ACT I: SCENE IV

WEAPONS OF PEACE

Martin Gooding || July 22nd

On Sunday 6th September 1942 this city became the pride of the free world, humanity in it's purest form burst out of the Six Towns, in the absolute refusal by the people of Stoke on Trent to let their brothers and sisters be crushed at the hands of a fascist tyrant. Most of you will already know that I'm speaking of the Lidice Shall Live campaign fronted by Barnett Stross, the heads of the Miner's Unions and most importantly the poor, working class population of this city, who donated the little money they had to spit in the face of the Nazi regime. 

For those who don't know about the campaign here's a little context...

On the 4th of June 1942 a group of British trained, Czech resistance fighters assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. The man Hitler, christened "the man with the iron heart", the man directly responsible for Einsatzgruppen, the group tasked with implementing the so called "Final Solution", one of the most evil men in the history of modern Europe. In response to the murder of Heydrich the fuhrer uttered some of the most terrifying words even spoken, "Lidice Shall Die". Soon after the village of Lidice was razed to the ground, all men over the age of 16 were shot and the women and children sent to concentration camps.

It was pretty tough getting through that section without shedding a few tears of genuine sorrow, the thought that an entire village can be simply removed from the landscape, deleted from the history books is something so terrifying I can barely comprehend it. 

It's not all tears of sorrow, the next part of the story will no doubt leave me a barely comprehensible mess, all red eyes and damp keyboards. 

The people of Stoke on Trent were having none of it, there was no chance in hell we were going to let the story end like that, that's not how me roll. Over £30,000 was raised which paid for the building of 150 state of the art homes. Lidice would live, the people of this city would accept nothing less. 

This city was responsible for one of the world's biggest "Fuck You"s ever screamed in the face of tyranny, oppression and hate. Through that gesture we built a weapon of peace. 

A lot has changed since the end of the war, Stoke on Trent is a very different place. Once again do we have our brothers and sisters knocking at our door in desperate need of help. Often having fled thousands of miles with only the possessions they could carry from an evil that rivals Heydrich himself. Instead of greeting them with open arms, a warm, sugary cup of tea and expression of pure awe, the then Home Secretary Theresa May decided that the best way to greet our brothers and sisters was by hiring vans plastered with the slogan "Go Home or Face Arrest". Theresa May is now the unelected Prime Minister of this country. I think you know how the rest of this is going to go...

An entirely avoidable human rights crisis continues to descend into tragedy as houses sit empty across Stoke on Trent. If Theresa May's previous voting record is anything to go by the next few years are going to be increasingly difficult for those people currently living in the city seeking asylum, stuck in limbo waiting for a bureaucrat to decide whether they will be flown directly back to the country they fear so much, wielding home office papers, just in case it wasn't clear enough that they had attempted to flee their oppressors. We might as well start making "I'm an enemy of the ruling party" T Shirts and fridge magnets and handing them out on the plane. Every year the regulations change, the system has become a Kafkaesque nightmare of never ending corridors, infinite waiting rooms and fear. The fear you will lose your children, the fear you may never see your wife again, the fear that the people in this city, this city that once upon a time screamed that almighty "Fuck You" at fascism, might not want you here. 

Under this perilous system we the people of Stoke on Trent have an absolute responsibility to those that came before us, those men and women who chose to donate their hard earned wages to rebuild that little Czech village, those people who refused to turn their backs, to uphold that great spirit of peace built from our clay. As our government turns their backs on displaced people it is more important than ever that we as a community do our bit to help those in need whether they be the homeless ex-serviceman, our elderly neighbour or the 30 year old woman who's carried her three children across two continents and is now suffering PTSD. As an act of defiance of the state sponsored migrant fears we must unite to help each other through this global crisis. 

There are some amazing groups of people working in the city such as Sanctus, the Jubilee Project and ASHA as well as many others I'm sure I will encounter soon enough. Any time, money or energy you can give these guys will be hugely appreciated and if anyone has any skills they feel may be of help to people in stressful situations, ASHA in particular are looking for any meditation, mindfulness or yoga teachers who may be able to spare a little time to help relieve some stress amongst the group. 

