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I’M WRITING this on the coach to Calais, where 18 of us are beginning a two-day, 172-mile sponsored cycle ride to Antwerp in aid of Brighton’s award-winning Albion in the Community football coaching scheme for people with disabilities.
By the time you read this I’ll be charging through Flanders, fuelled by lovely Belgian beer. Wish me luck.
A few weeks ago, I had a great time at Merthyr Rising, a proper urban festival held in the centre of that compact, hard-hit but proud and spirited valley town. “It’s full of Leavers over there,” I was warned by various apocalyptic Brexit obsessives and so it is.
But the presumed implication that it is a hotbed of right-wing bigotry couldn’t be further from the truth. I wish people could get over this stupid divide-and-rule nonsense.
My ninth birthday — October 21, 1966 — was the day of the Aberfan disaster, when a primary school near Merthyr was engulfed by a mountain of coal slurry due to the abject negligence of the National Coal Board. Many children lost their lives.
My still-vivid memories of the headmaster’s solemn announcement of the tragedy at my primary school that day, and the effect it had on us and on me personally, have been turned into a poem. It received a standing ovation in Merthyr, one of my most moving experiences in 40 years as a performance poet.
I then wandered over to the main stage and came across a brilliant, original and highly politicised and musically inventive bunch called Thee Deadtime Philharmonic, interviewed in the Morning Star in the run-up to the festival (https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/c/responsibility-lies-us-inspire-youth.) I’d heard the name, but no more, and it was a special moment. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about them.
Then to Worcestershire to headline the spoken-word stage at the Mello Festival, a family-friendly gathering very much as the name suggests. It was a truly pleasant atmosphere and I had a great gig but the place was absolutely infested with covers bands.
What’s the point of covers bands at a festival? OK in a pub on a Friday night – if you must – but festivals are places to book artists playing their own material, old and new, established and up-and- coming. As I do at Glastonwick, the real ale and real music bash I have co-run at the beautiful Coombes Farm in my native West Sussex for the past 24 years, which took place last weekend.
Eighty beers, all from small independent breweries, many of them one-off festival specials, all sourced by my beery co-conspirator Alex. Twenty bands and solo artists, all playing their own stuff.
The weather was beautiful, a wonderful time was had by all, and it was an absolute honour for me to welcome legendary anti-fascist punks Angelic Upstarts as the headline act for the Friday.
They did a storming set, as did Les Carter, the Unstoppable Sex Machine and my old and uniquely eccentric mate John Otway. The younger punk generation was amply represented by Wonk Unit from Croydon and local rockers My Pet Shark and vast quantities of beer were downed by all concerned.
On Saturday and Sunday, we showcased a host of women performers — Carla, fronting young ska outfit Dakka Skanks, the punky jazz-folk of Muddy Summers & the Dirty Field Whores, fiery Welsh anarchist singer-songwriter Efa Supertramp — whose band Killdren has just been banned from Glastonbury thanks to the Tory press — London feminist rockers The Kut, feisty punk poet duo Cheery & Peesh, the powerful country voice of Naomi Bedford and the incredible riot grrl energy of Brighton’s own Pussyliquor.
Establishing a powerful female presence on stage has always been part of the Glastonwick manifesto. And it was an absolute pleasure to welcome my old maverick poet friend John Hegley for the first time and to play fiddle on the stirring songs of punk icon TV Smith.
All in all a brilliant weekend and roll on 2020, our 25th anniversary.
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