From one of the people who pulled it off….
It all started at Fuk Redding Fest in August. I saw me old mate Jay, not long back on these shores from Australia. He has a strong track record of pulling off some amazing protests and benefit shows. We were catching up with some noisy set of buggers in the background, skulling cans of cider like toddlers on the Ribena, when he said, “look mate, I’m doing this gig on the Thames, do you lot wanna play?”
“on the Thames?” I thought.
“Yeah mate, bang up for it” I found myself replying.
“It’s with Oi Polloi and Mark Thomas” he countered.
“Then I’m twice as up for it as I was when you asked!”
Over the next couple of months, he outlined the plan as things came together. Flowers were on tour in Poland, Germany and Holland as the texts were flying backwards and forwards between the pair of us. I was going to book and drive a van, and we would use the PA and backline from the studio I co-run, Dissident Sound Industry, aka DSI, in Tottenham. We would play the Cowley Club in Brighton with Oi Polloi and a bunch of others the day before. It would be the perfect post-tour pick-me-up. Everything seemed to be set.
(The tour, by the way, was excellent – we were welcomed, fed, put up, cheered, asked to play incredibly long sets and paid actual money (!) everywhere we went – not loads but enough to more or less cover the petrol. Big up to everyone we met but especially Od Zmierzchu Do Switu Club Wroclaw, Rude Boy Club Bielsko Biala, Max & the AZ squat, Herne & the Kopi crew, Benny Ben and the Boschuis Pino lot and Annemiek and the Twinfest people for general hospitality and awesomeness)
My back tooth had inconveniently started giving me gyp the day we had left for Poland; barely painful as long as I didn’t eat directly on it, but sore if I did, and I knew I’d have to get it sorted sharpish once we were back. I wrestled with the waiting list and managed to get seen on Tuesday 22nd – three days before the Cowley Club show.
“It’s cracked” said the dentist. “Best thing is to have it out now.” I concurred, not realising what I was letting myself in for. The tooth was whipped out, I was in a manageable but expected state of discomfort for the rest of the day, and assumed that was that. No such luck.
Despite being pretty careful to keep it clean, an abscess started forming. I was working in Bristol on the Wednesday and Thursday and couldn’t get to a dentist. I thought it would be OK though, I could drop into my own dentist on the Friday before work.
Bastard! They were closed on Fridays….
Cue a lovely 13 hours trawling the clinics and A&E departments on Friday, mouth throbbing like Nobby’s Piles as I grew more and more delirious, hammering painkillers at approximately three times the “safe” level. Abscesses, as I knew from past experience, start poisoning your whole system once they get a hold. However, I’d never had a dental abscess before. It’s not that they’re physically different from abscesses elsewhere. But they are legally different; doctors aren’t insured to treat them, only dentists. Unfortunately this is a subtlety which had passed by the A&E reception staff (how, I don’t know – was I really the first person to ask?) and the posters they had up stating that there were 24 hour emergency dental services onsite in not one but two different A&E’s were both complete bollocks. All I needed was fucking antibiotics! In the meantime, of course, the Cowley Club gig had gone south, I couldn’t physically do it and knew all our plans for the following day would be fucked up if I wasn’t at least able to drive the van.
At 11pm, I finally saw a qualified dentist and got what I needed. He also syringed out a load of mucky stuff from my infected cheek and I suddenly felt much better. Fat doses of antibiotics were administered, making me fart like Cyril Smith when the police popped round, but I had the better of the abscess and it was all plain sailing from here. (As I write, it’s the following Wednesday and the bastard is all but gone… not quite, but almost)
Saturday was suddenly back on.
