Closing the Fleece in Bristol is cultural vandalism

I wrote recently about how the Thekla, a live venue in Bristol, was under threat of closure. The same threats have been hanging round the neck of The Fleece and Firkin, one of the UK’s oldest live venues.

Private developers have been developing office blocks opposite the Fleece for some time, but let us cut through the legalese and say exactly what is happening here. This is cultural vandalism for the sake of profit that isn’t restricted to Bristol, but London, Glasgow, or indeed anywhere across the UK where these venues are either ‘eyesores’ for potentially Millennial yuppies buying their flats next to a pub and are pushed to closure, or pushed to close for future private development.

Cities are being stripped of what makes them special. They’re being turned into places where all character is being stripped only to be replaced by a shadow of what it was but made safe and attractive to be consumed. It’s vandalism that won’t be opposed by any major political party as they too care little or nothing about keeping cities exciting and vibrant, but instead look wide-eyed at the wads of money brought to them by private developers. Fight these developments all you can because what’s coming are cities neutered and emasculated as this is gentrification writ large.

Save the Thekla in Bristol

The Thekla in Bristol is a familiar sight for people living in the city, and if you’ve went out for a night since the early 80’s in Bristol it’ll have been someone you’ve probably turned up at in whatever state your alcohol tolerance decides is good for you. You’ve possibly even seen a gig there in its long history. In both my spells in living in Bristol in the early/mid 90′s and from 2000 for 17 years, I’ve enjoyed a night at the Thekla from seeing Edwyn Collins turn in a show in the 90’s to drunkenly trying to not fall over last time I went whenever that was?

Basically, the Thekla is part of the fabric that makes Bristol what it is.

However there’s a redevelopment across from the boat at Redcliffe Wharf where private developers promise…

a riverside location to work, live relax and enjoy

And…

Extensive external seating, a high quality public realm, and the proximity to a lively and active waterfront will all contribute to the attractiveness of Redcliffe Wharf as a place to work, live and enjoy.

Except take away the Thekla and you remove part of what makes that area unique, but then again you take the Thekla away and you don’t have any competition for the ”event space” and bars promised by this new development. Ah, ‘but you’re just a cynic’ you may say, but the system has been gamed against the Thekla because when the venue was tested for soundproofing it was their quietest days of the week.

Their main issue with the development’s application is that the sound assessment for it was carried out on a Monday or Tuesday night, when Thekla was not at its busiest or loudest, meaning the soundproofing installed at the new development might not be adequate, making it more likely for people to complain.

Now that’s a dirty trick. It also saves the developers money while getting rid of a problem. Of course Bristol Council will fight the Thekla’s corner as they wouldn’t want somewhere that helps gives the city the image it has to die surely?

Oh.

So the council is working with the developers. There’s good reason why the people running the Thekla are resigned to the development gaining planning permission and the venue having to close because the council will ensure it happens.  Too many people will be making money out of it, and if a vital part of Bristol’s cultural soul is ripped out then so what? The people moving in won’t give a fuck and as far as the developers and council are concerned it is these people who matter. So what if some teenagers won’t get to have fun, or people can go and see a gig when you’ve got a shiny, bland vacuous development probably selling £12 loaves for people to buy.

This sort of gentrification isn’t new, nor is getting rid of venues for redevelopment, but the fact is in cities across the UK it’s one-way traffic in terms of who wins these battles. If Bristol City Council want to turn their city into a bland paradise for people fleeing London then they risk destroying what Bristol is and the spirit that attracted so many people to come, stay and add to the city’s culture rather than replace it with over-priced flats in a tediously cold development.

I’m now back in Glasgow having moved last year from Bristol, and we’re facing the £12 fish supper as the Barras starts its path to gentrification (which threatens the future of the Barrowlands as a venue) but Glasgow, like Bristol needs jobs and housing, and housing that is affordable to people on minimum wage however those in charge of Bristol have decided the city isn’t going to be for those people hence the Thekla’s likely end.

It isn’t all over of course. Public opinion can change things especially if it shames a council and a mayor, so sign this petition, share it and if you live in Bristol write to your councillor, MP and MEP in order to cause as much of a stink as possible and hopefully the Thekla will survive. I’m not optimistic but I want to be proven wrong and just for once, the developers are the ones who have to jolly well fuck off.

 

 

The worst things about Bristol?

A little note before anyone gets stuck into this blog. 90% of it was written during Christmas 2015 as it was a sort of half jokey/half serious blog listing things that annoy me about Bristol that’d I’d list before heading back to live in Glasgow with a large part of it written before we had a change of mayor. Then I had a stroke, and then diagnosed with cancer which put plans on hold, possibly permanently, but now I’m cleared to travel I’m heading back to Glasgow. Looking back at this nearly a year later it’s odd reading it as if I wrote most of it now it’d have an entirely different tone and I even considered binning it though decided not to, so I present it here as it was written with the extra 10% thrown in to finish it off. Enjoy..

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A blog post titled 10 Things I Hate About Bristol has been flying around for a long time now and it’s entirely true as Bristol can, and often is a fantastic place. However as much as I enjoy living in Bristol, there’s things which are utterly awful about the city beyond the usual image of Bristol as this hipster/student paradise that’s often painted in not just the London-based media, but local media which often skims over Bristol’s rather large problems, not to mention it’s horrendous local politics.

I’m not saying Bristol is a terrible, grim place,. It’s not, that’s other places but as my time here draws to an end as I return to Scotland and my native Glasgow it’s time to say a few things that I’ve been meaning to say for years but have saved it up for this…

So diving right into the list in no particular order…

1/ It’s no longer a ‘Rebel City

The above graffiti  was displayed on the Portway at Avon Gorge back in 2011 shortly after the ‘Stokes Croft riots‘ which were supposed to be a signifier of Bristol’s ‘rebellious spirit’ but all the last four years has done is to show that rebellion can be marketed as one would frozen peas.

As the reasons for the riots passed into myth, legend and bullshit, the marketing folk fell upon Bristol so Stokes Croft, and indeed Bristol, was marketed to the hilt. After all, actual genuine rebellious spirit can be a bit scary as it might end up changing something, so far better to repackage it for middle class Londoners looking for somewhere ‘authentic’?

