Any Colour You Like

In which The Author doesn’t go to a music festival

Having said that, I wasn’t going to go to this particular music festival anyway. For one thing, I wasn’t sure whether the Circumlocution Office would get my money sorted out before Xmas. However, when I switched my phone on yesterday, they had texted me confirming my claim and advising me that my first payment would hit my account within three working days. An actual text message. By Department of Work and Pensions standards, that’s pretty much cutting-edge technology.
The other reason I’d rubbed out the pencilling-in on the calendar was because of the festival’s location. Briton Ferry isn’t the most immediate draw for tourists in South Wales – not unless they’re studying Industrial Architecture and/or Environmental Pollution, anyway. It’s also virtually impossible to get there from Aberdare by public transport without crossing your own timeline and passing yourself making your way home (see Nice Work If You Can Get There.) Nevertheless, my friend Elvis Preseli (the only bald, Welsh-speaking Elvis tribute act who doesn’t actually sing any Elvis songs) was on the bill, so a fair number of Aberdare people were planning on making the journey down there. And that’s where the problem occurred.
My friend Dai Joseph, who’s been a stalwart of the anarcho-punk scene ever since there’s been an anarcho-punk scene in Wales, has formed a new band called The Sick Livers. They’ve been going down quite well, and did a few gigs in London last week. They were also slated to appear at the Briton Ferry Festival. Until this afternoon, anyway…
Dai’s wife Mel sent a Facebook message to the Aberdare contingent earlier this evening. The Sick Livers had been told by a Jobsworth at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council that their services wouldn’t be required on the day. As it’s a family affair, apparently there were concerns that Dai and his pals might start swearing on stage.
Well, shock horror! Great Scott! Lawks-a-mercy and heavens-to-betsy! Gracious me! Bless my soul! (and so forth.)
I vaguely remember the media furore over the so-called ‘Bill Grundy Incident’ in December 1976. I was ten years old, and the TV programme wasn’t shown in Wales anyway, but the following day the newspapers exploded into ‘foul-mouthed punk rockers’ scandal. Punk bands used to turn up on Top of the Pops, but you could never hear the words, so it didn’t matter what they sang. My first ‘real’ gig was Crass, at Trecynon Coliseum in 1984 (see Zigzagging Down Memory Lane.) Until the summer of 1983, my only real encounter with ‘swearing’ on a record was on Money by Pink Floyd, where Dave Gilmour sang the memorable couplet, ‘Money, it’s a hit / Don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit.’ When they issued The Final Cut, with the memorable cry of ‘Fuck all that!’ on Not Now, John, it seemed as though I’d entered a new level of music entirely. (Mind you, the lyrics were printed on the inner gatefold sleeves of both LPs.) It just wasn’t the same when the Radio Edit was changed to ‘Stuff all that!’
I was fairly convinced that Sting had used the word ‘cunt’ in Rehumanise Yourself, on the Police’s Ghost in the Machine LP – but with no lyric sheet, how could we know for sure? As for Kevin Ayers’ Lunatic’s Lament – did he really sing ‘The town is full of fucking people…’, or was it my imagination? It’s too late to ask the poor bugger now. He died a few months ago. Mondegreens are everywhere anyway. My friend Emma J. recently confessed in her blog to singing, very loudly, ‘Woollen, I can hardly express…’ to one of John Lennon’s singles, and insisting that she was right and her mother was wrong. (See Emma’s blog for further details.)
Anyway, A Flux of Pink Indians got the Coliseum gig underway in tremendous style, with a barrage of percussion and a rousing chant of ‘Fuck off, Thatcher, Thatcher fuck off!’ Spirit of ’76 and all that… After that, it seemed as though my psychological jams had been kicked out (muthafuckas!) and music finally came of age for me.
When The Stereophonics won their first Brit award, grandmothers across the Valleys swooned as Kelly Jones stepped up to the microphone and declared, ‘It’s about time we got some fucking recognition.’ He had a point. The boys had been slogging around the backstreet pubs of South Wales for the best part of a decade before finally hitting the big time. They were up against karaoke-singing clothes-horses and Reality TV show rejects. They were producing decent music and telling stories of life as it it was. But that wasn’t why they hit the headlines the following day. No – what really got people talking was the fact that Kelly had sworn on TV.