I woke to a phone call from my frantic mother (apparently I have to tell her when I go to hospital, even though it wasn’t a serious condition, she is 300 miles away and would only worry – sorry mam!) but it didn’t matter. By twelve we had picked up the generator and a light, and were down the studio dismantling two practice rooms full of gear plus a load of spare stuff (you can’t just magic a backup guitar head on the Thames beach when one blows apparently). We were to play under Gabriel’s Wharf in the shadow of the Oxo tower. Jay had calculated the tidal times and if we stayed on schedule we would be able to get there, set up, play the whole show between 6 and 8pm and then get the hell out of Dodge before the tide rolled in… With well over 500 people on the Facebook event, despite the lack of an actual location announcement yet, we knew it would be well attended – so, no pressure then. We even managed to borrow enough wood to build an effective stage from the builders renovating the unit above the studio. But there was still one issue. What we were proposing to do was technically illegal and at least quite dodgy. The stretch of beach on the Thames at low tide is technically public land, but there was no permission to turn up and play a gig there and we knew if the police spotted us, we would be completely fucked. Mark Thomas’s people had advised that if we got onto the beach and set up we would be OK, but how to do that surreptitiously? We had a massive van, it was packed full of gear, and almost no-one to help – plus I was not really in a fit state to hump gear. Jay and Matt DSI, who would be doing the sound and had painted his face with a rather fetching skull design for the occasion, were the only humpers and it was a good 200 yards over the wall and down some tricky steps with some properly heavy gear.
Jay’s solution – high vis vests. His, naturally, did little to disguise the man’s massive fucking balls.
Yet it worked. People don’t question a man in a high-vis vest. We parked (again, without any permission) in a loading bay belonging to the OXO tower, told them we were doing something there (oops, a fib – slapped wrists all round) and started humping. Luckily, Jay spotted Bricket, who until recently had been singing for our fellow London punks Slug and had turned up early for the gig. He was quickly issued with a hi-vis and between the three of them, they shifted approximately a hundred fucktons of gear through a crowd of oblivious tourists and across the tricky route to where we would play.
Midway through, a police transporter full of Old Bill parked at the entrance to the loading bay. This was surely it, wasn’t it? I had stayed with the van, helping unload. Fortunately it was parked facing the police van and we were taking everything out the back, so after a quick whispered conversation we decided to proceed and wait to see if they came up to us. I waited anxiously as the lads took amps, cabs and speakers, waiting for the inevitable hand on the shoulder and “excuse me sir…”
Five tense minutes passed. No such hand was forthcoming. I peeked round the van – the cop truck was empty. A few minutes later it disappeared and they hadn’t even glanced at us. The gig was still on!
I parked the van and joined the crew on the beach, much relieved. Oi Polloi and a few other familiar faces had turned up and more were joining by the minute, plus a large number of tourists and passers-by were gathered on the wall and the pier watching us with some curiosity. I busied myself with setting up, a bit of PMT (pre-match tension) coursing through my veins, but beginning to feel more and more relaxed as it was obvious we would at least be able to play. A couple of very talented sand artists had made a sculpture of a sofa and a big drawing of Homer Simpson and were on the acoustic guitars at this point. Mark Thomas and his people joined the gathering crowd, fresh from his Shaun the Sheep protest (Mark was recently banned from six streets in the City of London by a court on the basis that he had repeatedly protested there, so gathered a crowd of sympathisers, and he and they patrolled the same streets wearing Shaun the Sheep masks – no arrests were made…) Mark is a genial and enthusiastic presence – in fact, enthusiastic is probably the very best word for him. He seems to positively revel in sticking it to the man. I hadn’t met him before though had thoroughly enjoyed a lot of his shows and books. But he soon set us at our ease, explaining that he would let Flowers set up and prepare and then introduce some people who were protesting the Garden Bridge before we took over.
The Garden Bridge is one of Boris’s pet projects; use £60m of taxpayer’s money to construct a bridge over the Thames where one is not needed and then charge people for using it. It’s just another Tory scam basically – check out https://www.facebook.com/stopthegardenbridge?fref=ts for more details and lend them your support.
I listened with interest, albeit somewhat distracted by the knowledge that I was about to play one of the biggest shows of my life. By now there were several hundred punks on the beach and a similar number of people – most of whom weren’t obviously punks – watching from above to see what was to transpire. I assumed that most of them would leave shortly after we started, but in any case my focus was on the gig.
And Mark was introducing us. It was, at long last, showtime.