2/George Ferguson.

georgeferguson

Ferguson is our first elected mayor. Everyone seems to complain about him but few voted for him. I didn’t vote for him, I voted for the Green candidate back in 2011, but enough people that did vote were taken in by Ferguson’s line in neoliberalism, not to mention his red trousers. Look, he’s wearing red trousers!!

Ferguson opened up the city for exploitation to private developers. Indeed, he’s transformed the city in ways that don’t benefit people of certain social and economic classes. If you’ve got money Bristol is a glorious place for the well off to enjoy, but increasingly being poor in this city is being made harder and harder, and it seems that our scarlet betrousered mayor does not think the poor, or indeed areas outwith the city centre or more desirable areas worth dealing with. After all, there’s not a lot of votes for him in Southmead but there is in Clifton or Redland hence why infrastructure and public services in the latter areas are massively superior to poorer non red-trousered voting areas.

Then again gentrification is profitable, for the right people that have invested in the right properties and an architect like Ferguson is doing what people like him have always done which is look after his and his like. The rest of us can go whistle.

3 /Buses

bristoltraffic

Getting a bus in Bristol can involve a risk to one’s life if that is, the bus actually turns up. To explain, Bristol is an old city at it’s core so it’s really, really not designed for the traffic volumes it gets but rather than doing things like setting up a congestion charge zone in the centre, bringing back trams or looking at ways to get people living on the outskirts of Bristol into the centre cheaply and easily, the city has let things fester for decades.

So assuming a bus comes (if a snowflake falls then the city is locked in gridlock) you then have to hope it’s not rammed to the gills. In fact I’ve gotten on buses that have been so full people have been standing on the stairs clinging onto their lives by their fingernails, but drivers let people on. Then you’ve got to hope your driver isn’t reliving the best bits of Mad Mad: Fury Road and you’re not driving at 80mph up the Gloucester Road.

Bristol’s infrastructure is by far the worst of any city I’ve lived in, or been to, and I include London but that’s got a superb infrastructure compared to Bristol.

4/ Cabot Circus

cabotcircus

If you’ve got a city famed for it’s sense of individuality and it’s then a great idea to build an expensive temple to consumerism and open it at the start of the worst recession in living memory. Opening a shopping centre that looks like a shopping centre anywhere on the planet is the least worst thing about it. It’s helped destroy shops elsewhere in the city centre but hey, it’s got some posh shops!!

5/ Londoners

The Bristolian dialect and indeed, culture, goes back centuries. Problem is with gentrification the dialect and culture is being pushed out the city to be replaced by Londoners.  Lots of them. As a non-Bristol native myself I get the element of hypocrisy and the ebb and flow of cities means culture and language adapts while retaining what makes cities unique.

Then the Londoners move in and the city you thought wildly different just turns into an extension of the South East of England. That lively culture isn’t embraced by most of the people coming in, or worse, there’s a pale pastiche of a city’s own dialect and culture thrown back at itself by people with a shimmering contempt for it. Of course it isn’t everyone, but seeing areas change into a sort of Shoreditch of the west means Bristol has lost what makes it Bristol in parts of the city.

6/ Graffiti artists

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I love street art. Most of it is great or brightens up an area. Some of it though is a two-fisted blind monkey-wank done by people desperate to be the next Banksy but in reality would end up being binned for even the Vision On gallery back in the day. Bristol is full of people like this. A word of advice, please give up the day job.

7/ Clifton.

clifton

Yeah, it’s nice and everything but it’s also amazingly false. You also need a second mortgage to buy a pint here.

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At this point if things had stuck to the original blog outline there’d be more things to moan about, but here’s the thing, for all the many, many problems and issues with Bristol I’m going to miss the place and the majority of people. As a city it is wonderful, but it’s also changed in ways that were I not ill and in need to regroup and recuperate, I’d probably stay in for years to come.

Looking back at the words of a year ago there’s a lot of simmering, internet rage. I especially like the slagging off of George Ferguson who is no longer mayor having been voted out in May and replaced by Marvin Rees who so far is a bit crap, but nowhere near as annoying.

2014-05-10 18.10.17

Bristol is a glorious place. It’ll be for all the flaws a beacon of whatever the progressives and the radicals can make of it, even with the skin-crawling yuppie students trying to out-Barley each other. So cheerio Bristol, it’s been emotional.

What has my MP Stephen Williams done?

As regular readers of this wee blog know, I’m a Scot living in Bristol so that means my MP is one Stephen Williams, a Lib Dem MP elected on a wave of hope and optimism. Sadly he’s worked hard to extinguish as much of that early promise as possible and has ensured he’s thrown any liberal tendencies down the toilet in order to help prop up the coalition.

His voting record, is frankly, fucking shameful, especially when it comes to welfare.

  • Voted moderately for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”)Source
  • Voted very strongly against raising welfare benefits at least in line with pricesSource
  • Voted strongly against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disabilitySource
  • Voted very strongly for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial needafford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such supportSource
  • Voted strongly for a reduction in spending on welfare benefitsSource
  • Voted strongly against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young peoplewho have spent a long time unemployed

Bristol West is a constituency that features some of the most affluent areas in the entire United Kingdom as well as areas of high unemployment, especially among young people.It’s also a seat that features a high student population, hence the strong Lib Dem support over the last decade or so.

It’s a seat being let down by it’s MP, unless of course, you’re wealthy or you’re so insulated to what’s happening to this part of Bristol that you don’t notice the people sleeping in the streets, or the young people trying to find work or the struggles most people have to go through. The situation is in the area that the richer areas are becoming richer and the poorer areas are being readied for gentrification as money flows in but as it’s not actually ‘trickling down’ to the poor sods kipping in the shopfront of Oxfam shops, or the family priced out of the area thanks to landlords letting to affluent Bristol University students. The cracks are evident and there’s two good things that come out of the fact Williams has been a compliant Lib Dem drone is that the support for the Green Party is increasing. Back in May  the area gained two new Green councilors and support is growing, especially with the  more  middle class residents of the area that have some sense of social responsibility as we cannot continue propping up a system where Tory and Labour argue about how quickly they’re going to impose more austerity and more cuts upon us.

