Tuesday, July 27, 2010

chaos and anarchy at the Tom Thumb Theatre

I got a call from an old Whitstable friend, Sarah (now living in southern France, but visiting for the summer) to ask if I wanted to come with her and her mum Pauline to see The Bucket Boyz in Cliftonville. I'd heard a lot about them via Cocos Lovers (who met them in the Amsterdam squat world while adventuring on the continent) and had got just a brief taste at Lounge on the Farm. So, yes! I did.

Bucket Boyz poster

The gig was at the Tom Thumb Theatre, which describes itself as "one of the world's smallest theatres". It supposedly has the smallest stage area in the world, although I'm not sure who keeps track of these things. In any case, it's pretty tiny. Not surprisingly, the gig was put together by the Smugglers Collective, with Cocos' Will and Dave, plus Will Varley (now semi-resident in Deal) representing. In fact, they were intending to record the BB's debut album live (at this gig and a couple of others), although the way it turned out, I don't think there was much usable material from this particular night.

They're anarcho-punky squatter types based over in Amsterdam, two Americans and a Dutch bloke who initially passes for American. Pretty notorious for their general wildness, they were clearly already quite drunk before the first set. A significant proportion of the audience were respectable-looking older Thanet residents (who I guess attend anything the TTT puts on), so I wondered how this was going to work. They launched into "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" with ragged vocals, a harshly out-of-tune banjo and two plastic buckets (one acting as washtub bass, one being hit with sticks). What they lacked in musicality was (just about) made up for by sheer energy, and despite the shirts-off, drunken, sweaty, sweary performance, the set went down quite well. I got the impression that a lot of the older members of the audience took it to be theatre — these were performers, not three young men who happen to be like this all the time!

While they took a break, we got a brief set from Fire Action!, Tom McInerney's younger brother James' band — although it was just him and the bass player — sensitive singer-songwriter stuff, but sufficiently original to be of interest. James linked his songs with brief bits of poetry (which was not bad at all). This was at the other end of the spectrum, energetically, from the Bucket Boyz. But then the Ukelele Gangstas played, sort of — their frontman couldn't make it, so three young women friends of the band collectively replaced him, singing from printed sheets, dressed up ridiculously. The UG's are a bit of a novelty band from the East Kent coast, ukelele driven, with songs like "Skoda Pimpin'" and "Kebab Shop Hustler", all quite (intentionally) ridiculous. This lineup was even more so (although the rhythm section were very tight, which allowed them to get away with it).

They got a good part of the audience up on their feet and the energy all went very raucous, just as the Bucket Boyz were getting ready to start their second set. A (half empty) bottle of rum was passed out into the audience — they were noticeably more drunk, so the second set was more ragged and wild and obscenity-laden than the first. Songs about getting drunk and fighting with police, etc. The banjo player tried to climb up onto the "drummer"'s shoulders at one point, then fell off, knocking a bottle of something all over some of the sound equipment (wedged into a corner of the supposed world's-tiniest-stage). Will G came running up, terrified that they were going to electrocute themselves in mid-performance (very punk rock). The ladies sitting in front of me were starting to look very uncomfortable, trying to work out how they could get out (without climbing over everyone). Half of the audience were younger festival-y types (and Sarah's mum) on their feet enjoying the chaos, the rest were somewhat shocked, horrified or at least very much out of their element. This clearly was not theatre in the sense that they might have originally thought. These were wild young anarcho-squatters, making a drunk and disorderly racket in one of the world's smallest theatres.

The "drummer" (the drunkest of the three, having been sporting a ridiculously huge safety pin in one ear all evening) announced that he was going to do something he'd never done before: stagediving onto a seated audience!! Fortunately the stage was only a few inches high, so he managed to sort of flop onto a few willing pairs of upheld arms and then writhe back a few rows over (mostly horrified?) older ladies — so more 'crowdsurfing' than 'stagediving', but still... One lady even managed to get one of his boots in her face — not too hard thank God — but she told Sarah that he'd apologised straight away and was "very sweet". So here's a sort-of-relevant line from a rather good bildungsroman novel I just finished (Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks, 1995), as narrated by the homeless teenage protagonist Bone (thanks for the book, Andy/Dave):

"...so you never can tell although in my experience with white people when it comes to dealing with kids and blacks it's the really old and feeble ones who're more trusting than the healthy middle-aged and younger people, probably due to the elderlies not having very long to live."


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