena and serve purposes rooted in group life. Systems of reciprocity and of shared responsibil­ity ensure the continuity of and participation in the festival through the distribution of prestige and production. Most fes­tivals provide the opportunity for individual religious devotion or individual performance, and this opportunity is a primary motive for the occasion. Other unstated but important purposes of festivals are the expression of group identity through ancestor worship or memorialization, the performance of highly valued skills and talents, or the articulation of the group's her­itage.

Rarely do such events use the term festival, employing instead a name related to the stated purposes or core symbols of the event: Mardi Gras (Catholic), Sukkot (Jewish), Holi (Hindu), Shalako (Zuni), Adae (Ghanaian), Calus (Romanian), Namahage (Japanese), Cowboy Reunion (American), and Feast of Fools (French). Those events that do have festival in their titles are generally contemporary modern constructions, employing festival characteristics but serving the commercial, ideological, or political purposes of self-interested authorities or entrepreneurs' (Beverly J. Stoeltje, 'Festival' in Folklore, Cultural Performances and Popular Entertainments, ed. Richard Bauman. New York, 1992).

Interesting point, but 'authenticity' isn't everything. John Eden reviews Bestival, arguing 'Whilst I agree with History is made at night’s comments on the commercial festival boom I would never really have been up for imposing something like Stonehenge Free Festival on children. I’ll take corporate sponsorship over hells angels, drug hoovers, and police brutality any day. They can discover all of that for themselves when they get older, ha ha'.

And indeed despite my earlier comments on festivals, we shouldn't fall for the myth of the earlier 'free festivals' as some kind of communism in one field contradiction-free utopia. There was certainly plenty of buying and selling , with the corollary of the threat of violence to preserve market share, and the violence of cops preventing Stonehenge festival in the mid-1980s was prefigured by the earlier violence of biker gangs - who, for instance, beat up punks at Stonehenge in 1980. As Penny Rimbaud from Crass recalled:

'Our presence at Stonehenge attracted several hundred punks to whom the festival scene was a novelty, they, in turn, attracted interest from various factions to whom punk was equally new. The atmosphere seemed relaxed and as dusk fell, thousands of people gathered around the stage to listen to the night's music. suddenly, for no apparent reason, a group of bikers stormed the stage saying that they were not going to tolerate punks at 'Their festival'. What followed was one of the most violent and frightening experiences of our lives. Bikers armed with bottles, chains and clubs, stalked around the site viciously attacking any punk that they set eyes on. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape to; all night we attempted to protect ourselves and other terrified punks from their mindless violence. There were screams of terror as people were dragged off into the darkness to be given lessons on peace and love; it was hopeless trying to save anyone because, in the blackness of the night, they were impossible to find. Meanwhile, the predominantly hippy gathering, lost in the soft blur of their stoned reality, remained oblivious of our fate'.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Black Rock Free Party

A big free party took place last weekend in Brighton in the aftermath of Brighton LGBT Pride:

The Black Rock Rave, which many see as the unofficial Pride after party, took place at Black Rock on Saturday and carried on into the early hours of Sunday. Thousands of people descended on the site after the event was publicised on Facebook as being a 'night of mayhem' and a 'massive mash up'. One reveller needed medical attention as the party wound down at 3am.

Sussex Police said there were no serious incidents and no arrests were made. Party-goer George Hall said: “It was one of the best nights of my life, there must have been about 4,000 people there throughout the night and the next morning.”

A police spokesman said: “The last sound system was dismantled at 3am. We had minimal complaints about the noise although our environmental health officers did attend. It is illegal because you do need a license to hold an event like this but we patrolled from outside. There were no arrests, there was a minor scuffle but that sorted itself out. People see it as an extension of the Pride party.”

The Black Rock Rave has become a traditional part of the Pride celebrations for many people.
Last month The Argus revealed that all-night raves have returned to Sussex.
Hundreds of people have begun descending on Brighton and Hove at weekends for the outdoor parties.

Source: Argus, 2 August 2009.