The other bit of positivity is that UKIP spent a lot of money in the city last May and failed to make the gains they hoped, and indeed, they look to be stagnant in terms of support in Bristol.

So over the next few months I’ll be campaigning to get rid of Williams for the Greens, (I’m also going to be helping out in Llanelli to campaign for Plaid Cymru) in hope that perhaps the area gets a better MP that represents everyone, not just the wealthy who benefit from living here.

Also, as someone that wanted Scottish independence, and wants Wales and England to enjoy the same level of self determination as Scotland, there’s one more reason to campaign to get Williams out.

  • Voted moderately against transferring more powers to the Welsh AssemblySource
  • Voted very strongly against transferring more powers to the Scottish ParliamentSource
  • Voted moderately against more powers for local councils

So yes, come May, fuck you..

A quick word about Vice’s article about Stokes Croft

Today Vice published an article about Stokes Croft in Bristol, and in particular, Chris Chalkley and the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. It’s essentially a publicity piece for Chalkley and the PRSC that shows no actual journalistic questioning and assumes Chalkley speaks for the majority in the area, while repeating the same old myths about the riots three years ago, not to mention the gentrification of the area.

I’ve spoken about gentrification in Stokes Croft before, not to mention the 2011 Stokes Croft riots which has been completely shaped to be something entirely different from what happened over the month or so when those riots happened. As said, the Vice article repeats some of the myths, or frankly, lies that have been spread by Chalkley not to mention a media mainly based in London. It doesn’t seem to also know much of the history of the area, for example:

For years, the area has been best known for its derelict buildings, squats and a collection of local charities that serve the homeless. If you’ve read anything about gentrification before, you’ll know that those criteria make it an area primed for investment; it’s an inner city pocket offering cheap rents and a bunch of affordable places to hang out, meaning students and arty people have moved in, giving it the cultural capital that developers can exploit on the billboards for their pricey new penthouses.

 

While it’s true that a decade ago Stokes Croft was known for it’s cheap rents, squats and (it still is) known for derelict buildings, things have changed drastically in the last six or seven years. It’s now a desirable area which means rents have skyrocketed, house prices have went through the roof and the area is being shifted towards catering for a young affluent community while the established community is quietly being pushed out of the area. Part of the drive to make this area attractive came from Chalkley and the PRSC.

I’ve commented previously that Stokes Croft is in the middle of a tug of war as multiple groups try to grab control of an area which has changed dramatically since 2007. Yes there’s still derelict buildings, the odd squat and if you’re lucky, a reasonably cheap rent but these won’t be there for much longer as the multicultural area becomes whiter and more middle class. In this Vice article Chalkley describes various ways to help but the detail is thin. the article also repeats the flagrant greenwashing the PRSC used to get the ‘93% of people are against Tescos.

Regardless of the PRSC and their plans, developers can already expect to face plenty of opposition in the area. In 2011, 93 percent of local residents objected to the opening of a Tesco Express in Stokes Croft.

 

There’s too much taking Chalkley and the PRSC at their word and telling their side of the story which ironically is one of the things which drives gentrification, not to mention getting the media in London to notice them which produces articles like this which is all window dressing but missing essential detail. Yes there is a mention of rents going up as if it’s something going to happen in the future as opposed to the here and now.

I’m glad the media are taking an interest in parts of Bristol that isn’t Clifton or the Suspension Bridge, but the misinformation and lies around Stokes Croft is frankly, fucking depressing. Of course gentrification has brought some benefits but a deeper investigation as to the motives of those involved is needed before the area is lost forever to the sort of people who’ve made vast parts of London utterly horrible. As I’ve said in my previous blogs, there’s a lot of people being moved away from the area silently through to having being priced out and their voice isn’t being hear in the rush to present Stokes Croft as a Hipsters Paradise. They should have their voice heard and journalists should question more and accept less because they’re fucking journalists……

 

It will rain at 10am…The Tale of Glastonbury 2011

2011 should have been a fallow year for Glastonbury Festival, but 2012 was the year of the London Olympics and they wanted to use some of the festival’s infrastructure so the fallow year’s were swapped round. Considering how wet 2012 was this was a lucky escape.

The festival in 2011 had a lot to live up to after the 40th anniversary blowout in 2010. It was a hard year to top, but it didn’t really try to and it’s a fact some year’s simply are better than other years. The lineup was ok, with bloated tax avoiders U2, dreary indie bores Coldplay, and tedious pop princess Beyonce headlining the Pyramid Stage in an otherwise solid lineup.

glasto2011poster

By now the festival wasn’t even really pretending to be an alternative from the establishment any more and although aspects of the festival were truly alternative, the idea of an alternative culture wasn’t what was attracting most of the people coming to the festival. They wanted to raise their hands in the air when the stage lights turned yellow and sing along with Coldplay. By now the UK was in a weird place. Labour were gone, and the first peacetime coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems were in place with terrible things lying in wait for the weaker in society. You’d think this would mobilise people in vast numbers, especially after three years of recession but no, the majority were out to have fun.

The idea of alternative youth culture was effectively dead for most people. When mainstream culture and what was left of alternative culture met, it was only at the likes of Glastonbury which would cause a shock to some to see something which wasn’t this homogenised TOWIE version of what ‘The Young’ should be like.  Glastonbury for all the U2’s and Beyonce’s of the world still offered something different for those willing to look.

By the time 2011’s festival rolled round, I’d moved to a new flat and things were stable, if somewhat dreary and annoying with work. Change was needed and it couldn’t come a moment too soon. Before then was this year’s festival. This was going to be a huge one as not only had our motley crew expanded somewhat but with the addition of my friend Bridget (who I’ve mentioned in passing before when discussing comic conventions in Glasgow in the 1990’s) and her 9 year old daughter Rhia who were coming down from Glasgow.  It should have been a fairly sensible Glastonbury but it ended up with everyone in a mess looking at a fire and wanting baths, beds and a lack of mud…

glasto2011

I get ahead of myself though.