I'm also working on a little bit of a labour of love with ASHA at the moment, I'm really hoping to be able to raise £600 to take a group of asylum seekers on a good old fashioned British holiday to Wales. Something I feel everyone should experience at least once in their life. 

www.gofundme.com/2fnfj6s

www.asha-uk.org

www.sanctusstmarks.co.uk

So back to you lot, it's no longer good enough to expect our government to help these people, we're going to have to take it into our own hands, let's live up to that reputation we built all those years ago, let's scream in the face of those tyrants one more time whether that be Theresa May or Isaias Afwerki and stand together as one city united against hatred, as a weapon of peace.

ACT I: SCENE III

The Power Of The Public Party

Martin Gooding || July 15th

Before everyone starts panicking, there is no need to worry this isn't going to be a contentious rant on party politics, after this introduction there will not be a single reference to Corbyn, May, Brexit or the EU. There will be no shouting at the wealthy or questioning the system, we'll get back to that in due course but for this week, this drizzly midsummer week, I want to talk about the outdoors...

The onset of summer sets off alarm bells in the heads of humans worldwide, and in the case of the Brits the minute that sun comes out we cast off the shackles of the oppressive winter months and funnel into the beer gardens. The mood shifts nationwide, shirts come off and legs come out, it's very hard not to smile with beaming rays of serotonin being blasted in your face.

Traditionally the British engage in a whole array of bizarre activities all year round, we're a nation of Morris Dancing, Coconutting, Cheese Rolling, Effigy Burning lunatics. Some of the most enthralling and magical moments of my childhood were spent in hazy villages, spellbound by the dreamlike rituals, intricate costumes and old brass bands. All of these events occurred outside, rain or shine, communities came out in force to support these events, to be a part of them. The pubs filled afterwards and the parties continued through the night with old folk songs and mesmeric dances, the tankards of bitter never seemed to end and neither did my half a shandy. I still get a little misty eyed at the thought of parade floats and costumes, tradition older than sense, that animalistic desire to play, to create theatrical tableaus, to set things on fire but most importantly it brought us together as community, we all came together to party.

Last weekend Newcastle-under-Lyme played host to Midsummer Wakes, its beautiful artist and community led carnival and parade, now in its second year. I was once again lucky enough to be asked to animate the head of the spectacular Blue Girl when she leads the revellers through the streets of the market town. A viewpoint very few get to see, it's always an honour to be on the platform looking down at the public, watching the smiles appear on children's faces as she turns to them and flutters her eye lashes. There is something truly special about the way a parade shatters the mundanity of day to day life. A group of 18-19 year olds sit in the window of Revolution, oblivious to the carnival - confused by the noise of Cumbria based artist Dan Fox's Boom Bikes, they turn to the window and are greeted by a 20 foot tall cerulean woman on a unicycle, no amount of teenage apathy could hold the grins back from their faces.

Stoke-on-Trent hosted it's own event on the Sunday, Six Towns One City Carnival took over Hanley park again this year as it has for the last 18 years, this time also featuring a stage hosted by the guys over at The Basement featuring a unique mix of Hip Hop and House. The weather was shaky all weekend but the positivity shone through and people from all backgrounds came together to enjoy music, food and spectacle.

Community events are absolutely crucial when building neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities, they are vital to maintaining our identity in a world that's ever homogenising it's traditions into capitalist tools, Christmas and Easter are long lost to big business and the world of marketing. Like the two carnivals that took place last weekend we must, as a city, absolutely make sure that these amazing events continue to exist, we must support them and herald them for the wonders they achieve. This alone though is not enough though, we must create new rituals, burn new effigies and create new parades. We must repopulate our outdoor spaces, our city streets and parks and our fields and brownfield sites with the surreal and the beautiful. We must shake the boredom, the apathy and the misery from the everyday. We must invite every member of every community to help us build these new parades, carnivals and parties. We must build our new traditions together. Those we have lost will help inform the new but we must be flexible we must allow our ancient traditions to reinterpreted by the next generation of residents. Like the town of Lewes, known as the bonfire capital of the world, it's bonfire night parades attract up to 80,000 people and have become well know for their parodies of modern figures such as last years effigies of David Cameron, Sepp Blatter and Jeremy Clarkson that were infamously cast on the bonfires.