Nice piece here on Positive Sound System and the history of free parties in the Brighton area.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Council for the Eruption of the Marvelous

Revolution as dance? The following text is from a 1970 leaflet from the San Francisco area situationist-influenced group, Council for the Eruption of the Marvelous:

'The dance of revolution is a continuous project, floating free, perpetually changing, always focused. The music it moves to is pure energy, weaving three interdependent melodies: participation, founded on the passion of play; communication, founded on the passion of love; and realization, founded on the passion to create. Refusing the value of appearances, the dance makes itself invisible to those who see only appearances; the spectacle of the commodity cannot defend itself. The dance can never be a closed system, it never mystifies itself; rather, it realizes itself in its own supersession, in the sublime movement of subversion, where a pirouette returns to itself not as itself, not as it was born, but changed, reconceived in a limitless perspective. Subversion devalues each fragmented element in the hierarchy of appearances; each isolated commodity — whether it be inanimate objects or objectified human beings selling themselves in the marketplace — is projected into the significance of the WHOLE, all possible connections are made as we dance closer to the totality of our lives. Subversion is the only language, the only gesture, that bears within it its own critique. Its force is pleasure seeking itself. In the language of subversion we begin to sing, our whole lives begin to move in the rhythm of the song: thus we create the dance: thus the revolution becomes our daily life'.

Monday, August 03, 2009

London Funky MC murdered

Terrible news about the murder at the weekend of 19-year-old London MC Charmz (Carl Beatson Asiedu), apparently stabbed outside Club Life, Goding Street in Vauxhall. He had just performing at the Summer Vybz night at the South London club as part of the duo Kid n Play. Carl grew up in Norbury (South London) and was a student at De Montford University in Leicester.

His friend Shadestar says: 'It sickens me and upsets me to say that this most probably UNFORTUNATELY wouldn't be the last time an event like this takes place in the streets of London. It's SAD and PATHETIC! If YOU think carrying a knife around for WHATEVER reason is OK, then YOU are part of the knife culture in London and it NEEDS to come to an END!' Sadly he's right, only last week there were stabbings in Peckham outside the R'n'B Nitespot which left two people critically injured.

Here's Charmz performing his UK Funky track 'Buy Out da Bar':

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Big Green Gathering Cancelled

The following article from Schnews (27 July 2009) describes the cancelation of this week's Big Green Gathering festival. I am reproducing it here because it describes in detail the extent of police powers under the Licencing Act 2005 to dictate how festivals are run - and the barriers to getting permission for anything vaguely alternative:

The Big Green Gathering, a fixture in the alternative calendar, was due to return after two years this week. 15–20,000 people were expected to turn up on Wednesday (29th) to the site near Cheddar, Somerset, for Europe’s largest green event - a five-day festival promoting sustainability and renewable energy, with everything from allotments to alternative media. Hundreds of staff and volunteers are already on site, and its cancellation comes just days before gates were due to open. Organisers, most of whom work for nothing, are gutted. One told SchNEWS “We are so disappointed not to be having this year’s gathering – it means so much to so many people”.

A last-minute injunction by Mendip District Council, supported by Avon and Somerset Police, put the ki-bosh on the entire event - citing the potential for ‘crime and disorder’ and safety concerns. This was despite the fact that the festival had actually been granted a licence on the 30th of June. According to Avon and Somerset police’s website “[We] went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure this event took place.” This is of course utter bollocks. The injunction was due to be heard in the High Court in London on Monday (27th). However, before that could happen the BGG organisers surrendered the festival licence on Sunday morning. As soon as this was done a police commander at the meeting was overheard saying into his radio “Operation Fortress is go”. Police have already set up roadblocks and promised to turn festival-goers back.

Chief Inspector Paul Richards, festival liaison, later confirmed to one of the festival organisers that “This is political”, adding that the decision had been made over his head at county level. One of SchNEWS’ sources on site said that the police were frank about the fact that the closure had been planned for two weeks. “This was a blatant act of political sabotage – the Big Green Gathering is now completely bankrupt, they knew that we were going to be closed down and yet they carried on allowing us to spend money hand over fist on infrastructure”.

The BGG collapsed financially in 2007 under the weight of increased security costs. The new licensing act added an extra £120k to their costs, leaving them with a loss of £80k. Security accounted for a third of their overall overheads and the road marshalling bill rose from £5k to over £23k. In spite of these setbacks, they managed to scrape themselves back off the floor with shareholder cash and some potentially dubious corporate involvement. Every effort had been made by the gathering’s organisers to accommodate the increasingly niggling demands of police and licensing authorities. The procedure lasted over six months – just check out for the minutes of meetings held between organisers and the authorities. Demands included a steel fence, watchtowers and perimeter patrols, having the horsedrawn field inside a ‘secure compound’ and wristbands for twelve undercover police.

