Shouting, Swearing And Politics, Part 2
Second extract from a new book of cutting edge hilarity
In the second part of our exclusive serialisation of Attitude - Wanna Make Something Of It, alt. comic original, Tony Allen, recalls his tear strewn attempts to perform on stage at Glastonbury Festival after being CS gassed by the cops.
6th February 2003
Glastonbury Notes 1998.... Golden rules of stand up comedy. Never do a gig on CS gas....
The Green Futures field at the Glastonbury Festival is where the various eco-warrior groups and their supporters have their summer holiday. Many of them run stalls, cafes and bars, others are holding their annual general meetings. I tend to hang out in the Squall tent which is a shade decadent for Green Futures but suits me - they serve straight tea with cow's milk and have a range of spirits. After a tea, flapjack and brandy for breakfast I leave Squall and walk across the wet mud (the odd harsh shower has stopped it getting sticky) to Ecotrip.
The Reclaim The Streets debate and slide show is heaving. I've had a word with the organiser the previous day and scheduled myself in to have a rant immediately after. I plan to give my Millennium bug - End is Nigh - diatribe an airing. I spend some time standing at the back by the entrance sussing out who the audience are as they come in. "What is it man?" "Reclaim the streets" "What's that?" Despite their appearance a lot of these people are tourists. I decide to have a look at the crowd and the room from the vantage point of sitting pedaling on the bikes. I always like to make my contribution to these Heath Robinson energy-powering contraptions. In previous years as MC in the Green Dragon Tent it's been part of my job to encourage people to take a turn at pedaling and encourage the rest of the punters to offer the pedalers whatever goodies are going round. When the festie is over and the power is cut, the self-sufficient Green Fields carry on for a day or two longer until the water gets turned off.
An hour in and the RTS slide show is over and we've started discussing globalisation, when someone runs in and shouts that the police are arresting people for spliff outside. The speaker on mic explains his understanding of what's going on and half the audience stands up and rushes out. I dismount the bike and follow them. Outside police are getting out of a white land rover alongside some other police attempting to arrest someone. It's already reached the pushing and shoving stage and there's 20 odd people in a knot arguing with the law. I assume every one will either join the throng behind the vehicle, delaying the arrest and stopping the doors being opened or stand in front of the vehicle, so it can't go anywhere. This doesn't happen - the activist/tourist ratio becomes more apparent and for many of the crowd this is yet more entertainment. These police aren't the Natural Theatre PC and WPC who can be glimpsed around site holding hands and occasionally snogging; these are all blokes and they're proving it. Night-sticks are being produced and someone is down in the mud. A fearless hero reaches in an open window of the jeep and pulls out a police helmet and flings it high into the air. Time almost stands still. Slowly and symbolically the helmet spins. A cheer goes up. Decisions are made. The helmet lands in the mud. Some of the audience turn into performers and suddenly there're lots of people running round looking for something naughty and imaginative to do. I kick some mud up on to the windscreen and the example is quickly followed. The mud starts flying, first caked on the windscreen and then everywhere else. I go round to the back of the vehicle just as a muddy punk is having his legs clubbed while being bundled into the back. I step forward and offer him my hand hoping to pull him free. Police hands reach for me, and the muddy punk slips from their grasp. The last thing I see is a jet of fine white spray coming from the sleeve of a blue uniform. I'm hit. My eyes sting. My mind races - "Outta here!" and "damp cloth!" Ten seconds later and having operated on pure adrenaline I've run 20 yards and back into the Ecotrip tent screaming my needs. Now blind and breathless I'm collapsed in a chair and remain so for ten minutes.
Eventually two of the Squall posse come and find me and take me back to familiar territory, sit me outside facing the wind. My face stings and feels like a giant festering herpes. The Exodus crew are giving advice and making me snot and spit out all the... What is it? Tastes like concentrated swimming pool and smells like domestos.
Twenty minutes later I've fully recovered and remembered I was supposed to be doing a gig. I return to the Ecotrip tent to check things out. What I thought would be a hubbub of excitement, post-riot discussion and possibly a hero's welcome; is nothing of the sort. The crowd has halved. People are queuing for food and hanging out. Pedalers are on the bikes. There's sounds. It's a cool scene. It's as if nothing has happened. I go over to the techie on the desk. "Oh hello! Are you going to do something?" "I've just been CS gassed" "Oh bummer!" says a young crustie. "What happened?" I'm full of energy and bewilderment and swimming pool concentrate. "Give me the microphone I'll tell you" What followed can only be described as surreal. I calmly and very briefly describe what happened half an hour ago, and then for effect I put down the microphone and project my voice to fill the tent. I'm suddenly very angry and hear myself shouting. "When the police are arresting someone in a no-go area you have two options: you stand in front of their vehicle or behind it - So it ain't going anywhere. What did you lot do?" They are all listening. I am speaking to jaw-dropped silence. "You lot stood around spectating like a load of fanny!" Why did I say that? I never use that phrase. "A load of fanny" It hangs in the air. "Fanny? What's wrong with Fanny?" Suddenly I'm on the losing end of an argument about sexist language with two or three women in the audience. I can't believe it's happening. Meanwhile others take the opportunity to find out what's been going on and start talking among themselves. Clearly many of them know nothing about the incident with the law. At some point I must have taken out my handkerchief to blow my nose. My wet CS gas hanky. I decide to move on to my main topic - the millennium bug. I even get a big laugh but I can't remember the line. My head is spinning. I ask for "Any questions?" I get an intelligent one that I've got a brilliant and funny answer to, involving describing the butterfly effect: "the flap of a butterfly's wing can create the vital eddy in the turbulent birth of a hurricane" but I don't say that. I mix it up and almost fall over. I realise I'm stinging and breathless again and have given myself another shot of CS by mistake. I soldier on until I realise I'm rambling and talking nonsense. I make an excuse and rush to the exit and fresh air.
Within ten minutes I have touched both moments of performance brilliance and pure embarrassment and now I'm back seated outside the Squall tent semi-invalid again. Someone gives me a cup of tea and asks me if I'm feeling any better. I tell them that I've just done a gig, but they don't believe me and laugh. "You're getting better then". Meanwhile café society has pieced together the earlier events. Apparently it all started in the Drugs testing unit - the tent next door to Ecotrip where there is a free service to check the quality of Ecstasy pills. One of the workers recognised two plain-clothes cops loitering around and confronted them. Very quickly the cops are surrounded and they panic and call for back up. The white back-up jeep arrives from nowhere and the uniforms attempt to extricate the plain clothes and threaten to arrest anyone who stops them for drugs offences. To any newcomers it all looks very like much like a drugs bust. By then of course several people were very confused. That's when I got involved.
Extract from 'Attitude - Wanna Make Something Of It?' by Tony Allen.
Pub. Gothic Image publications
ISBN 0 906362 56 3.
Check out Tony's own website at www.newagenda.org
SHOUTING, SWEARING AND POLITICS Part 1 - Comic original recalls the birth of the modern UK alt comedy - 13-Dec-2002
Lofty Tones - Global Village Idiot Tony Allen states his case for suing Nirex - Squall 16, 1998. (See Tony Allen's ranting columns in print issues of Squall).