The opening chords of “Ordinary People” flashed by. As I sang the first line – sods law – the mic cord had become detached! But I have been doing this for long enough now that once I’ve started I cannot be stopped. That cord was back in like a rat up a drainpipe and the crowd was subjected to the full rocking power of our furious sonic assault. And the tourists didn’t shift, in fact they generally seemed to be loving it.
The set seemed to fly by. I was giving it laldy, as were the lads. A mosh started to form. More and more people were taking pictures and shooting video; the cheers roared into the air in between each song. No remorse, no respite, just five guys giving it every ounce of energy we had, running on beer (or antibiotics in my case) and adrenaline. We had agreed beforehand to properly go for it and that I would keep the chat to a minimum, and burnt through a set which has often taken up 40 minutes in 25. Songs went out dedicated to the crowd, to the organisers, to the pig-shagging antics of David Cameron; the pit grew and grew, the pain from my abscess lost in the moment.
We got to the end of our set, and the couple of covers we finish with. MDC’s “I Hate Work” went out to my work, as I could actually see the building I work in from the stage! (for the record, luckily I actually like my job!) Then came our closer, a medley of Minor Threat’s “Filler” and “I Don’t Wanna Hear It”. I insisted Bricket – still wearing his hi-vis – joined us for this. He made it through most of the song before disappearing into the now-frantic pit, and the rest of our mates who had made it to the front played pass the mic to back us up on the rest. And suddenly, in the light of the descending sun, we had finished playing. Mark Thomas was thanking us to considerable applause when our drummer Damjan nicked the mic from him and roared into it – to more approval.
The lads cracked open a few cans, backs were slapped, hugs were given and loads of people told us how much they enjoyed our set, as we settled down to wait for Oi Polloi and let the fizz of a great gig carry us through the rest of the day. And well, the Scottish lads did not disappoint. Their stuff is a lot slower than ours, but it’s very anthemic, with huge singalong choruses. I have a few records but hadn’t actually seen them before, so this was really a joyous moment. Deek is a truly great frontman, delivering mini-lectures between songs – there’s no doubt that for the minor stylistic differences we have a very similar political viewpoint and talk about a lot of the same subjects in our music. The moshpit was huge for Oi Polloi, the punks went ballistic and they played for a full hour, starting in daylight and ending in darkness (fortunately we had a pretty decent floodlight – Jay thinks of everything).
When it finally ended, Mark thanked everyone and the crowd slowly dispersed. A horde of volunteers collected every discarded can and the beach was left tidier than when we arrived. Fortunately we had a much larger crew to help with the load out, which was useful as an irate security guard from the OXO tower wasn’t too pleased to see us, but we managed to get the van packed and – eventually – were able to leave, knackered, drunk (with the exception of yours truly, just as well as I was on driving duty and piloting an enormous long wheelbase van around some ridiculously tight streets).
As we headed back to Tottenham we went via Shoreditch – mistake. The traffic ground to a halt. We realised why when we saw a huge mob coming in the other direction – it was the end of the Fuck Parade, presumably just back from terrorising the Cereal Café. We had four people in the van for three seats, and some of the people advised us to make sure one of us hid – which they did, just in time to avoid being seen by the police escort. One other problem: we had taken the studios entire supply of mics with us, and Deek from Oi Polloi had mistakenly taken them home with him. He lives in Helsinki! He let us know the next day as we were packing up – ah well, another thing to sort out. But you know what? WORTH IT…..
Big ups: Jay, Matt DSI, Oi Polloi, Mark Thomas, everyone who came!
Flowers of Flesh and Blood play their next show at the Unicorn, Camden on 6th November, it will be the album launch for their new self-titled CD and is free entry:
FOFAB’s facebook page, with lots of pics and vids of our bits: https://www.facebook.com/fofabuk?fref=ts
The event page, with loads of pictures and videos from the whole day: https://www.facebook.com/events/1137347702959280/
DSI studios can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/thedissidentsoundindustry?fref=ts
And here: http://www.dissidentsoundindustry.com/