A Long Wait for Radical History

My personal projects always seem to take ages to get off the ground. I suppose this is because all the work that leads up to getting funding has to happen in the gaps between everything else, not least designing shows for other people. Which I love doing and I get paid for. I’m not complaining. Still, getting a project underway takes a while and this one is taking even longer.

I had the idea for a project about English radical history around eight years ago, I think. At any rate, it was while I was directing A Place at the Table. Our stage manager at the time, Peter Barnett, was another fan of folk music. I remember discussing the exciting new idea with him, so I can roughly date it. This was also roughly around the same time as the Black Smock Band emerged from a series of gay folk nights in Vauxhall. A lot has happened since, with the far right seemingly in the ascendent, but even then it felt as though the narrative of dissent and radicalism in English history needed a bit of rescuing, from all that nonsense about how the Empire wasn’t so bad really and migrants are ruining our way of life. (Quite how you can hold both beliefs at once I don’t know. Anyway.) A major part of what we do as a band is explore the links between then and now, often updating traditional songs to explore their resonances to our contemporary social or political situation. Oh and making them less bloody heteronormative. It made sense to bring these two things – the band and the idea of a performance around English radical history – together.

But then it was decided the next Daedalus project wouldn’t be that one. So it was put on the back burner. The project that was to replace it never happened, but it took a couple of years of development work to realise it wasn’t going to happen. And then our East storytelling project took off, which was really great, though I say it myself. But also took up all my spare energy. (Have a look at our East storytelling archive though. I’m very pleased with it. And you can add to it, if you have links to East London and a story to tell. Get in touch!) Meanwhile, gig-based theatre started being ‘a thing’ in the experimental performance world, and interest in radical history also grew. So the urgency to get on with the project before someone else had the idea became another factor.

Sporadically, in 2015 and 2016, we trialled some ideas at band gigs and did some R&D at Ovalhouse. We’re now at the fundraising stage. Things are finally starting to happen. Andy Bannister, Dan Cox, Matt Beattie and myself from the band have been joined by two great collaborators: performer Rhiannon Kelly and Daedalus Associate Artist Alex Swift. Alex is a remarkable performer, writer and director, and for this will be focusing on writing. Rhiannon has an impressive background of activism and theatre. We have a producer, the mighty Maeve O’Neill.  And we have plans.

That said, until funding comes through, you can never be confident…  But you can still be optimistic. And that I am.

We had a bit of a session the other day, looking at songs and texts that we might work with. I shall leave you with a couple of rehearsal room photos…

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