by 21st century youth and music.
The amount of work that went into this project was phenomenal. As a bystander, hearing about it as it unfolded and watching the culmination of all the hard work, it was truly breathtaking.
The project was run by Bedfordshire Libraries I believe, in a bid to keep these precious public places alive. Choosing music and its place in the right to protest was a formidable concept. Something that was news thirty years ago was resurrected and held up as an example of how people, working together, make their cause stronger. Well that was the main point, but of course, the history has to be explained, the flavour of the times revisited, in order to give a satisfactory view of how things really were.
I featured some songs from the Dump It On Parliament tape in a podcast. I listened and was impressed at the variety of styles of music and the wide involvement of people dedicated to protest against a nuclear dump near Bedford (yes believe it, it could have happened!)
The tape was made so that proceeds from its sale could provide financial help to those who were arrested and fined for demonstrating against this insane idea. The wider community woke up and participated in voicing its disapproval, and eventually the government dropped the proposal.
But this incident threw open a door to the times we were living in, times past and unknown to the present generation. History is coloured by the media, and the media can be woefully unfair. The punk scene, which became the alternative music scene, was not populated by drones. Sure the clothes were interesting but there was more to it than the look (which was hijacked as soon as a buck could be made from it anyway).
The Dump it on Parliament tape is an icon for activism, for building communities and for the arts. The 21st Century project ‘Dump It On Parliament Revisited’, directed by the fantastic trio Rochi, Dash and Dem, probes into all the factors that made this tape, connects to the anger of the times, the politics of unfairness and the grassroots effects of fighting back. The drama group of young students that enjoyed the dressing up and acting of the Young Ones gives a nod to the recognition of this phenomena in our country’s social history.
And I have to laugh. Much of it goes back to Luton 33 Arts Centre and the craziness that went on there. I admit I took it for granted, surely every town had somewhere like that? Well it turns out that this arts center was very special, and to think I only went there a few times to rehearse with my band. Discussing 33 nowadays is like talking about Shangri La – there were drama groups, a recording studio, a photography studio, a cafe – decorated with Tony Hough’s paintings (Luton’s incredible fantasy artist). Gorilla Video was based there, developing new film techniques and providing Channel 4 with the stuff that used to make Channel 4 worth watching.
This was the meeting place where workshops took place and bands met, not in competition but in building a community, organizing gigs together. It was the antithesis of X Factor. Of course the council condemned the building, pulled 33 Guildford Street down and no independent place has emerged to rival it since.
Now it has come to pass that the building has gone, and the people have scattered to the four winds; but the music is still with us. So the idea was to revisit the tape itself, and listen to the songs and study the history. Then, to invite bands/performers of today to participate, by commenting about the issues in their lives through their music.
My goodness, the bands that participated are living proof that this project is a bloody good idea. Firstly there was no age restriction, I believe the youngest participant was a very enthusiastic actor, it would be rude to try and work out the eldest, so lets just say this project appealed to all ages!
Secondly it was a project that embraced all facets of art, not just the music. Tee-shirts and posters were designed. Clothes were embellished and make up carefully applied by the drama group. Films made by Gorilla Video were aired. There was even face painting – where people ‘wore’ an album cover on their face.
An interesting discussion about the times and the action taken by bands and film makers were discussed at a public forum in Leighton Buzzard, hosted by Dave Stubbs from Quietus Magazine.
With music being my main passion I was bound to be drawn in by the promise of live bands, but all this other stuff, the historical perspective, the inclusion of anyone who wanted to be involved in any way, I found this inspiring. And yet all it was, was people, encouraging other people, to discover and evolve their abilities and learn something. I was entertained. More importantly, I was educated about the music scene, and the battles fought with the government of the 1980s against nuclear dumping, among other issues. Things that are not in the National Curriculum, or the newspapers.
So how can you better the idea of asking bands of today to come along and show us what music is about now? The master stroke was this – ask each band to cover one of the songs on the Dump it on Parliament Tape (I also called it the ‘Anti Nirex tape’, as Nirex was the company that the government was going to farm out the nuclear waste to).
This is asking a lot considering that music has moved a long way since the eighties, the words can be lost and musicians are all ego maniacs – well that’s how they are portrayed in the media – right?
Musicians don’t always turn up for rehearsals, well we know that! Sometimes people say yes to things and do not deliver… life can get in the way..sometimes people just cannot make it. I have said it before, musicians are emotional creatures, when you strip your soul naked on a stage it takes courage. But there are plenty of brave people out there.
I turned up on the last night of this project at Leighton Buzzard Theatre and it seemed clear to me that this was going to be a fantastic effort because it was so much more than ‘just a gig’. I was privileged to meet many of the musicians performing that night and their commitment and credibility was awe-inspiring.
