Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bristol Folk Festival (1)

Friday - Morning

I walked out on a bright may morning, like a hero in a song
Looking for a place called England, trying to find where I belong...

It's the banality which gets to me. The father of the bride is "proud". The couple are "happy". The dress is "white, with lace". Some of the crowd has "waited for days to catch a glimpse of the happy couple". Someone had the good sense not to let Rowan Williams, Arch druid and Incredible String Band fan, into the pulpit. He would have said something incredibly incredibly inappropriate and controversial, although it would actually have made much difference, because no-one would have understood it. The curate who stood in for him gave the sort of sermon you could have heard in any parish church in the country: apparently, it's not just about being in love but also about the serious business of learning to live together. When the groom's Mum got married, there was a song by a proper popular opera singer. When she died, there was a song by a pop singer I'd actually heard of. This was all fourth rate classical music, with Perry promoted to the rank of "England's best loved composer" on the say-so of Dimbleby-lite. I, along with everyone else, I get, was astonished to learn that he (Perry, that is, not Dimbleby-lite) wrote anything apart from Jerusalem, and wouldn't Billy Blake have laughed to have heard his great revolutionary and mystical poem described as "a great patriotic hymn".

All said and done, I would still rather be a cynical monarchist than an enthusiastic republican. I like the way we all get together ever ten year or so to play dress-up and pretend that we're a fairy tale kingdom with palaces and glass coaches and princesses. This is, I think, a big part of the story that we've been telling ourselves about ourselves for the last thousand ears, and I haven't heard anyone suggest a better one. (When it all became too much for me, I just muttered "President Blair, President Blair" under my breath.) But this week, it's a story which feels hopelessly corrupted and appropriated -- a story which is meant to be about All of Us was one from which I felt pretty comprehensively excluded. It was clearly not a coincidence that Cameron (Tory) and Major (Tory) were invited to the big shindig, but Blair (Labour, alleg.) and Brown (Labour) were not. (Thatcher (Tory) was invited but asked that a very polite refusal be conveyed to King George on her behalf.) The message "The head of State is a Tory, the British State is a Tory only club, is you ain't Tory you ain't part of the story" was hard to avoid. It started to make you wonder if the President of the USA wasn't quite our sort of chap, either, and thanks to the Guardian for pointing out that the King of Yugoslavia got an invitation. (*) The State seemed to have spent the week before the wedding making pre-emptive strikes on anyone it thought might have voiced Dissent on the happy day. It may or not have been a coincidence that seven days before the happy day, my street became a riot zone. It almost certainly was a coincidence that, at the exact moment when the next head of state but one ws taking his marriage vows, the police finally closed down the building which absolutely no local person has ever referred to as Telepathic Heights. (The local name for it is "that building with the pretty mural that I've walked past a thousand times and never paid the slightest attention to." The night after the Riot, the building next door hosted a gig by the Wurzles.) It was undoubtedly a coincidence that when I set out to go to the folk festival, I found that I couldn't walk down my own street because the police, who swear an oath of loyalty to the Queen, had erected barricades. Again. But it all seemed awfully symbolic.

A big old wall there tried to stop me / a sign was painted, it said "No entry"
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing / that side was made for you and me

[*] No such country as Yugoslavia exists, and anyway, it isn't a monarchy.