from the FPG Diaries / Bath 70s

Updated on February 18, 2020
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Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

I gradually got wind of similar events happening in the southwest and was inspired to set off for the legendary Walcot Street Festival in Bath. Unlike the Albion Fairs, this one took place in an urban setting. Just off the centre of the city, it was crowded into a small site on the side of a hill next to a small chapel and graveyard. Also called “ComTek”, short for Community Technology, it presented early examples of wind and solar energy storage and generating systems and rudimentary but fascinating elements of other emergent “alternative technologies”.

There were also regular meetings in the chapel as people tried to come up with other ways of doing things. My belief is that such initiatives as the Welsh Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) and the Ecology Building Society were first mooted here.

I had been looking for a way to become more than just a punter. I wanted to be more involved, so I had acquired an ancient ex-post office Morris LD van and equipped it with a secondhand Adana hand printing press and the least expensive hand-cranked Roneo stencil duplicator I could find. I wrote to ComTek asking them if they would like an on-site daily newspaper. They said “Sure”, and off I went.

In those days ComTek would spread over two weekends, so one could set up nicely for the duration. I arrived with my girlfriend Ros and turned into the narrow lane off Walcott Street and headed down the steep slope towards a designated pitch at the bottom and to the right. I put my back wheels up on blocks, staked out the tarpaulins off the back and side, and unpacked my press office.

Each morning thereafter I would be up and cranking out the previous night’s copy and distributing to subscribers and to other punters who might be waiting patiently outside the van. I even had a couple of hawkers and bits of advertising from other stall holders.

As an ace reporter, my duty was clear. Check out everything humanly possible and write it up. I loved it.

I discovered that the whole thing was run by Bath Arts Workshop and that instrumental to this group were Brian and Ralph and other members of the aforementioned Bath-based Natural Theatre Company. The Naturals were also very much in evidence around the site and nearby parts of the city in their various guises as both super-normals and extra-normals. But their central stage piece at that time was “Rocky Ricketts and the Jet Pilots of Jive”. Never had I had my mind so blown. It must have been an eight or nine piece band, complete with gorgeous dancing backing singers and one or two side characters with unclear roles. I was stone-foot riveted; unable to move; trapped as I gawped. The music was top-notch motivational but the real treasure was in the tiny throw-away nuances and tertiary story lines they kept interjecting. For example, it became clear that one of the side characters was “the manager”, who couldn’t help but join in with the bopping on stage, but was also quietly infatuated with Rocky himself. At one point he was dancing up close behind the oblivious Rocky. As the manager blissed out and backed off, Rocky, in the middle of belting out his song, reached one hand discretely round to his arse, clearly felt a sticky patch, and, looking aghast as he briefly examined and then furiously flicked his suspect hand, never missed a beat.

Sure, I was off my face on hash cake, but I know quality when I see it whatever substances I may be abusing.

In fact, one night, shortly after the Rockies had finished, I sensed a minor commotion in a tiny stall next to mine. A short street poet called Bongo Mike had posted up some photocopies of his illustrated poems and a couple of piss heads were trying to tear them down. Bongo was trying to get them to stop but not having much luck. Knowing I was incapable of anything but a bit of minimal movement, I wandered over and stood beside him. I was so stoned I knew I probably couldn’t have strung a sentence together let alone throw a punch. So I simply stood there, zoned, staring at the lead protagonist who was alleging he had a knife and wasn’t afraid to use it. Suddenly Bongo’s neighbour to the other side appeared next to us, probably in a state of mind similar to mine. Then, quietly, other people began to accumulate around us, wordlessly, just standing there and staring at the piss heads. The piss heads swore and gesticulated, but eventually, clearly unnerved, backed off and disappeared. As best we could, we helped Bongo pick up and re-post his poems and then splintered off into the night on our separate journeys.

This particular event was also my older, more mature and sensible girlfriend Ros’s first experience of enstonement. She was charmingly going around saying things like, “I can suddenly so fully understand the words these people are using, like “far out” and “heavy” and “spaced”. It all makes so much more sense.”

Among the other fringe theatre teams floating about the site, there was a sombre quasi-militaristic mime group called The Special Forces who, dressed in white boiler suits, wandered around in single file, silently, looking vaguely threatening, and never uttering a word. Wasn’t really much of an act, but the visuals got me thinking.

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    © 2020 Deacon Martin


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