I have to say in an industry once populated with men (which is even reflected to some extent on the Anti Nirex tape) the girls have silenced the equality debate, which thankfully, for this project, has gone out of date. Women, dressed in clothes that betray the fact that they are serious musicians and not put together by some creepy media company executive (ie they were dressed normally) performed to a very high standard, as did everyone taking part on the night. Yes the bottom line was that these bands were worth seeing.
I like punky stuff and I like folky stuff, so I wasn’t disappointed. The show kicked off with the Grove Theatre Drama Group (?) Dunstable – performing a song strong on lyrics. We all get how bad it is to be young in a system that does not care about you, but hearing it from kids who are living it and understanding that things don’t have to be that way – made it a powerful performance. I truly hope that these kids do find a future in the arts, even if nobody will fund them.
Gary, known as Slippy Skills came over from Luton and rapped a set, and we were off into a night of sheer delight, as I like to say. He was followed by the Council Tax Band, who really don’t care if they cannot be found on Google. This band was tight, political and had a dynamic girl guitarist as well as the singer/keyboard player. They covered the Click Click track from the Dump it on Parliament tape. I enjoyed their defiant style and material.
Grand Mal were excellent too – a Bedford band fronted by bass player, sound engineer and singer Amy Mason, often found behind the bar at Esquires, Bedford.
Corolla were something different. Their performance had delicacy and a gentle delivery which completely reset the atmosphere. The girl (I should say lady) singer has a completely controlled delivery of her vocals. Holding back and putting space into the music, captured the attention of the audience, and held us in the palm of her hand. Even though this band was quieter, the sentiment and pace of the music was its strength. The musicianship was exquisite, the moment was precious.
In contrast, everything seems to be in a state of explosion around Nick the Poet. He is like a human detonator. When someone with his energy takes the mike and announces that he will read you his poem, nobody would ever consider heading for the door. Nick has written some wonderful stuff over the years. He has a punk heritage that takes us back to the days of the emerging and pimpled UK Decay. Nick gave himself the job of reading a poem to the crowd while there were band and equipment changeovers on the stage behind him. He loves a rabble to entertain and the rabble loves him for his word-smithing. Nick does not beat around the bush. His poetry will ask awkward questions – and on this evening he brings out a poem questioning what Thatcher and Reagan were up to and the disgrace that was Greenham Common. By the end of the night everyone in the venue will know who Nick the Poet is, and probably go to see him if they ever get the chance again.
Rochi and Spon performed a song from the ‘dump it’ tape and had the crowd singing a simple song by a bloke named Kev, and I wondered if it may have been a guy I went busking with years ago in Luton. We never found out but the song brought a great audience response with us singing along with the chorus and the drama group really feeling it. Their tutor, Chris performing as Red Lighter Man also gave us a haunting poem about the times we live in.
The evening was fast paced, so I had a sit down and quick chat with Steve Spon who was co-presenting and co curator of the project. Then I heard someone on the drums and I knew that it had to be Kirk. Halfway through my tea I jumped up and ran to catch the Kindred, because it is the only thing to do when the Kindred get on stage. I have seen this band steam the pub windows up, I would go so far to say that they are rather ‘mighty’.
I just about caught the first song and it was the cover of the Rattlesnakes song ‘No Money’. This being my favourite song of the whole thing, it is not surprising that the pics came out a bit out of focus, I was trying to mosh at the same time. Seems the Kindred were not together as a band at the time but I am hoping they reform and gig because the world is too quiet without their gut ripping energy. All excellent musicians, they seem like direct descendants from some of the bands that made the Anti Nirex tape. Of course I mentioned the Rattlesnakes before, it being Gregg Herbert’s band at one time. It was special to see Kindred, highly respected in my opinion, paying tribute to Gregg and the Rattlesnakes all this time later. It was good too that the boys knew it and felt that respect.
The evening ended with the Defektors, the other band that I had already picked up on the radar as a bloody good set up. I had a chance to speak to their singer, Cara, the enigmatic front-person before they got on stage. The Defektors were covering a song by Penumbra Sigh and I wondered if she knew that the singer had passed away in the last couple of years. I had tried to contact Spiky Kaz, who had been the singer in Penumbra Sigh when I included the track on my radio podcast, but could not connect with her. Cara viewed this news in a mystical light, she has a spiritual dimension about her, and she paid tribute to Spiky Kaz when they performed the song. The Defektors set was the last of the night and they rounded off the evening with kick ass tracks and lively performance. Cara is totally dynamic, having mastered the art of movement and performance, she gives a masterclass in stage craft to anyone watching who would want to learn. I liked this band before, now I love them!
All was filmed by Andrew and others, and the sound recorded on the desk by Graham, from Pere Ubu who did the engineering single-handedly and must be congratulated for not a whiff of feedback! The library staff involved with this project were so friendly and I glimpsed them support the creators as they cleverly navigated their way through their aims and objectives.
What will be my lasting impression of this whole thing? Well I was an outsider looking in, but for me what sticks is that people were just lovely with each other.