The plan was for Barry to pick Bridget, Rhia and myself up from Bristol and take us to Glastonbury and we’d wait in the car parks overnight so we’d get out usual place in Park Home Ground, but for a variety of reasons this fell through so thankfully another friend of mine, Tess, offered to give us a lift as close as possible to the site because she didn’t have a ticket but we thought if we’d got to an entrance we could carry our stuff.

Before that though we popped into Glastonbury itself so we could give Bridget and Rhia the guided tour of the town not to mention some chips! Once recharged, we headed to the festival to try to see how far we’d get with both Tess and myself reckoning we’d get to the first gate and we’d cart our stuff from there. We joined the queue, and got to the first gate which we passed with no problem, then the next gate and found ourselves just before the entrance to the field we’d arranged to meet people at the final gate. We’d got amazingly far, in fact much, much further than we’d bargained for and scored our first lucky break of the festival. A wee bit of haggling didn’t get us any further so Tess left us while the three of us struggled in the dark with a load of stuff we couldn’t really seriously manage between the three of us.

Two adults and a 9 year old child cannot carry several tents, several rucksacks, sleeping bags, several slabs of beer and other stuff in the dark, at a festival. The fact we got several hundred yards was amazing but we couldn’t get any further. with nothing to lose I thought I’d call our friends Wig and Katie as they’d texted to say they were onsite, so it was worth a shout to see if they could help and we could wait for a few hours while they found us. We found a flag in the carpark with a number obviously on it and I made a call with a vague hope of help arriving in a few hours.

In fact Wig was about 100 metres away and both he and Katie were with us lending a hand within 20 minutes. Lucky break #2!

We all wandered up to join the smallish queue for the festival and to bed in for the rest of the night for the six or seven hours we had to wait to get into the festival. Thankfully the weather was warm and dry as we joined the queue right next to where some other friends of mine were! Lucky break #3!

Over the next few hours we all chatted away, tried to have a doze, necked a few beers, and hoped it wouldn’t rain, but one of our crowd, Paddy, gave the prediction that it would ‘rain at 10am’. With that deadly prediction we realised the priority was once the gates opened to leg it across the site to where everyone would be camping but word came down the line that security would open up the gates early as a massive storm was indeed coming but before Paddy’s prediction of 10am. As the queue started to move, the rains came down and we struggle through the churning mud like ravers dropped in the middle of the Somme as we pulled, and pushed and dragged ourselves and our stuff though the mud and fields.  Sadly we lost Paddy and the others, but Katie, Wig, Bridget Rhia and myself eventually found Janet, Jan and the others in our usual space and all the time we were racing against the oncoming storm clouds.

The rain came again as I was putting my tent up. Big whopping globs of warm summer rain slapping against me and in my tent as I raced to put it up, though by the time it was up with Bridget’s help, I was drenched and my tent was a swimming pool. Still, the rain had stopped, I’d mopped out my tent as much as possible, and decided to give Bridget and Rhia a guided tour of the festival when it was still not raining. However showing a bouncy 9-year old round the site when your days of being lithe and fit is not a good idea so we eventually ended up on the hill overlooking the festival to give the idea of the scale of the thing, which is exceptionally impressive when it’s clear and sunny like it was that afternoon.

Wednesday ended up with people sitting around the campsite being drunk and is often the case, Wednesday gave way to Thursday and a bright, dry day. Thursday’s at Glastonbury are amazingly busy days now as it’s when everything starts up apart from the main stages but to me this year started to feel like the hangover of 2010’s massive blowout. This isn’t to say the acts that were down to play were tedious dross, (though some were) but it felt somewhat anti-climatic. Fortunately what shook me out of my ennui was the Kidz Field. Now, I’ve been going to Glastonbury since 1992 as laid out in these blogs, but not once have I set foot in the Kidz Field. I’ve been backstage across the site at various times over the years, been in the farmhouse, Michael Eavis’s bedroom and seen the cows close up but never in the Kidz Field. This is mainly because I’ve never had the chance to and also an adult male hanging around the field by himself is just a bit too Savile really so thanks to Bridget and Rhia I managed to experience the last bit of the festival I’d never been to.

The Kidz Field is an utter joy. It can get astonishing tiring watching kids run around being kids but it’s a lovely place to escape the lunacy, not to mention the sometimes annoying antics of the main festival.  It’s a great wee island where the ethics of the festival as it was when I first went still exist, not to mention they’re being instilled into kids who will be driving on the festival when I’m old or long gone.

But a festival isn’t made by the Kidz Field alone so Thursday was another day of wandering, not to mention seeing some acts, including at the new Spirit of 71 stage which was to celebrate the 1971 festival which was filmed as Glastonbury Fayre (something I’m going to talk about in another blog sometime) but the problem with the stage was it was crammed in between two stages, plus sound from the Jazz/World Stage (now renamed West Holts and now a nominal third stage) would bleed in when over the weekend when the wind would change. There were, and are, simply too many stages crammed too close to each other. Less is sometimes better, and also, it’d do some of these acts good to have them on larger stages. The trying to cater for everyone by organising things onto stages is one thing I dislike about the modern festival as it tries to make up for the glorious chaos of the pre-fence years.Of course the problem is that most people now coming never had any experience of the pre-fence days so to most, it probably didn’t matter than in places it was well, a bit touristy. I’ve spoken about gentrification before and Glastonbury has been pretty solidly gentrified with little islands like the Green Fields and the Kidz Fields proving the festival still is what it was meant to be. This isn’t to say I’ve fallen out of love with the festival but that there perhaps needs to be a re-evaluation of what it’s doing before it really is just a shadow.

But I digress. As Thursday continued we headed back to the campsite for a recharge, and spotted some poor girl struggling to put her tent up by herself. We quickly found out she was Japanese and had come all the way over from Japan for the festival all by herself with only a very basic understanding of English. That’s bloody impressive. So we found her name out eventually, helped put her tent up and welcomed her to our group though how she managed with the mix of accents from all over the UK in varying degrees of drunkenness is a mystery.

