I’ve just got back from the most mind-blowing conference I’ve ever been to. Keep It Simple, Make It Fast, is a conference/music and literary festival/art show organised around DIY cultures, Spaces, Places. Events were held across various venues in Porto, bringing together academic presentations, some celebrity guests, live performances, exhibitions with daily book launches and a summer school. The event is convened by Paula Guerra and Andy Bennett with an incredible team of international volunteers. I went with my Subcultures Network army (Matt Worley, Petes Webb and Ward, David Wilkinson and stayed in a seminary with the Punk Scholars Network and Steve Ignorant from Crass).
I remember being canvased for the 1989 European election. I was a nineteen year old mother of a two year old, living in a shared house. It was the first election I’d been old enough to vote. It was also the first time I’d seen the Green Party as an electoral force. Something interesting was going on. I can’t say that Europe itself really mattered to me very much, but it opened up ways to think things through, that we couldn’t really find space for elsewhere.
In the end I watched it because Catherine Grant very kindly invited me to speak at an event that she organised with Diarmaid Kelliher, on Pride and its Precursors and I was too honoured, and too embarrassed, to say no. When the film first came out I ducked and dived out of numerous press requests to comment on it. I had toyed with the idea of presenting at the symposium without actually having watched the film, maybe as a sort of thought experiment. I’d floated the idea over drinks with the talented historian Ben Jones from UEA but lost my confidence after he described some of the scenes I might have missed out on (the alien invasion and massive shoot out at the end).
On 19th November I stood in the Latest Music Bar Brighton and read out bits of my teenage diary from the year 1984-1985. The event, ‘Cringe at Mass Observation‘ was jointly organised by Cringe and Mass Observation as part of ‘Being Human: The Festival of Humanities’. London Cringe organise events where “Funny ‘grown-ups’ read aloud from their teenage diaries”. It’s a model that was picked up from New York and spread from there. Fiona Courage and Jessica Scantlebury from Mass Observation had been to one of the events and had immediately recognised Cringe’s resonance with Mass Observation writers who also share their private experiences and analysis for public consumption.
You can hear a bit more about Cringe, where it came from and the Brighton event on a podcast of an interview myself and Cringe organiser Ana McGloughlin did for Radio Reverb with Melita Dennett. (at about 22 minutes in)
I love a training session. I’m always signing up for new workshops. I know there is often a load of nonsense from academics who somehow think that they are instinctively good teachers and don’t need to engage in professional development, that isn’t explicitly developing their reputation as an international scholar. In fact I’ve heard early career and established academics say some pretty shoddy things about pedagogical training. Shoddy things that they wouldn’t accept being said about their own work, their own research or indeed their own teaching. Why wouldn’t we want to benefit from the high quality pedagogical research and training experience of experts? We certainly expect people to take our own research and experience seriously. In fact I have noted a direct correlation between historians who dismiss pedagogical training whilst simultaneously separating themselves from public history, heritage, amateur archivists, genealogists or school and FE based history curriculum as not being ‘real history’. So it is alright for historians to blag it as teachers but not for teachers to blag it as historians?
Charity singles were the perfect cultural form for Thatcher’s Eighties. They were packaged and sold within the Victorian values of philanthropy but in a form that fitted well with new media opportunities, new media technology and new ‘yoof’ orientated broadcasting space. Charity singles facilitated a set of donations; the primary donation was the time of musicians and celebrities, (and sometimes technicians and distributors) which may have included additional donations of royalties, rights and or all profits.
The secondary donation was by the consumer who bought the single regardless of their motivation; for the cause, for their favourite pop star, for the song, or for a combination thereof. Whatever Thatcher said about there being no such thing as society, and however many clips of champagne quaffing Yuppies we see on retro documentaries, in the Eighties people turned to charity to fill the gaps they saw opening up in social provision. Charitable donation increased in Thatcher’s Britain, as did the number of charities and the number of ways of making a donation. Charity singles, like all parts of a charity campaign, were not just about raising money. Charitable donation raises funds, but it also raises awareness about particular issues and builds a sense of community. It builds a sense of the community for the donors, as well as an imagined community of worthy recipients. By the end of the Eighties these three functions produced a recognizable charity single formula; collective choruses, recognizable voices on individual lines, and ego-free co-operation between different generations of musicians.
There seems to be a lot of anarcho-punk knocking around historians. There have been a number of academic conferences and events around the politics and aesthetics of anarcho-punk, increasing numbers of academic publications, online resources, documentaries, homages, and the contemporary legacies of anarcho-punk seem to be woven through today’s Occupy and UnCut activism. These historical connections are often but not always embodied in the collectively organised band Crass. This year’s documents released by the National Archives included revelations of the government response to a hoax by Crass who faked and recorded a phone conversation between Thatcher and Reagan about strategy in the Falklands War. The hoax was momentarily thought to be the work of Argentine security services. In a context where there was little formal opposition to the Falklands War the hoax raises interesting questions for historians who are concerned with the limits of subcultural, countercultural or wider popular cultural production as a form of resistance. When the State responded to a countercultural prank as if it was part of their cold war security forces’ stalemate manoeuvres, then academic arguments about the extent to which culture is or isn’t related to ‘real politics’ don’t seem as abstract anymore. The way that anarcho-punk helps us slip through the cracks of the argument about whether subcultures are or aren’t really political seems to have some real purchase at the moment. Continue reading DUNSTAN BRUCE, AND WHY IS HISTORY SO UP FOR ANARCHO-PUNK?