For the People and of the People by Oliver Senton

We welcome a very special guest writer – actor and performer, Oliver Senton. As well as masterfully playing the role of Robert Anton Wilson in the superb ‘Cosmic Trigger’, and the central role of Phil Masters in Daisy & Ken Campbell’s legendary 24-hour epic ‘The Warp’, Oliver was the Master of Ceremonies (‘The Officiator’) at Welcome To The Dark Ages. In this article, he takes us through ‘Day 3’ of the ‘situation’.

Follow Oliver on Twitter.

For the People and of the People

‘For working people to be free they must seize the means of production’, brother Marx told us. If you’re coming at things from that kind of angle – and much of what I saw among the four hundred or so who took part in Welcome to the Dark Ages was – then one of the most striking aspects of the event is how inclusive that statement needs to be. It’s not just about producing cars and steel, it’s equally about the means of producing poems and song.

Church
[In about seven hours we made a show. Twenty-five punk vignettes including a new version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Bill said it was one of the most stunning theatrical events he had seen in his life.]
There was a lot of pointless jabber on social media about how the JAMMs should stop messing about with making artistic statements and make more music. There’s so much stupidity and contradiction in that statement it’s hard to know where to start, but here goes:

First, how do you separate making music and making art? Or should that be Art? As if making music were not an art, or as if visual art were somehow separate from sounds, like seeing is ‘separate’ from smelling.

Secondly, what right does anyone have (outside the normal confines of common respect and freedom of speech) to tell anyone when they should or shouldn’t play/sing/write? For a punter, a fan, to address their admired singer/writer in words amounting to ‘Shut up and give us what we/I want’ is pretty much the same as a wealthy patron saying ‘paint what I want’ (though that’s probably less likely; even the Papacy had to negotiate with Michelangelo and Raphael, to meet them halfway as it were. Creativity’s complicated like that). People feel they own the music, hence their territorial feelings about it; but it doesn’t belong to anyone. Or rather, it belongs to everyone.

Which brings us back to that Marxist starting point. Friday’s events, indeed the entirety of Welcome to The Dark Ages, was about giving the power, the music, back to us. It was about other things of course, many of them covered elsewhere and by more experienced writers than me: a book launch and a business launch, a laying-to-rest of ghosts, a tribal gathering, an act of nostalgia.

One story encapsulates it for me. I can’t tell you exactly what happened in the ice kream van when we drove off with the holder of page number twenty-four last Thursday: Joe (for that was his name) wished it to be kept a secret. Even his wife doesn’t know, though I suspect she’ll get it out of him eventually. But in the van Joe did tell me how, growing up in Boston MA thirty years ago, he started to discover and buy these strange records, with strange covers – and how they gave him, young twenty year-old Joe, the feeling that he too, could do this. That he could make this music, get out his Atari Sound Sampler and put tracks together. Like rock & roll and punk, the electronic world embodied by the KLF was an enablement, a popularisation. A giving back to the people of what is rightly theirs, and which had been largely taken from them by commerce and industry.

Oliver Senton photo
[The 5 voodoo dolls of Fernando Pô (readers of 2023 will understand), as embodied by one of the 400.]
So much happened on that last day, even though it was the shortest of the three – an almighty ritual concert, a wonderfully chaotic walk to the pyre, the brief but much-awaited appearance from Badger Kull. And the whole process was sending us out into the world, burning down the old and saying: it’s all yours now. See how easily you can make a new band, with the will to do it and a bit of hard work? See how much art and inspiration we can create in a very short time, if we want to? There will be no new music, we were told. The KLF is dead and gone. But oh, HOW much music we made! Chanting and choiring and thrashing bass guitars. WE made the music. WE made the art. The means of production was laid bare around us; all we had to do – all we have to do – is pick it up.

These are the odd peoples
[The KLF were described last night as ‘a mix of genius and Dad’s Army sloppiness’. Here’s the hi-tech recording system for all 376 pageholders.]
Walk
[Gloriously shambolic, and deeply symbolic, The Great Pull North was a pilgrimage driven by goodwill.]
 

Oliver Senton Photo courtesy of: @DavidJBlair

Ice Kream Van Photo courtesy of: D. Barnes

 

Oliver is currently working in Hull on ‘Flood’, an epic year-long theatre project for Slung Low and the UK City of Culture 2017. Full details at http://flood.hull2017.co.uk/.
His recording of Cosmic Trigger can be found at http://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Non-fiction/Cosmic-Trigger-I-Audiobook/B0716J2C1X.

21 comments

  1. Thank you so much Oliver for all that you did for us and indeed for one of my favourite moments. I will never forget your rendition of page 77 in the style of muppet. Big Love ❤

  2. It was an honour and a privilege to be a part of that amazing Happening. Thank you for being the perfect Master of Ceremonies for the occasion and for the picture credit Oliver. Long live The JAMs!

  3. You gave a heroic, humorous, inspiring and disciplined performance throughout Oliver, and now an insightful write up.

    Thank you for giving us the boundaries and power to create what we did – rest assured, the connections that we made during those electric days are already inspiring more creations.

  4. Thank you for being an amazing officiator, you and Daisy did a tremendous job of cat herding the 400 into place and organising us. It has been my dream for many years to spend time with my heroes, to be involved in something they are doing, to create something with them. It was a dream I never thought would come true, but last week, my dream was realised. For 26 years I have followed Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, then suddenly, they were there, and I was involved. I have never considered myself to be an arty person, but always wanted to be. This situation, created by the JAMs and officiated by you, gave me the chance to be what I’ve always wanted to be, and I am proud of what I created. For that, I am so grateful. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be everything and more.

    Thank you Oliver, and please pass my thanks to Bill, Jimmy and Daisy, you’re all amazing.

  5. “A true initiation never ends…”
    Robert(a) Anton(ia) Wilson

    November 23rd 2018… Toxteth! Day of the Dead! ToxtethDayoftheDead!

    Great piece Oliver!

    Stay Foxy
    Pope Monkeybumps the younger (ex comm)
    Page 326

  6. WEll we stirred it alright and you Oliver were once more the rock around which we get to roll! Lovely to see you discard the officiator garb around the fire, for a moment concerned that you were to be a ritual sacrifice Mu MUd for us all but luckily you emerged unscathed on the other side! To be seen next swimming manfully on the Waters of HUll catch you at the high water mark thwere next . Hats OFF once more love .

  7. I didn’t quite get the chance to say this to Oliver during the run of events, but his presence, charisma and humour were a marvelous cohesive element for the entire proceedings. His demeanour swung from authoritative head master to, actor to confidant and conspirator as was appropriate. I had come a long way (Australia) specifically for the situation and it was a decision I will never regret. Like everybody there we made a leap of faith into the dark ages, not knowing what the dickens was waiting for us there. The 400 were richly rewarded by an inclusive, immersive, creative, unhinged, glorious, challenging and rewarding experience. They invited people with an interest in what they did/do and far from a damp slosh around in the nostalgia pool, we got to jump into the shark infested of creating something out of nothing, of working with Bill and Jimmy to make our own joyous celebration, rather than grovelling in adulation at their feet. Thank you Oliver. Thank you Daisy. Thank you Bill and Jimmy. I will never forget, my wondrous and remarkable welcome to the Dark Ages.

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