Thursday ended in a sunny haze, and as Friday emerged from the cocoon of the previous day it promised a lot, including some threatened rain in what had been a mainly dry festival since the deluge on Wednesday morning. This maybe because serial tax avoiders U2 were headlining the Pyramid Stage and the fates wanted to electrocute minuscule wanker Bono, but for whatever the reason the gnats of fate did sting and lo, did it solidly piss down for most of Friday to the point where the festival became a muddy mess. Watching WU Tang Clan in the pissing rain is fun, but by the time Big Audio Dynamite played The Park things were cold, wet and muddy. I’d lost everyone who I was with so headed back to our campsite mainly to find them but as they weren’t there I decided to shelter in my tent to listen to Primal Scream play the whole of Screamadelica as the rain pissed down as I thought about the first time I saw Primal Scream at Glastonbury nearly 20 years earlier in the warm sunshine.

Saturday was a chance to assess the damage of the rain. We’d built a shelter for us to sit outside and socialise all with some tarpaulin and ingenuity  and this had managed to mainly survive the night.  Saturday was also the chance for me to see Swedish Indie group Those Dancing Days, who are one of those bands who should have been on a main stage rather than stuck away at The Park on a Saturday afternoon. Sadly their act was hampered with serious technical issues as referenced in this audio clip.

The Park by now was a gooey mush of mud, and seeing as the rumour that Pulp were playing a secret set there had been confirmed, it was becoming a packed gooey mush of mud. Although the day was generally warm and sunny, The Park hadn’t dried out, neither had many of the paths to the stage. So when I went away and came back The Park was crammed full, so I yet again went to the hill overlooking the field and listened to Pulp play with a load of other people as you can see in this video around the 0.13 mark.

They played a good set but if you look through some of the videos of the gig on YouTube you’ll hear people talking constantly through some of the less well known songs. This is something that annoys me about not only gigs at festivals but generally. Why come to a fucking surprise gig if all you’re going to do is talk bollocks for the entirety of the set? What are these people going to tell their mates, ”oh, went to see Pulp and me and Lucinda had a chat about Eastenders”?

Anyhow, the plan for me was to head back to the campsite, get some more beers and make it to Glasvegas who were playing the John Peel stage, but the problem was the Chemical Brothers were playing The Other Stage which was packed like I’d never seen it before. This could be because the boredom made flesh that is Coldplay were playing the Pyramid Stage for something like the 2,000th time. The frequency of Coldplay headlining is frankly a joke and shows a paucity of imagination for the organisers. Yes, I understand it’s hard to arrange a headliner but the festival shouldn’t be that concerned about pandering to a TV audience or indeed, Coldplay fans because they’re boring.  The Chemical Brothers however put on an amazing show that was anything but boring. Organisers take note….

Sunday gave us a beautiful warm summer’s day which dried out much of the farm which meant the boots came off and were replaced by sandals! There wasn’t much I really wanted to see apart from the splendid Queens of the Stone Age, and possibly Paul Simon. Oh, and The Wombles.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a load of grown men and women struggling to play their instruments while wearing Womble suits in 25 degree heat, which means they were much, much hotter. It really gets bizarre when they’re doing that and performing a Christmas song in the middle of summer.

Back at the campsite we all worked out what we were going to do. Most of us were knackered from wading through runny, then gloopy mud and then being roasted in the sun so while a few of us went to see Beyonce for her one good song, most of us stayed at the Other Stage for Queens of the Stone Age for what was sadly a pretty thin audience as most people seemed to be at the Pyramid to see Beyonce perform her one good song and then prance around for 90 minutes. In fact it was so quiet for QOTSA, I managed to get right down to the front.

After the bands finished we all ended up back the the campsite for one last night but we were knackered. It’d been a weekend and a half with none of us getting any younger as well. Next morning we all said out farewells knowing that there was no festival in 2012 because it it being a  fallow year, and the Olympics were happening. 2012 was a chance to recharge.

Monday morning we all packed up, went our separate ways as Bridget, Rhia and myself trudged to the bus station to get the loooonnnngggg bus journey back to Bristol and to a jumpy cat, a warm shower. and eating off proper plates. The guys stayed a few days longer before heading back to Glasgow, while I rested for a few days before taking on the St. Paul’s Carnival.

2011 was a good year. Our wee group gained more people like an unstoppable zombie army, and the festival had settled into the modern age with good and bad to show for it. 2012 was a rest year but the festival would be back in 2013 but by then I’d have left my job, left another one and ended up bouncing around working for utter wankers. 2013 could have been a horrible year, but instead it’s one of the best festivals I’ve ever done.

I’ll tell the story of that year next time…

The Stokes Croft Riots-Three Years Later….

On the 21st April 2011, a series of riots broke out in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol. They’ve generally went down among the media, and indeed, many people as the actions of local people protesting the opening of a new Tesco’s store near the area. In fact, that was an excuse because the reasons behind these riots are for more than anti-capitalist reasons. I’ve touched upon these riots before in a blog about gentrification, but here’s how things went down three years ago.

There used to be a comedy club called Jesters on the Cheltenham Road in Bristol. This closed when the club moved over the road to a venue which is now currently closed so this left an empty building on a road where there was a few empty buildings, including a squat just over the road named Telepathic Heights because of the graffiti plastered on it.

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There’d been problems in the previous years at Telepathic Heights but on the whole it was a typical squat (I lived in a squat for a few months years ago in Nottingham though there were just two of us and it was the quietest squat in the Midlands) with a seemingly endless supply of homeless people suffering from various addictions mixed in with middle class drop out’s playing at it, not to mention the anarchists, Crusties and the people you’d expect at a squat in the middle of Bristol. There wasn’t too many problems outside of noise, and sadly, walking on used syringes (I used to live on Sydenham Road which is just behind the building, so I know how bad it was at one point)  and all the detritus from a squat.

Around the autumn or so of 2010 it was announced a Tesco’s store was to open in the old Jesters building, which was to be honest, an arsehole move. At that time I was living on Bath Buildings, a road which would have been hammered by delivery lorries, not to mention it’d take business from the lovely little corner shop at the bottom of Picton Street.

