AS I write this, the Tory conference is plumbing depths of pinched-faced and mean-spirited xenophobia, uncharted even by its standards.
So it is good to be heading across the Channel to Europe, their ghastly nemesis. I could, of course, point out to the delegates that they are already in Europe and there is absolutely sod all they can do about it.
But it’d be like talking to vegetables.
Yes, my column is literally on the road — or, rather, the waves — this week because I am writing it on the ferry on the way to Germany and Switzerland, the latest of my regular trips with my band Barnstormer.
The radical music and performance scene in mainland Europe is very different to ours and it’s almost impossible to describe the contrast to British musicians and punters who have not seen it at first hand, used as we are to gigs invariably taking place in pubs and mainstream commercial venues.
Hundreds of alternative cultural centres grew out of the /hippy/punk/squatting scene in the ’60s and ’70s and now, legalised, form the backbone of a pan-European circuit across the German-speaking countries, Holland, Scandinavia, Italy and Spain.
I feel completely at home touring round them. Not only is everyone on the same wavelength politically, it makes everything so much easier. Musicians, regardless of status in terms of commercial popularity, are treated like royalty and the accommodation is mostly in the venue, so you can stagger off to bed when the — always free — beer takes its toll. It’s ever an absolute pleasure — we’re doing Cologne, Tubingen, Munich, Lucerne and Mainz and then it’s home for a much-needed break, more or less, after weeks charging round the country in support of Jeremy Corbyn.
There are few comparable venues in Britain but I had a gig at one last Saturday. I was in very good spirits after Brighton won at Hillsborough for the first time in our history and drove to the co-operatively run Sumac Centre in Nottingham for a lovely evening as part of their contribution to the wonderful We Shall Overcome weekend.
Well done to Eagle, Rachel and Pete for all their hard work setting it up, to all who played and a special mention to singer/songwriter Chris Butler, who gets better every time I see him.
The following day we had the last of the present series of JC4PM tour gigs — it was great to be able to change the name back from Keep Corbyn — at the Birmingham Rep theatre.
Congrats to organiser Crispin for getting us a venue right next door to the Tory Party conference, with “only” a steel fence, piles of security and phalanxes of police, many armed, separating us.
What a contrast from the Labour conference the previous week, where security was minimal. Sums up how things are in this country right now.
I’d like to put on record how much I’ve enjoyed the company and work of my fellow performers on the Corbyn support tour. Jeremy Hardy is not just a comedic genius but manages to be simultaneously charming, sensitive and dead hard politically.
Matt Abbott is the finest young poet I’ve seen since Luke Wright. And he can hold his ale. Barbara Nice is much more than nice — a sharp, working-class woman with a commanding and disarming stage presence.
Francesca Martinez is a sophisticated stick of wobbly dynamite, Steve Gribbin transforms pop classics into bursts of withering political satire, while Grace Petrie and Robb Johnson write fist-pumping folk-punk anthems and sharp, incisive political songs.
Frank and Crispin hold it all together with great organisation and timekeeping too, as long as I’m the compere — only joking.
There are many more artists involved, and many more gigs to come. We’ve got Momentum...
Quick plug for my gig at Durham Book Festival at the Empty Shop venue, Sunday October 16 at 4pm and now... off for some German beer. Cheers!