Liberty Festival 2015 / 27 July 2015
I arrived at the Liberty Festival in the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford with that M.E. glow, swollen glands and throbbing head in a howling freezing wind and lashing rain, thinking “what am I doing here?” By the early evening I left with that Liberty love thing that keeps me going back year on year.
Liberty has always been about a sense of community and grass roots, which has been helped in recent years by the association with Together! who presented an afternoon of music and poetry.
Michelle Baharier from Cooltan Arts read a moving tribute poem to the life of a friend who ended their life as a result of austerity policies.
And Allan Sutherland did a few poems from his forthcoming poetry collection ‘Difficult People’, which to my mind is an astute way of summing up how disabled people are represented by the media and press, generally. Inherent in the idea of us being ‘difficult’ are the reasons for how and why we continue to be marginalised. The poem ends on a typical Sutherland tongue-in-cheek cliff-hanger:
Just getting rid of us
Is what you’d like to do
Which gives us a lot in common -
We ‘d like to get rid of you.
Yes, Liberty is a watered down version of what it was when it was held in Trafalgar Square and the association with Disability Sport is incongruous because of its rootedness in a medical model of disability. And call me naive but I always thought being Mayor of a town was a job like any other, not an event brand.
However, in terms of politics with a small ‘p’, there’s still something of value about an event at which disabled people come together to share their arts and culture in a public arena…
Considering the weather and the fact Liberty’s been moved to a Sunday, guaranteeing transport routes will be out of action and PAs and carers will be in short supply, it was amazing that a reasonable crowd turned up at all.
I’d been excited about Sonic Vistas as Ivan Riches has been blogging on Dao about his motley band of assisted music technology performance artistes for a while. It was a raw and unpolished performance, but a lot of fun all the same. Kris Halpin looked super cool, playing power chords on air guitar using MiMu Gloves. The loveable Mik Scarlett, star of synth pop, reminded us that nothing about us should be without us, and the equally loveable Sophie Partridge took us home on the night train.
This year we were given a range of excellent world music with the incomparable Baluji Shrivastrav, the versatile Hassan Eraji and headliners Mbongwana Star. With an irrepressible jive style style the 7-piece band have a unique sound melding African and western rock styles of music with bass lines incorporated into the playing of rhythm guitar.
I’d been keen to see the latest circus theatre offering with Jamie Bedard and John Kelly as part of Extraordinary Bodies - a partnership between Cirque Bijou & Diverse City. It looked like the weather had stopped play, but in the spirit of true troopers they decided to go ahead anyway.
The wind clearly limited how much they could do on the huge aerial platform - a ladder, come bridge/ boat structure held in place using counterweights. The narrative told the story of an escape from home by an adventurous daughter leaving behind a distraught family. A chase was played out as the structure turned 360 degrees, held by a supporting frame.
It was the kind of spectacle that Greenwich and Docklands International Festival who produced the event, are famous for. And John Kelly was in great voice with a range of ballads and rock songs telling the story of a young woman in search of colour and excitement.
Unfortunately the rain started again and rather than risking the electric guitarist going up in sparks the performance had to close mid-way, with the offer of hearing a finale with the Southwark community choir under cover in the nearest tent.
Overall it was a great day out, despite everything. I’d love to have seen more… so if it goes ahead again next year it’s certain I’ll be there…