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...