Richard Downes reviews the end of festival event for 'Together 2012', Newham’s friendly Disability Arts Festival, held at The Hub, East London on 18 December
We circle a makeshift stage, serenaded by Dave Morris’s easy listening Christmas songs. Together for the last time in 2012, in anticipation of a traditional 'Workhouse' style Disability Arts event, full of personal and political experience.
Compere, Mik Scarlet, is back on the scene having recovered from a traffic injury. He has lost none of his commanding voice. He is loose and wild, enthusiastic for the festival and the acts he introduces tonight.
Marcus Barr remains the find of the festival. A clever songwriter with shades of past London voices; Squeeze, Billy Bragg, Richard Thompson; he beguiles us with a song about a stolen motorbike; police who could not chase the perpetuators due to health and safety concerns (they weren’t wearing crash helmets). It’s an old trick but the vehicle becomes a symbol of lost love to be cared for and thought about.
His Canning Town redevelopment song 'Any Old Iron' is even better as he calls out how funny, how crazy it is that redevelopment is not for the people of the area but for those about to move in to the new, better environment.
Mince pies are handed to the audience as Robin Surgeoner, our Angry Fish, fresh from the Sutton Park Lakes, hymns out old songs with positive messages; ‘make a life from your life, take control’, ‘we talk about inclusion but not to the exclusion of the interaction with the reaction, work together for a better forever’.
His political songs outweigh his reflections on his personal life though the latter are funnier. I am moved by Acting DAN – possibly the best ever tribute to the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, in which our past demands for Freedom, Civil Rights and Choices are nicely preserved.
We are now being invited to imbibe on fruit punch. The audience is treated well at Together 2012. We make sure that everyone who wants to drink, drinks. This is adult. How grown ups should commune. It is the perfect time for Penny Pepper.
Freed from illness and licensed not to be nice she treads the boards again thumping out one hit after another. Jo Cox’s punchy cello rhythms elevate ‘Bus’, the words to which remind me of a lesson from an earlier together event – equality should not come without quality and will still depend on a change in attitudes. Penny is here to celebrate but she is also calling for defiance after all, only today the closure of the Independent Living Fund was confirmed. With ‘Fraud’ she swings right back at the oppressor redefining the actions of millionaire ministers. Story-slamming champ Penny is now getting pugilistic down at Peacocks Department Store where she is challenged by a potty healer to find God which takes her on a rampage down the clothing rails calling for Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, anyone who would dare to take her on. The bout is a no contest.
‘Scrounger’ sees Penny toppling the media scum and its storm of negative imagery. She is the tabloids, dark, avenging angel and she gives them what for. Introducing ‘The Ballad of Cripplegate', name checks UKDHM and DaDaFest, two of our achievements whilst locked out of the citadel, denied citizenship. We are creators. We have ‘Disability Sex’.
The show closes with an open mic session. He never said what his name was but he gave us 'Headstrong'. We roared, we clapped, percussive togetherness. Katherine Araniello premiered a poetic response to Disability Arts And Identity, a debate hosted here on DAO. You will see it soon. It is classic Katherine. Contradictory, ironic, sardonic, funny. Look for it.
Marcus Barr, tells a tale on Stephen Lee Hodgkins with whom we celebrate the birth of Drew and so it is we end as we began in the spirit of friendship, feeling the spirit of performers giving to us, the people who made Together 2012 work.