The Downs

3rd year in with the Downs Festival and the second year I’ve been invited to help organise a panel discussion with my co-conspirator Anthony Tombling Jnr on the subject of homelessness and rough sleeping in Bristol. This year’s panel brought together an array of people working to tackle the housing crisis in Bristol. Jasper Thompson who is the founder of Help Bristol’s Homeless, Naseem and Shada Nasrullah from Feed the Homeless, Alex Wallace from Caring in Bristol, Frankie Stone from The Big Issue (Bristol) and Councillor Paul Smith who is the Cabinet Member for Housing at Bristol City Council. Avoiding the obligatory statical numbers game that generally kicks off these types of discussion. We started with a list of names randomly selected from an article by Micheal Yong, which appeared in the Bristol Live/Bristol Post, These are the 50 homeless people who died in Bristol you should have known about.

A sobering start to a day of music, festivities, play, fun, and enjoyment, but its one of the reasons I have come to enjoy this one-day festival in our city. As well as homelessness there were panel discussions on Gender Equality in Music Festivals, which may draw scorn from the self-badged anti PC lobby, but screw them given this is too much of an important issue to be left to the reactionary fodder. Equally exciting subjects during the day, included the aptly entitled Brexit 2019, What the Fuck is Going On? Community Rebirth, Social Networks, Technology and Mental Health. It’s a brave decision to integrate this approach into the heart of the event, and the organisers should rightly be given credit for it because it locks the event into the social fabric of the city, which other events often avoid, wilfully.

A review of the overall event, which featured the likes of Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Orbital and Nadine Shah can be found on the B24/7 website.

In a city where some people are obsessively fixated in a debate about the location of a proposed large-scale Arena development, the holding of this event poses some critical questions for me. Firstly, the location of this festival is on public open space that is not serviced brilliantly by public transport infrastructure, but it seems to have managed adequately given the circumstances. Second, and more profound for me…..now stay with me here…

Having worked for Bristol City Council some 15 years ago, moving away and then returning to the city over 2 years ago, I know from first hand this project has rumbled on and is systematic of how large capital projects enter a type of twilight light zone because of political instability. If we are to progress with the concept, then £millions more will properly need to be spent in the future, including technical assessments, the often hidden cost of council officers and the underpinning of any capital borrowing with revenue funds, if the City Council is to provide any officer time and public funding.

Revenue is what funds our public services in the city. In short our taxes, (a council by law cannot finance public services through its capital funds). It’s Revenue that pays the salaries of our council officers and funds the contracts for not-for-profit groups to do the jobs we often do not want to do ourselves, i.e., looking after our homeless and rough sleepers, elderly and vulnerable children. Now I can hear the shout back that one should never confuse big capital projects with more profound social needs within a major city like Bristol. I understand that, and in normal times I would tend to agree, but these are not normal times. These are times of financial austerity on public services. A financial policy that has been absolutely brutal towards those most vulnerable in our city and beyond, but one that ultimately leads to tough choices having to be made about what are our priorities.

Maybe we already have the infrastructure for Arena type performances, and we just might need to work with what we have more creatively? Maybe our music and arts priorities should be about safeguarding our existing network of venues and smaller spaces that support and underpin homegrown talent like the Save the Exchange Community Share Offer (more info here).

But maybe, just maybe, in those public meetings where the heated debates on the future of Bristol Arena will be held, a little sobering humility can be injected at the start of the proceedings by randomly reading out at least 5 names from the list of 50 Bristol citizens who have died in our city. They have died because of a killer we all know, and often seem to conveniently ignore. It is called homelessness and the money spent already on the arena project would have gone a long way to the arrest of this serial killer. For the record these are the five names we shared:

Nathan Arnold

Anne Fitzpatrick

Lee Willingham

Deborah Morris

Wayne Perry

You can read more about them and some more Bristol citizens who have followed their fate here.