A map of the are is handy just so people can understand the geography of what I’m talking about as this was all happening in a very compact area about half a square mile if that.

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In late 2010 a group of anti-Tesco’s activists decided to launch a campaign against it’s opening which is where things start to go a bit wrong, not because protesting against Tesco’s is wrong, but because of the methods used.

There was a survey taken of people whether they wanted a Tesco’s to open on Cheltenham Road, or as it was asked, ‘Stokes Croft’ even though Cheltenham Road isn’t Stokes Croft it’s in fact Montpelier.It’s important to note this because it’s a deliberate obfuscation as Stokes Croft itself had been sold as a ‘brand’, mainly by the PRSC who were trying to rebrand the area as ‘Bristol’s Cultural Quarter’. To many the actions of the PRSC were fine initially as it was about street art brightening up a rundown area but when they became more political and began speaking ‘for the people of Stokes Croft’ even though nobody involved with the PRSC has ever set themselves up for any election locally, things started looking a bit shifty.

Anyhow, back to the survey. This was taken on a few weekday mornings of people walking to work past the Jesters building where they were asked whether they knew a Tesco’s was being planned, and did you approve?  Nobody was asked their address, where they lived, or anything you’d expect from a group trying to get a survey together. It was essentially an excuse for No Tesco in Stokes Croft to proceed with this bit of street art.

The problem is that there is no way of knowing whether 93% of ‘local people’ said no, because at no point did anyone define what ‘local people’ meant, or indeed, even admit they’d not addressed the fact that they’d asked passers-by who could be walking from anywhere further up the road whether they lived in the area. There was no definition of ‘local’ Again this is a deliberate obfuscation.

You cannot conduct a legitimate survey like this without asking whether people live there or not, and you cannot get away with vague but self-important message like the above art, because it hurts the overall message. At this point though it was still a peaceful, though increasingly controversial protest because it seemed more to do with various people within the movement’s political ambitions in order to expand the influence upon an area that they’d built up in the previous few years.

I need to make it plain that local people were not asked. Houses round the corner were not asked. The only people asked were people walking to work. I’ve had it said that it was fair because it’s what organisations like Tesco’s do, which is a skewed argument if you pretend to take the moral high ground and say you have ‘local people’ supporting your cause, especially if you don’t live in the area as was the case with several of those involved with the protest at an organisational level.

By spring 2011 the sight of regular protests outside the building which would house the new Tesco’s was fairly common, but it again was all very well mannered and peaceful, if somewhat twee at times. There had been a few incidents at Telepathic Heights including one where Cheltenham Road had to be sealed off due to a man on the roof throwing things at people on the street, but again there wasn’t anything worse than that.

April 2011 was a weird month. There was a late Easter, which was to be followed by a royal wedding on the 29th April which was another long bank holiday weekend following the long Easter bank holiday weekend. The smarter among us worked out that taking three days holiday would give you a nice long break from work, and when the weather forecast looked to be warm and sunny this is exactly what plenty of people were looking to do so the 21st April was going to be the last day of work for many people for up to 12 days, if not more.

At the end of March/start of April, Telepathic Heights population boomed as people from all over Bristol, and indeed the South West seemed to descend upon it as it was the focus for the protest against Tesco’s. Some of these protests were less peaceful as the it got nearer to the store opening with things boiling over with people getting fed up in the week or so before the 21st of April with an all night party which ended up keeping people awake all night and drawing the attention of the police.

By now, the squat was home to a serious mix of people, many of whom were just there to get fucked up and couldn’t care less about the store over the road. It also didn’t help the situation that in the run-up to the bank holiday the squat’s mess spilled out onto the street outside, with all the wreckage you’d imagine. Things were tense to say the least as the police were acting upon Telepathic Heights because it was no longer just a squat, but a house which was full of people who frankly were looking for trouble to break out.

Thursday the 21st April was a warm, sunny day. I’d moved to the Gloucester Road from Bath Buildings a few months earlier, but my walk to work still took me past the new opened Tesco’s store, and across the road, Telepathic Heights.Outside the squat a couple of crusties were swigging from wine bottles at 8 in the morning on a stained sofa where they could leer at the new Tesco’s store across the road. The mess in the street was vile. That evening,  I’d finished work at 5.30, had a few drinks in the Full Moon at the bottom of Stokes Croft, and walked past Telepathic Heights about 6.30 or so and much of the mess had been tidied up but it was still unpleasant. Cheltenham Road itself was heaving as all the pubs and bars were full of people who’d finished work and were enjoying a drink.

I was heading for the Cat and Wheel at the other end of Cheltenham Road, which was my local, and where I spent most of the rest of that night watching things unfold and get lots and lots of first hand accounts.

What is agreed is that the police moved in around 9pm to evict the squatters of Telepathic Heights as they’d apparently been warned that there were plans to petrol bomb the new Tesco’s store. Now why the police didn’t evict people sooner, when say, locals had complained about the noise and mess is a bit of a mystery, as is why they decided to go in at 9pm on the Thursday before a bank holiday weekend rather than early in the morning.

What is also true is that the police went in mob-handed. Was there really a need for over a dozen wagons and hundreds of officers from across the region and from South Wales? Would not a dozen or so police first thing in the morning clearing out the squat been more effective than dozens piling in wearing full riot gear?

At the same time word was spread on social media about what was happening, so hundreds joined the crowds in the streets, which incidentally had been sealed off by the ridiculous amount of police vans.

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A mix of heavy handed police, a protest, and a number of opportunists who took this situation to have a riot meant that by 10pm a riot was in full flow. The following week riots broke out again during the royal wedding bank holiday, mainly because by now people had arrived who were looking for trouble and they got it. The events of these riots are all over the internet and Youtube. There’s plenty of footage of people being smacked by police, and rioters throwing bricks at the police.

This was not as some have said, a riot to compare with the St. Paul’s Riots in the 1980’s as that was about racial prejudice from the police, and the working class families of St. Paul’s being treated like animals by the establishment. That was people who’d been oppressed spilling over with anger. This was about people who were a bit pissed off with Tesco’s taking an opportunity to cause damage to the very area and people they said they were trying to protect. There was a hell of a lot of shite written about the riots, but to see why there was another set of riots a week later one needs to draw attention to the national press, especially this article by Sam Allen in The Guardian which featured these two paragraphs.