I'm not saying we need to burn parodies of public figures in Albion Square, although I almost certainly wouldn't be against the idea. I'm saying that we need to take our equal responsibility in saving the old and creating the new and combining them in equal measure to make sure this city is home to great celebrations for generations to come. The traditions themselves are often treated as sacred and as such have often fallen into obscurity through their inability to appeal to a modern audience, some have been cast away entirely, lost to everyone but those present at these events. As a city we must drag all those memories and ideas and combine them to create breath taking community events and parades across the city. From the celebrations of life and political protest of the spring to the dark lantern lit processions of the winter, our calendar used to be full of such events, maybe city life has changed that a little, maybe the worlds a little quicker paced than it used to be, but we must always we time to stop and look and to admire the power of the carnival.

We must always remember that it is not necessarily the specifics of the ritual that hold the power but the community that bonds around the implementation of that ritual that is truly sacred. A great community builds together, eats and drinks together, paints it's own streets with colour and excitement together, burns it’s effigies together, marches together, whether that be to euphoniums and French horns or Djembes and Steel Drums.

A great city is built from great communities and great communities party together...

ACT I: SCENE II

A LEAP OF FAITH

Martin Gooding || July 10th

 

So between the time I wrote the first article and me starting this one something happened. Something that will send unpredictable ripples through everything we do. 

We left the EU.

Stoke on Trent voted hugely in favour of leaving. 

Stoke receives a fair bit of funding from the EU and a fair amount of that funds excellent arts and culture programmes, some of which I've personally worked on.

So at first I felt angry, betrayed, that such a huge percentage of the city wanted to leave, cutting off EU funding streams to the city at such a vital time in our metamorphosis. At a time when we need all the help we can get. Do the people of Stoke not appreciate what we do? The more I think about it I don't think it was the smartest decision to make but I'm going to try to avoid too much of the political stuff, I'm not here to tell you that you should have voted to stay in the EU. The referendum is over we made our beds so we must lie in them, I'm here to talk about Stoke and the future of the city.

We have far more important things to think about right now, we have a city to rebuild. We've got a City of Culture bid to prepare for, festivals to plan and shows to promote. So we best get onto the next step. How do we move forward from this? How do we make sure that we maintain this momentum?How do we overcome the obstacles that have once again been cast in our way? 

I suppose we need to look at those that were very public in the area when promoting the idea of leaving the EU, people like Anthony Bamford, Chairman of JCB who suggested that "We could exist on our own - peacefully and sensibly" and even went as far as sending out emails to his employees urging them to vote leave. Anthony Bamford, if you genuinely believe in growth in this country, viable economic growth that not only feeds a struggling economy but brings a better quality of life to residents, look no further than the artists, the musicians, the potters, the filmmakers and the writers. See we were planning on using some of that EU funding to do exactly those things. Seeing as you were so adamant that we could stand on our own feet, maybe you'd be interested in making a little investment. Now don't worry I know what you're thinking, those bloody lefties asking for money again, but we've got a plan and it relies very heavily on the belief that we can make Britain great again, this seemed to be a big priority in the Leave camp. 

See to have a truly Great Britain we need culture, culture is one of Britain's largest economies, we are known world wide for our music, film and art. What would Britain be if we'd never had The Beatles or The Pistols? Grayson Perry or Francis Bacon? Stoppard or Orwell? The Royal Shakespeare Company or Welfare State International? Monty Python or East is East?