A decade or so later, Radio 1 (and, to a lesser extent Radio 2), frequently drop out expletives from chart-topping singles to avoid upsetting the delicate sensibilities of their audiences. Let’s be perfectly honest here: if you’re listening to the sort of crap that fills up the Radio 1 playlist these days, you’ve got far more serious issues to worry about – like a total lack of interest in music.
But, as Jimmy Cricket used to say, there’s more…
According to Mel, The Sick Livers were also shoved off the card because (allegedly) they wear black clothes. As my young friends might say, what the actual fuck? I remember a letter appearing in NME in about October 1983, in reply to a review of Death in June. According to the NME‘s critic, the fact that Douglas Pearce and his friends wore black clothes on stage and employed ‘military-style drumming’ meant that they must have had ‘fascist tendencies.’ (In fact, Pearce sacked bass player Tony Wakeford soon afterwards, as he had ‘right-wing leanings.’)
The correspondent pointed out that both of these accusations could reasonably be laid at the door of Crass themselves – arguably the founding fathers (and mothers) of the anarcho-punk movement. The same could have been said about A Flux of Pink Indians, D&V, and a veritable horde of anarcho-punk bands. Rubella Ballet came as a welcome splash of colour in the early-to-mid 80s, when one was confronted with the anarcho bands on one side, the Posi-Punks on the other, and the nascent Goth scene creeping up behind you. For fuck’s sake, when I saw Death in June supporting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Camden Electric Ballroom, January 1985), Pearce and his pals took the stage wearing army surplus Arctic combat fatigues – they must have been the only people in the entire venue not wearing black!
So, the question remains: why were The Sick Livers sidelined ahead of this weekend’s festival? If the organisers were worried that they might swear on stage, maybe they should try listening to BBC 1Xtra for a few minutes. If, on the other hand, the prospect of bands wearing black clothes on stage terrified them, they should take heart from the fact that it’s the first time they’ve ever tried organising something like this. They could have started three decades ago, when they could have booked The Cure, or Bauhaus, or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Of course, in the worst-case scenario, they could have approached Johnny Cash to headline the gig. I wonder how the Man in Black would have responded to their directive telling him to wear a colourful shirt. I’m fairly sure that the plain-speaking king of country-rock would have been found guilty on both charges.
I’m just disappointed that Elvis Preseli always goes for the Las Vegas era, white leather jumpsuit look. Imagine if, just for once, he decided to go for the 1968 Comeback Special rig, all black leather and menacing snarls. He wouldn’t get further than the hospitality tent. Deprived of their headline act, the organisers would be straight on the phone to Dai, begging forgiveness and offering The Sick Livers their full fee plus a bonus. And, if I were Dai, I’d tell them to go fuck themselves…
PS July 5 Dai emailed me yesterday to say that the main reason The Sick Livers weren’t allowed to perform was that they wanted to set up a stall giving out literature from The Vegetarian Society and PETA. The organisers didn’t want to upset the event’s sponsors – McDonald’s. Personally, I think the boys did the right thing and told them to go fuck themselves.
Yesterday’s Western Mail led with an article about obesity in reception-class schoolkids in Wales (McWatt, 2013.) For a local authority with a supposed ‘health promotion’ agenda to accept the Almighty Dollar in exchange for junk food advertising seems hypocritical at least. However, to ban literature which promotes a healthy lifestyle and animal welfare, for fear of ‘upsetting’ a global company smacks of pure cowardice.

REFERENCES

McWatt, J. (2013.) Nearly a third of reception class children in Wales are overweight or obese, Western Mail, July 4 2013.
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