At a multi-agency meeting on Thursday, police took those wristbands in order to maintain the pretence that the festival stood a chance of going ahead. A catalogue of other obstacles were also continually placed in the organiser’s path. All of the businesses associated with the BGG came under scrutiny, licensing authorities contacted South West ambulances, the Fire Brigade and the fencing contractors and asked them to get payment up front from the BGG. Needless to say this caused huge problems. Under the terms of the Licensing Act 2005, police can insist on certain security firms being used by organisers. This of course leads to a totally unhealthy hand-in-glove relationship, open to abuse. Stuart Security were forced on the BGG by police, and on Wednesday last week, they suddenly announced that they wanted 60% of their fee up front. Even though the BGG scraped the cash together, the company still wanted out. So the BGG hired another firm – against police wishes. The fact that Stuart Security rely on police approval for lucrative contracts at Glastonbury Festival, the Royal Bath & West Show, WOMAD, Reading Festival, and Glade Festival has, of course, no bearing on the matter.

The last issue at stake was road closures. Mendip District Council had insisted on road closures as part of the licensing requirements. A festival organiser contacted the highways agency to process this fairly routine request. The decision was passed to junior management who reportedly came under intense pressure not to grant the closure. As the road closures were not secured, the council were able to claim that the BGG was in breach of licence. A nice little legal stitch-up that according to one QC meant the BGG stood fuck-all chance of fighting the injunction. Of course, now that “Operation Fortress” is in full swing, there are road-blocks throughout the area. The BGG is itself a limited company and could have fought the injunction - risking no more than bankruptcy - but in a nasty twist two individuals were also named, meaning that should proceedings have gone ahead against the festival then Mendip Council would have had a claim on their assets to settle court costs. Police also threatened to place the farmer on the injunction, risking his entire livelihood.

Anyone who has ever been to the Big Green will know that the atmosphere is more like a village fete than any of the mainstream events. There is virtually no aggro. It’s more about chai and gong-massages than Stella and fisticuffs. All power is 12V solar and the amplification is correspondingly quiet. Music stops at midnight. Compare that to the 24 hr Technomuntfucks that go on with state blessing across the country. Of course it would be cynical to suggest that the BGG represents an alternative that the authorities fear. It’s a gathering place for eco-activists, where the likes of Plane Stupid and No-Borders hang out and exchange ideas while trying to avoid being button-holed by 9-11 truthers.

It’s clear now that the state views events like the Big Green in the same light as Climate Camp and the anti-G20 protests. The BGG saga is showing that there may no longer be any ‘safe’ legal spaces for us to gather. The third way of quasi-legal free-ish festivals is looking like a dead-end.

It’s clear that the Big Green has been singled out – and any gathering promoting those values or trying to organise in a grass-roots way will probably suffer the same fate once they get to a certain size. As corporate-branded Glasto has become a fixture on the mainstream calendar, like Ascot or Wimbledon, many have turned towards smaller more ‘grass-roots’ festivals. Niche festivals have bloomed across the British landscape. No matter what your bent, be it faerie wings or S&M, there’s probably a muddy weekend in a field for you. Of course this isn’t the first time that Britain’s had a thriving festival scene. See previous SchNEWS’ for how the free festival scene came under ruthless attack from the forces of Babylon (or just skin up for an old hippy and listen to them bang on about the glories of the White Goddess Fayre or Torpedo Town). Some have tried to go down the quasi-legal route, such as Strawberry Fair and even Glastonbury, until the aptly named Mean Fiddler intervened in 2002.

Unfortunately the corporate dollar is never far behind. Witness how Glastonbury went from a fence-jumping free-for-all where the festival organisers built the infrastructure, but the fly-pitchers, buskers and random naked lunatics made it a real festie rather than a fenced in, heavily policed corporate theme park. The Big Green was an exceptional festival, which managed to leap through the legal process while being crew-heavy and retaining a lot of the free-festival atmosphere (Not all of course - we still had to put up with plod wandering around site). It was a unique gathering place for fringe movements, from eco-activists to crop-circle nutters.

We’re not just banging on about festivals being free because we miss the good ‘ol days – there’s a huge difference between being a punter who has a whole experience laid on for them (e.g. Glasto’s themed areas with helpful stewards pointing you in the direction of the consumer delights), and being part of a festival/free party where everyone’s responsible for the entertainment, and even infrastructure like welfare. A crowd that feels it owns an event behaves differently to one that feels it has paid to have an experience. The fact that undercover police now feel free to operate and arrest people, without any back-up, for cannabis use or nudity (See SchNEWS 684 and 603) at festivals has a lot do with the sheep-like behaviour of punters - a mentality that our masters are keen to see enforced. In the SchNEWS office we’re hearing rumours that people aren’t going to be put off – alternative sites are being looked at and people are heading to the West Country anyway. In the words of one participant “Things are just getting interesting”. Time for the Big Black Barney?