To compete with our neighbours we need those holding onto that cash to take a little leap of faith with us. Think about it like this you've just walked into a casino with a pile of cash, you step up to the roulette wheel and all the numbers are red, but they still offer you 2:1, what do you do? You make a bloody big bet and hope for the best that half the wheel doesn't magically turn black the minute it's spun. 

Midsummer Wakes Carnival

Midsummer Wakes Carnival

If we were to look at, for example, the Manchester Day Parade just forty minutes up the road organised each year by Walk the Plank now funded almost entirely through Manchester City Council and why? Because it attracts "...Over 70,000 spectators generating an estimated £1.35 million in direct economic spend in the city that wouldn’t have happened if the parade was not taking place" Big cultural events, parades, carnivals, circuses, outdoor theatre all help fuel hospitality businesses and draw the public back into our towns and city centres. This is what we need can you help us to provide it? 

If the big businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire truly believe in growth in the region it's time for you start investing more in the true future of the city, it's artists, musicians and creators. It's all well and good donating to save historical sites and to keep historical pottery in the city but what we need is support to start telling new stories of Stoke-on-Trent, to put Stoke on Trent back on the map. 

Maybe it's unfair to single out one man in this article, this isn't a personal attack on Anthony Bamford or JCB, this is a call to every possible investor, every funding organisation, every government body and local councillor, now is the time, for not only those who live and work in the city, for those who have a vested financial interest in the city and it's surroundings to put their money where there mouth's are . Support us and the infrastructure we create will help support the people of Stoke-on-Trent for years to come and not only will be do that we'll do it with a bloody big smile on our face, balancing thirty foot above the city centre, juggling Emma Bridgewater mugs while playing Dirty Rotten Souls riffs on a guitar made of willow and tissue paper, while screaming the words to Arnold Bennett novels. 

Dirty Rotten Souls front man Mark Bailey

Dirty Rotten Souls front man Mark Bailey

If anything can carry us through dark days it's the power of art and creativity and culture, it was only yesterday I was talking to David Boyd of Beat Carnival discussing his fight to alter the connotations of the parade traditions in the still hostile, partly segregated streets of Belfast. It was only September last year that I met Art in the Jungle an organisation delivering high level arts workshops in the Calais refugee camps to young men and women that had travelled thousands of miles looking for a better life. Art has the power to change lives and not only in the "bring everyone together and have a nice time" sense in the genuine economic benefits to the city sense. We need to be ready to take a giant leap of faith, the day of reckoning is upon us, we need all the help we can get. 

ACT I: SCENE I

Martin Gooding || July 2016

 

Five years, five years, It's always five years. In September 2014 I stood on a stool in a dusty warehouse and made the following speech...

"November 17th 1989, Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel led a legion of students, artists, dissidents, writers, actors and theatre staff in protest. By November 27th 75% of the population had joined them, they called it the Velvet revolution. But now it's our time to come together to change our city for the better, to make it the vibrant, thriving cultural hub it deserves to be. This city was built by artisans, by craftsmen, by creators, we have the keys to its abandoned and derelict spaces and the doors are now unlocked. Once again these buildings will once again be home to the artisans, the craftsmen and the creators. It took the Czechs and the Slovaks just ten days to dismantle the communist state, just think what we can do with 5 years, ladies and gentlemen this is our Wenceslas square, it's finally happening, the revolution starts here!"

On that day I was speaking of ArtCity the huge, artist driven and Esme Fairbairn Foundation funded, programme to open much loved but underutilised spaces to musicians, artists, craftsman and creatives across the city. I tend to see that as my genesis, the day I was injected into this cocktail of stories that make up the narrative of Stoke-on-Trent. 

Now when I say Five Years I'm speaking of 2021 that possible year of culture so many across the city are working tirelessly to bring to Stoke on Trent. The possibility that we may get the injection of support, investment and interest that we saw in Derry-Londonderry and will begin to see in Hull from next year. We daren't say too loudly in case we jinx it, we touch wood every time we mention it. We cross our metaphorical fingers and our metaphorical toes. Our internal dialogues silently debate that big question 

"What happens when they have to pay attention to us?" 

