Tonight I welcomed Stephen Colegrave to the Fiery Bird Show. Stephen, is the co-founder of Byline Festival an alternative festival with a purpose, to have an event that brings the impact that Woodstock and Sundance had for this ‘post truth’ frenzy of an age. The fresh faced warriors of truth unfurling their capes and making them into tents in a forest where people can experience and produce examples of good, responsible journalism and claim back hope, enjoy music, comedy, workshops and meet others with a view of activism that is optimistic and kind and then take with them something that will start to change and grow in a society where buzzwords, spin and bamboozle has become King. To give strength to the voice of the child pointing out that, in fact, the Emperor is not wearing any clothes and indeed it is a very cold day.
Over many years there are many things conceived in pubs but usually the best things to be conceived in pubs are ideas and plans that are put into action – anything else would best be covered in a health related show. As with all those best ideas Byline Festival was also conceived in the pub, the aptly named Pillars of Hercules in Greek St Soho when Stephen and co-founder Peter Jukes were discussing what they felt was missing on the new landscape of festivals that had seemed to become so expensive, corporate and had lost their aim of being places that were agents for change, where new ideas and concepts became possibilities, alliances formed and humanity shed some of its obsession with the consumer in a common tribal setting of music and art
Whilst these ideas of something missing were bubbling under, with recent events like Brexit and Trump its impetus has crystallised and galvanised people into action. Stephen said that he spent most of last year going around looking for wardrobes where Narnia would be trying to find where all the likeminded people were, the people that told the truth. So here it is, Byline is Narnia and it is welcoming people to gather in the forest – in this case Pippingford in East Sussex. I bloody hope there is still Turkish Delight there.
Guests include John Cleese, Lenny Henry, Tom Watson MP, Hardeep Singh Kholi, there is a great emphasis on comedy – the new armour of the disenchanted – and all guests and performers feel so involved that all are donating their time, should any profits be made, they are put to byline.com the crowdsourced platform to encourage excellent standards and truth in journalism. The idea is that not only do people enjoy the elements of the festival but also feel galvanised to bottle the positive outrage and put it to positive work. Bands include John Ellis, The Priscillas, Phoenix Chroi, How’s Harry, Andy Twyman, Will Purdue, Hannah White, Lisa VonH, Argonaut and many more inc headliners to be announced.
John Cleese in particular asked to present the Bad Press Awards, an honour they don’t really expect many winners to want to pick up to collect but, nevertheless they will receive; they will be delivered, come what may. I asked if this would be somewhat of a pattern of award like the predictability of Ant & Dec picking something up at the NTA’s, but, despite expectation, there are more than one or two examples of bad press that will be highlighted and given due attention during the ceremony.
This is about good news too though, the festival has captured the imagination of many people also feeling under represented and sick of being labelled with stupid derisory terms just because they care about something, the ‘PC Brigade, the ‘snowflakes’ the ‘Do-Gooders’ (yeah really great insult – to spit bile against people that ‘do good’ – ironically so often spouted by those who wish to cite their issue as the fact that a dogma they don’t even follow perhaps one whose tenet is doing good to other people, is being stamped out by another dogma they don’t follow or have even met anyone that does) There’s a weariness at constantly being told off on social media because of highlighting and experiencing inequality. The day after those same group cited the Women’s March as a failure and unwarranted with keyboards on fire ‘I didn’t see any of you marching against FGM/Saudi Arabian Women’s Rights/Insert other issue they didn’t give a shit about last week (these suddenly human rights activists on behalf of vulnerable women) you privileged spoilt group of lefty extreme women’ – do they not realise what equality means? What choice means? Do they not see the contradiction in their assertion that all of these women who look like their own sisters, mothers, daughters appear to be the majority because they are the majority and those they accuse of over running us are in truth a minority but as deserving of respect as any and that is what it is about. Do they not see that they need to understand that issues like choice, like abuse, like support affect all of us. All it seems is the extremes we now live in is the bars of the cage being shaken and the hunter with the gun knowing the locks won’t hold another generation who will live in a more equal, respectful world by operating a revolution, an activism, of kindness and respect. The hunter knows this so gets a bigger gun – silly hunter doesn’t realise that the cages are full of flocks of birds they treat like one scary bear. If Maya Angelou were here she would know. She knew why the caged bird sings. The boxing ring has fallen away and we have all stepped out of it, are packing it up and turning the space into a community centre where more gets done than some fancy footwork and jabs amongst two posturing powers while the rest of us have to stand by and watch with no say in the outcome.
For those people who suddenly rose up to use someone else’s pain as a vehicle for their fear that the party was over for them, rail about issues they never mentioned before, why didn’t you march against them before, why criticise others who are doing something and usually, it is generally those people dealing with those other issues too. That march was more about women and men expressing their shock that society had got to the level where someone can openly admit to feeling the power that allows them to denigrate and assault other humans and still gain high office with dangerous responsibility, than to do with carping and whining at what other political systems that have nothing to with us (and yet everything too) vote in. That is why projects like this are happening because the ordinary has become extraordinary and people are stepping up to speak out.
We spoke about other projects that Stephen has worked on and those currently so: The book Punk that he collaborated on with Chris Sullivan, his background in the punk scene and the freedom it gave to make things happen DIY, an inspiration to do things in a way of truth and authenticity. The inspirational photographers who contributed photos and putting exhibitions together with them since, we spoke of following a passion that makes stuff happen
It was a lovely little chat to get the lowdown as my Mum used to say and as always to hear the stories of meeting and working with people like Rik Mayall, David Bowie, Georgie Fame,Danny Aiello John Ellis & many more was delightful.
Stephen is involved with other ways of supporting action with integrity with projects like
Uprising where he is a trustee. This takes young people from diverse backgrounds and puts them through a social action training course so help them see how can they affect their communities – people without the background and money deserve a chance and have the talent but don’t get the chance to get through and this is designed to give them that chance and that voice.
He is also a Trustee with the Young Actors Theatre Islington to give the opportunity to train and even if not pursuing theatre the chance of expressing yourself in any form will give confidence, to find your own voice and find genuine authentic connections and confidence in your own skin is how we will change the world. Happy confident people filling up our own skin and giving a hand up to others.
Tickets for the Festival are on sale now, and those in the Woking area can get a 30% discount until 31 January
Festival Maker Tickets £25
£95 early bird before 31st January
PLUS!! Discount for GU21/GU22 of 30% by 31 January use code GU22BYFEST or GU21BYFEST
1 Liar Liar – The Castaways
2 Swords of a Thousand Men – Ten Pole Tudor
3 All The Way To Holloway – The Priscillas
4. Indercate Your Mind – How’s Harry
5 Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
6 London Calling – The Clash
7. Never Buy The Sun – Billy Bragg
8. Bank Failures – Bob Miller
9 Not Rich – Argonaut
10 A Change Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
11. No More Heroes – The Stranglers
12. Preach & Teach – Georgie Fame
13. Sound of The Suburbs – The Members
14. The Best Is Yet To Come – Frank Sinatra