Sea Change Festival

24/08/18 – 25/08/18 I have not been to Totnes for at least 30 years and to be honest I had no plans to revisit until being introduced to the Sea Change Festival by a good friend. There is little to recall from this last visit apart from faded memories of a pleasant and a quintessential quiet English country town. Totnes today seems a bubbling town with independent shops, eco-friendly shops, which include a very good veggie restaurant Willow, (87 High Street) definitely worth a visit and the excellent Drift Record Shop (103 High Street) amongst others.

This is the 3rd Sea Change Festival, and the convincing ingredient for my attendance is the regular presence of artists signed to the Erased Tapes label. Over the years artists from the label have increasingly featured in my music collection. This year the festival is effectively a two-site affair with the core of the business taking place within the town, while a larger stage (offshore) is located in a field at Dartington Hall approximately 1.6 miles apart. The line up is once again diverse, imaginary and offers excellent contrast, a full list of the artists can be found on the Sea Change Festival website, so here are my personal highlights and small grumble.

Hatis Noif

Hatis Noif is a vocal performer from Japan and now resides in London. A delicate and diverse mixture of avant-garde, classical Japanese music, operatic in styles with hints of Gregorian Chanting were perfectly framed in St. Mary’s Church. The programme proposed a beautiful ambiance atmosphere, and she did not fail to deliver. Gwenno (Saunders), in the civic hall, who is a sound artist, DJ and singer from Cardiff added some psychedelic power watts to the proceedings, along with the mysteries of songs performed in entirely Cornish. The Immix Ensemble Present: Kosmologie Ancience by Jane Weaver and Sam Wiehl, back to the St. Mary’s Church and you can’t keep a good cornet player down! A multi-disciplinary performance, which included voice, guitar, classical instruments and a visual trance-like, projected backdrop. Folk singer Shirley Collins gave a fascinating, heartfelt and often humorous talk about her life in music and how she traveled the word collecting songs before performing a number of songs from her recent album. Listening to these stories, but a totally different slant on the songs, as if you have been let into a hidden secret.

Those people (like me) who are long-time fans of the hugely influential German band Can were given good opportunity to bathe in our obsession on both days of the festival. Let’s start with Saturday, which provided the chance to listen in on a conversation with Rob Young, author of All Gates Open: The Story of Can. A meticulously researched piece of work. Back to Friday night and the 1.6-mile journey to the Offshore stage at Dartington Hall to catch Damo Suzuki (ex-lead singer of Can) supported by Japanise noise band, Bo Ningen leads to my only criticism of the weekend. Firstly, and I appreciate some people will wholeheartedly disagree with me here, but the performance had no heart and it just felt everybody was going through the motions. Secondly, I felt no cohesion between what was happening in the town centre and what was taking place at the Offshore stage. They seemed and felt like two entirely separate types of events, which in turn run the risk of one part dragging the other down. I voted for the intimacy of the town centre venues and did not return to the offshore site for the remainder of the festival, although there was a perfectly strong line up on offer. It’s a dilemma, which I am sure the organisers knew would be challenging and one that they will need to juggle in future years, but based on my experience at this year’s festival it’s not quite right. Setting these little grumbles aside, which you will find with all festivals, I would happily recommend this little gem of a festival.

They Knew You Were Waiting

Friday night treat and a visit to the Louisana, Bristol to catch David Ford and Beth Rowley perform live. I must admit to a soft-spot for a songsmith and balladeer with the likes of Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, etc being a constant feature in my adult music collection. I make no apology for rating Ford in this league. I’ve been a fan since stumbling a cross his 2005 album I Sincerely Apologies by pure luck in 2007. Beth Rowley, I’d come across intermittingly given her Bristol roots and her debut 2008 album Little Dreamer. Class acts separately they have the confidence and talent to make the craft of song feel easy while poignantly striking at your very rib cage. Ford and Rowley wove their respected sets together perfectly. Ford providing instrumental support to Rowley’s opening set and Rowley joining Ford for a number of duets. Finishing off with their “none-encore.” A reduced to its bones version of George Michael/Aretha Franklin “Knew You Were Waiting for Me.” Based on last nights performance one can only hope that more formal recordings and releases are in the pipeline. Dates for the remaining UK tour can be found here.

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