At some point during the busy year that was 1994 we got involved with Liberty, Charter 88 and the Levellers and were invited to help create a nationwide interactive tour of music, art and performance to promote awareness about the civil liberties implications of the Criminal Justice Act, called The Velvet Revolution Tour.
The plan was to open at The Hacienda in Manchester and finish at Heaven in London at Megatripolis, the night before the Queen was due to give Royal Assent to the legislation, playing as many dates around the country in between as possible. And so it was.
Over a summer of meetings and planning a great crew were assembled, drawn together by the willingness to stand up and be counted in opposition to the impending government plans.I had just been able to buy my first live in truck; making taking part in the tour possible for us. In 1993, knowing the CJA was on its way, I had managed to get onto a post grad in photojournalism at London College of Printing, thinking it would be handy to have photographic facilities to use in London.
I wrote a brief about the situation for a competition sponsored by the British Photographic Importers Association called the Jack Jackson Memorial Award, and won. The prize was £1200 and money for the truck came out of that. Later I had to present the results at the HQ of Kodak in Hemel Hempstead and ended up having dinner with the MD of Nikon. The VR rehearsals came first though.
Nestled up right next the The Forum in Kentish Town was an old squatted church called the Rainbow Centre. For years it was a social center and real community asset. It was a great park up in the center of the capital, somewhere you could always just rock up, find friendly faces, and a temporary truck home.
We did a few great free parties there. On this occasion it was a rehearsal space to gather and plan The Velvet Revolution while the bands used The Forum to rehearse in. The center is long since gone, as are most long-term large squatted buildings in London, casualties of government’s ongoing policy of closing all the potential free exits from the fascism of a mortgage market ruled by their banking masters.
Fresh out of London the bunch of hippie wagons, trucks and buses that contained all of us fired up for action Velvet Revolutionaries hot-wheeled it up the M6 to Manchester for the grand opening of the tour at The Hac. With a press launch at Dry Bar and a handy park up in some squatted tower blocks in nearby Hulme, we finally got the ball rolling. Even Billy Bragg turned up to help spread our message that government legislation would affect everyone’s civil liberties not just those of the minority groups that they were using as an excuse.
The opening night was immense. Clearly everyone was excited about playing one of the most legendary venues in the country. Smokin’ Jo in the Phone Bar downstairs playing Charleston while people danced on the tables was something else.
We had our very own troop of fully kitted out riot police on board to bust the venues we were playing in without telling the punters what was going to happen. One of our girls got carried away in her costume, marched out in front of an actual riot van passing outside the venue, and stopped them in the street before being bustled away by her more sensible colleagues, leaving the bemused coppers in the van to figure out what had just gone on.
From there in no particular order it was The Q Club in Brum, Club Oz in Plymouth, Marcus Garvey in Notts, Sheffield Students Union, Farnham Uni, Sussex Uni, followed by a free party in an old Sainsbury’s in Brighton with Blue Room and a remarkable Sunday after shindig lazing round in hammocks in the squatted actual Brighton Courthouse. Finally it was Heaven in London with Megatripolis, the night before we were made criminals by royal decree.
Everywhere we went, the strength of local feeling and support for what we were doing was phenomenal. Random people turned up with food at most venues because we were doing it all for free. Total strangers stopping to help and going completely out of their way to get us fixed when I broke down. Racing the Irritants in the night drive from Plymouth to Farnham.
Along the way were all the free party crews and spirit and community you could ask for. Smokies, Lazy House, DiY and Go Tropo to name but a few. In an out of venues time after time with the mighty Immersion speakers. Watching the students watch the Operation Solstice documentary on the Battle of the Beanfield where the need for legislation against this culture really began in the minds of authority.
Tom's amazing Sunnyside film twisting perceptions. Realizing the true depth of national opposition to the CJA. Notts Police on full alert nearly evicting us from the Garvey car park before the gig thinking we were rioters from outside Parliament in London come to cause trouble up north.
LS Diezel’s awesome pikey acid tunes. Electric Groove Temple, Exploding Cinema. DiY Pip an Emma in Heaven. One Eye Sam and his sculptures. Sid, Wayne, Vernon, Justin, Kenny, Bella, Martin, Tina, other Wayne, all unique people. The films I shot from Farnham, Heaven and the free party in Brighton have disappeared somewhere, its upsetting losing history.
Democracy lives in the actions of everyday people, not in the abdication of personal political responsibility to someone in a political management consultancy. This was diy culture in action and it felt like real freedom, especially because we had diesel cards that worked for months afterwards. Resistance is fertile and we are more possible than you can powerfully imagine...