When the rest of the United Kingdom has no choice but to cast its gaze on it's most underrated city. Will the cracks show in our ceramic façade? Or will we once again rise to the challenge of becoming a significant cultural powerhouse. One to liken our neighbours to the North and to the West. A gateway city perfectly combining the influences of our geographical peers with our rich artisan heritage. Half Barnett Stross, half Arnold Bennet with a dash of the Josiah's for flavour, The Six towns is a Chimeric creature born of compromise and a joint will. Can those old routes that connected the towns and carried the clay start to flow with a new creative economy? Will this be enough to permanently alter the narrative of the city? How do we rewrite a story that will lead us into the future?

So let’s have a look at what we've got in our favour...

The audience for arts and culture events is ever increasing, with Appetite making huge moves in bringing world class theatre, dance and circus performances from the likes of Southpaw Dance, Periplum, Rara Woulib and No Fit State to massive crowds over the last three years. People are turning out en masse to see fire, acrobats, carousels, breakdance, ballet, brass bands that play Hacienda tunes and processions of the risen dead through the streets of Shelton. 

The ArtCity programme has opened up spaces across the six towns to new creative endeavours and events such as Pilgrim's Pit, Paradise Now, Airspace's Kules Residency and Restoke's Voyagers. This means not only more venues but a larger variety of venues spread across the six towns and beyond. After the first year of the ArtCity project "... the Artcity Year One investment of £84,000 from  the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation generated a project turnover of £232,848... provided 817 days work for artists, engaged with 1,052 participants, in 105 workshop sessions, to make 12 new works, exhibited or performed over 71 days" (ArtCity annual report). 

The ever expanding and increasingly eclectic local music scene will continue to be a driving force in the city's prospective future. In spite of the recent club and venue closures across many parts of the country, Stoke-on-Trent's DIY spirit has held strong with many successful independent promotions, bands, DJ's and venues propping up the musical community. The city has become a hot bed for house and techno with nights such as Housecats, Move, wOnk, Relate, Stoked, Therapy and Devil's Disco consistently pulling in large, enthusiastic and diverse crowds, where generation gaps are leapt through the power of music and a good old dance. Hip Hop is becoming increasingly prevalent in the city with Beats & Bars and, my event, CULT bringing through increasing numbers of talented MC's and producers, imposing the potteries experience on the genre. A thriving Folk, Blues and Rock and Roll scene being driven by regular events such as Choosedays, Psychadelic Rock bands, a load of metal, a die hard punk scene still fuelled by that passion that Discharge gave us all those years ago, one of the UK's best small venues, charting country singers, some excellent young grime producers and a load of bass music and that's barely even scratching the surface.

Most importantly we have the support of so many passionate and dedicated people who have continually refused to lay down and die in the face of economic decline, austerity, arts funding cuts, foodbanks, Thatcher, everyone else who came after Thatcher, some people who came before Thatcher, the closing of the pits, the closing of the factories, the closing of the shops, depression, and a thousand other things that have littered the proud history of Stoke-on-Trent.

It is important that going into this period of possible change and growth we remember we are more than Slash, Robbie Williams and Phil "The Power" Taylor, we are not a city of pop culture snap shots. Of course we should not forget these figures as we move forward but we absolutely must build new heroes, heroes built to reflect the present and future of Stoke-on-Trent, it is no longer good enough to be the city where Lemmy was born, we must make our own stars, driven by a deep understanding of life in the city, fuelled by oatcakes. 

It always feels like five years to me but this could be the culmination of something much larger, an identity crisis forced upon us by external forces. They tried to take away who we are, they tried to make us nothing more than "Where Robbie's from" or "That pottery place". 

Together we will take back our identities and tell a new story, like Bohemia just with canals and lobby.