I will never condone violence and smashing up Tesco is not my approach but I am clear that the damage caused to Tesco’s property last night is relatively insignificant compared to the damage Tesco has been able to inflict on this community.

Bristol City council has a clear choice now: continue to let Tesco trade and risk last night becoming a regular occurrence or support the community it is supposed to represent and tell Tesco to leave.

 

This was quickly picked up to mean ‘come on down and smash the store up’, and as far as I can see, Allen never had the decency to explain these comments which were just on the legal side of incitement. What also didn’t help was this account of the riots in the New Statesman by Laurie Penny which is a shockingly poor bit of journalism but features this paragraph worth addressing:

After the pubs turned out, more people turned up to join the ruckus. “There were a lot of drunks,” said “Sarah”, who lives near the Telepathic Heights squat (she asked me not to give her real name). “This was a totally spontaneous protest. It tapped into the tension that the area has felt since Tesco opened, a fear of gentrification imposed by the council. There were masked up, clued-up activists, myself included, but the majority were young people from the area who were up for kicking off and wanted the police to leave.”

 

And this:

What happened in Stokes Croft has stirred up Britain’s growing anti-cuts and anarchist movements, with supporters travelling from across the country to Bristol today. 

 

The first section features comments from ‘Sarah’ and suggest that gentrification is being driven by the council, but the truth is somewhat different. Until the mid part of the 2000’s (or noughties or whatever last decade is called) Bristol City Council couldn’t give a toss about Stokes Croft. It was only around 2007 or 2008 after gentrification had started that the council suddenly realised there was money to be made from wannabe Banksy’s and Hipsters moving into the area, and of course the PRSC were fully involved in all of this.

It’s also worth noting ‘Sarah’s comments about ‘young people in the area’. These are the kids who are pissed off. These are the kids who can’t live in somewhere like Stokes Croft because it’s now too ‘vibrant’ for them, so they’ve been priced out and shunted back in St Paul’s. These are the people who at every point in this never had their voices heard. We only heard this story told through people like ‘Sarah’ or journalists like Laurie Penny.

As for the idea that those riots were about austerity, that was shown to be laughable. History says otherwise. So what were they about? They weren’t about austerity, and they certainly weren’t about Tesco’s. There was anger about the police being so extraordinarily heavy-handed, and there was anger about the way they dealt with the evictions from Telepathic Heights. The problem was there were multiple reasons why they happened but it was a perfect storm of heavy-handed police, a squat which was out of control, a protest that was allowing this to latch onto it, locals angry about gentrification, and people just wanting to smash some buildings up and break some heads.

The effects were that local businesses had to close. People’s homes had to be repaired. People themselves who lived in the area had to pick up the mess while journalists vanished off back to London to witter on romantically how Stokes Croft means something, even though the gentrification it’s had has meant a drastic change. You now have Guardian articles suggesting Stokes Croft as somewhere to live as somewhere for a bargain half a million quid. Though there’s a comment in that piece supposedly from the person who set up The Cube worth noting.

Quite simply the area is undergoing gentrification but by a mulitplicity of agencies and groups. Its too early to know what will really happen but if you read the wikipedia entry on gentrification its hilarious. The branding of the ‘area’ by PRSC has been undertaken in earnest maybe but more and more it looks like an empty and shallow emotional solipsism unable to regulate its use of the street as a canvas (yes some people hate graffiti, or too much of it anyway). The area is just filling with people trying to feather their own nests or jump on the cash booster bandwagon.

 

And here’s the point. There was no protests at another ‘massage parlour” (brothel to you and me) opening at the bottom of Stokes Croft in  2011. In fact when I brought this lack of protest up with people who were part of the No to Tesco’s group, I was told that that was fair enough and it wasn’t as bad as Tesco’s. So exploitation of women is fine, but a fucking supermarket is beyond the fucking pale!

Three years on the area is gentrified. Not fully, that’ll be in a few years but it is as mentioned in that comment from the Guardian above, just now an area where various people are fighting for their own cut of an increasingly profitable pie with the people who lived there prior to 2007 being tossed aside and shunted away so wealthy students, Hipsters can live there. It’s increasingly losing the multicultural feel of the area and moving to a street which is becoming increasing less like what made this area of Bristol what it was, and more like London with businesses from there seeing the area as somewhere to expand into. It’s now like many other gentrified areas thanks to the new wave of people moving in since the riots especially.

The riots didn’t stir up the anti-cuts movement or the anarchists. They did give developers along with leeches like the chancer running the PRSC a chance to make something from ashes. but that something is only going to be for the people who can afford it. That’s the legacy of the riots. Not that a new progressive movement has seized the people of Bristol but a group of pseudo-liberal capitalists have exploited the area for their own gain and their own profit.

That’s the tragedy of all this. Something good could have come of the events of three years ago. It could have helped social injustice in the area, but it’s helped mythologise the area to exclude people from being socially equal so when you walk past one of the many cafes or bars on the street consider what the prosperity of the area is built on and who exactly had to pay for it so Bright Young Things can move in to take advantage of it.

Things Can Only Get Better-The Myth of Gentrification

This is the story of how gentrification of Stokes Croft in Bristol hasn’t made things better, and hasn’t rescued the working class established community of the area from the poverty that they were in, and that gentrification was supposed to save them from.

First, a wee bit of background…..

Stokes Croft is a street in Bristol, though the name is now used to define an area which stretches from the Bearpit, a name commonly used for the St. James Barton subway and you can quickly see why it picked up this nickname from looking at it.

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I first saw the place in an piece on the late lamented Snub TV back in the 80’s during an item about Crusties and how to recognise them! Oh those crazy days! The sort of person that inhabits the Bearpit now tends to be the Trustifarian hippy, along with of course many people with drink and drug problems.

This is better than Crusties begging, or drunks falling around the place isn’t it?

No, actually it’s not. The problem is that since the area began it’s gentrification around a decade ago, it’s gained additional problems in that the previously established community has been usurped so that what actually, attracted people to the Stokes Croft area (the multicultural mix, the Bristolian culture, the cheapness of the area) has been replaced with horrible monsters like Shambarber.  After all the world needs a fusion between house music and  cutting hair….

If all this sounds cynical, then you’re entirely right but the point is that the Afro-Caribbean community is being pushed out. The working class in the area are being pushed out to be replaced by the affluent, and semi-affluent Hipsters who make area’s like Shoreditch in London such a chore to pass though.

I’m not saying that bringing money into an area is bad. but when an area like Stokes Croft is gentrified, then something honest is lost as the cracks are pasted in, and the undesirables are shunted off elsewhere to be dealt with in poorer areas. Gentrification distorts property prices, (an example in Peckham here) so local people of all races, colours and creeds are forced out to be replaced by the sort of bland mass of Hipsters and students which means you might get a nice craft beer, or a home baked pizza with truffles on it, but schools, libraries, and places where the community meet and mix are replaced by endless amounts of pubs, cafes, and bars which then create a new set of problems.

This of course leaves the people who lived there the choice to somehow afford to live where in some cases, they may have lived there all their lives, or more commonly move somewhere cheaper, which means that the ‘development’ of an area is often more like social displacement as people who’ve invested in an area are replaced often by people who come from a wealthier background who are buying the ‘authentic’ nature of an area but not wanting to actually go through the horrible messiness of living in actual poverty, or near anyone who isn’t like them.

Now if this all sounds bitter, twisted and just a tad hypocritical you’d be probably quite right. I am of course one of those people who in the early 90’s and 2000’s was part of the gentrification in my own wee way and of course, places like Bristol have always been places where people come and go so there’s a constant flux of what an area is like.

There is of course a fine difference between coming to an area and integrating with the established community and helping price and drive that community out. Organisations like the PRSC don’t help either when they clearly encourage the sort of development that drives people out, while at the same time pretending to be ‘working for the community’ when really they work for a small number of people, many of whom don’t even live in the area. There’s also the farcical No to Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign which although they weren’t directly responsible for the riots in 2011 were highly influential in the depressing romanticisation of them in parts of the media. Considering that the area is supposed to have a stand against corporate culture, there was barely a murmur when the American chain Papa John’s recently opened an outlet recently even though their business practises are even worse than Tesco’s. I won’t even talk about the complete blank the PRSC and it’s supporters made when a new ‘massage parlor’ opened up in Stokes Croft, but I heard some insane defences of the place from people who were happily protesting a supermarket, alibet one which is swamping areas everywhere.

The point is that I’m trying to make in this long, rambling rant is that some change is good. Regeneration is good. Public art is good. New blood in an area is good. What isn’t good is social engineering and shifting out the poor so capitalist hippies can move in under the guises of ‘redevelopment’ to cleanse an area. It’s the tedious monotony of money and wealth winning over everything else.

We should question the motives behind gentrification and we should hold the people on all sides accountable while ensuring the established community isn’t left behind, or more commonly shunted off elsewhere so the newcomers don’t have to deal with them.

So there it is. I think the point I was making is we can all live together……

Somewhere In My Heart……

This is Glasgow…

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This is the city I was born in, and spent the first 21 years of my life before moving to Bristol. It has without a shadow of a doubt shaped me, though not as I am now as there’s bits of Leicester, London, Nottingham, Bristol and all the other places in the UK, and across the world that I’ve stayed in, visited or passed through. It is however Glasgow which molded me. I’ve blogged briefly about my life there, but the city itself I’ve only recently touched upon the city itself as it’s as much a character in my life as anyone I’ve every known, and in some cases it’s been more so.

Glasgow is a city like now other. It’s not got the horrible disconnect from reality London has. Or the distance from anything relevant that say, Leicester does. Or is as sometimes horribly contrived as Bristol can be. It is a schizophrenic city with extreme poverty lying only a mile or so from extravagance, then again, the city’s always had some of that but now people seem to forget that people living in the likes of Easterhouse, or those that come from the East End, or the working class streets of Maryhill and Possilpark (that’ll be me) are the beating heart of Glasgow. This is a city that embraced the basic socialist idea of trying to drag everyone out of the gutter, not just the chosen or lucky few.

It’s a city which encouraged kids like me to take an interest in art, or film or anything that wasn’t seen as ‘traditional’ working class pursuits, because frankly, it’s a city whose philosophy  was to drag us all up, give us the basics we needed to survive and send us out into the world like spores. That’s one of the reasons there’s so many Glaswegians living in every nook and cranny of probably every city on the planet. Well, that and the whole escaping poverty thing.

It’s the city that taught me that people like Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame were cool. It’s the city I helped, in my own very small way, the future of Glasgow’s comic scene. It’s the city I learned to appreciate me for myself. It helped give my soul the callus it needed to push on into the world.Some of that edge has been blunted over the years as I’ve been worn down over the last few years but I can still draw upon what Glasgow gave me. It’s that certainty of thought, of purpose, even when you know you’re not entirely sure of what you’re doing.

This is Maryhill Road in the 1970’s. I’ve mentioned before that I seem to remember most of my childhood in Glasgow in black and white so this is how I remember the area then.

I’m glad the city is clean. I’m glad we’ve moved on. But I miss those times. I miss the glorious bleak beauty of industrial Glasgow.I miss the community. I miss the variety. Yes, Glasgow is now a fantastic cosmopolitan city, but like any city that’s been heavily gentrified it’s gained much, though at the same time it’s gained the same vacuous people who take over former working class areas and change it for the worst. See also Stokes Croft in Bristol, but that’s a topic for another time….

That aside, Glasgow is still in essence the same. It’s moved on. It’s better in places, worse in some, and in several cases it’s not moved on at all. It’s a sum of it’s parts and that’s the beauty of it.

I don’t know whether I’ll move back. I may in the next few years, or I might not but if I’m to do it then it’s going to be the next four or five years. If I don’t then I’ll probably wander the earth…..or not. I do want to move back but much is dependent upon the next 12 months or so, but whatever happens I’ll always carry Glasgow within me. That will never go away…………