The road to Italy was long and arduous, with an ill fated breakdown on day one on the way to the ferry! Still the unstoppable crew continued, converging in Turin to get the gigs started.
Wednesday 6th July:
A bit of a Spanner lie in today. While others relaxed at the brilliant El Paso, meeting friends old and new, Goz and Richy headed out on bikes to get to know Torino and it’s sorbets and vegan ice cream options. Vegan thigh power resulted in a broken bike chain and a bit of a long walk home! Meanwhile there was some cultural lessons being learnt back at El Paso by team Spanner who showed some inappropriate lunching technique. Apparently you’re not supposed to pile everything on your plate and trough it, as the done thing is moving from one dish to the next, savouring all the different flavours individually. We were very pleased to meet our tour maestro, who was straight into the kitchen with some of the El Paso crew, preparing a corker of a Mexican dinner. Wendy the pig caused quite a stir and the place was buzzing as the gig was set up in the big front courtyard. But the wrong sort of buzzing signalled the start of a collective savaging by the local mosquito population. Eve got the worst of it and spent the rest of tour looking a bit like Cheetara of Thunder Cats – sort of. Mosquito attack was to become a bit of a theme of the tour. But so was getting very well fed! While we were being eaten alive we contented ourselves with eating the Mexican feast on offer. Reports are that 5 of the spicy pasties was the top score! A few of our crew slipped away for a bit of Wales vs Portugal until concerns over failing light and solo abilities propelled us stageward. The gig contained no epic fails and went down well – a really nice start to the tour. Big thanks to the unstoppable El Paso crew for putting on an extra gig for us (July is usually a well deserved break for them), to Sandro, the silver fox, for working his magic with the sound and to the Spanner distro / dancefloor mob. Avanti compagni/e!
Thursday 7th July:
During a top brunch on the terrazza we learnt a bit about the state of the movement and the heavy repression currently being faced by comrades involved in the No Tav anti high speed train movement. This impressive example of a genuine mass movement is an inspiration. They’ve been fighting this capitalist mega project for over 25 years, struggling hard against the state’s heavy hand and war of attrition. There are lots of stories and a very proud history of solid community resistance. Recently two comrades were arrested for participation in a demo last September and forced to live under house arrest while awaiting trial. Other comrades were bailed to move out of Torino where they live. They refused and the two comrades are now in prison. We were all agreed to go to a solidarity demo for them the next day.
In the afternoon we headed out towards our next gig in Avigliana where the mountains begin. En route we had a stop at a huge lake where our brits abroad mozzy bites got a bit of an airing and we cooled down with a lush swim. Then it was on to “Vis Rabbia”, a squatted venue in part of an old dynamite factory. Nice! At the entrance is a big, striking mural of a line of partisans silhouetted against a dawn sky, walking towards the dynamite factory. The accompanying words read: “We have a long history, which we will honour”. In 1944 the partisans raided and took control of the dynamite factory from the fascists.
This time round the squatters have held it for 5 years, providing a gig and events space for the local community as well as hosting a regular market for locally grown fruit, veg and other produce. They are part of the grassroots “Genuino alternativo” movement of local small scale producers who refuse to pay exorbitant fees for selling their wares, putting them at a massive disadvantage against huge agribusiness. Pati, a long time activist and apparent walking dynamo of the place explained the name “Vis Rabbia” to us. It means strength and rage and is also the name of a local plant that is everywhere and refuses to die! A bit like the squatter’s movement, then!
As we prepared our gear in the amphitheatre like gig patio we were surrounded by bats, fireflies, inquisitive goats and basslines provided by Asian Dub Foundation to test out the PA. After a proper nosh up of seemingly endless dishes of home grown food washed down with home made wine and beer, we took to the stage. One of our top comrades from the casa antirepresione said some things that needed saying about the state, prisons and the need to resist (well, that’s what we understood) and after nods and raised fists we let rip with our contribution to the night! Afterwards the Spanner dancehall commando got involved with some wine fuelled dancing as Spanner DJs racked up the tunes! Then it was back to Torino, Ben doing his best to avoid sleep driving, to El Paso and deep sleep!
Friday 8th July:
Not enough sleep as we dragged ourselves up and out for the solidarity with the two No Tav prisoners. Some of us were a bit worse for wear after the night before but we made the train on time against all odds. En route we realised none of us had our passports, which was quickly identified as a bit of an issue by our tour / demo guide extraordinario. Apparently the cops take a keen interest in anyone they haven’t seem before at demos and hassle is likely. No ID papers means a trip to the cop shop so they can establish who you are. Whoops! As we arrived we saw the much hated DIGOS (special branch equivalent) on the court balcony, taking photos and filming everyone. It’s a shame how some people waste their lives! What’s more depressing is the number of lives the police take every year around the world. While on the demo we heard about the police murders of Aston Sterling and Philando Castile in the U.S. and the retaliatory killing of cops in Dallas. Surely it’s no surprise when sometimes people fight back.
We decided to keep a bit of distance until numbers on the demo grew but there’s only so long you can stay on the fringes trying to look inconspicuous like good little tourists. Before long we felt the demo was big enough to be a bit safer to join, with around 50 comrades on the street. Cue a lot of attention from the bad guys who seemed desperate to be in on who knows who. They’re as bad as the Forward Intelligence Team back home for creepy stalker style behaviour. A lot of what they do is clearly designed to intimidate people off the streets but the No TAV comrades are having none of it. After a round of focaccia bread it started to heat up and numbers began to dwindle, so we decided to make an exit, managing to slip away without any ID check hassle from the cops.
Local knowledge informed us of a good Chinese restaurant which answered the questions about lunch and then it was back to El Paso and off to our next gig. The drive to Monza, near Milan, was hot and sweaty in the extreme and a hellish Milan rush hour experience didn’t help at all. It all got better when we arrived at the amazing FOA Bocaccio squatted social centre. A huge mural of two partisan fighters from the area greets visitors and they named their football pitch after one of them who was killed fighting fascism.
As we arrived there was plenty of action on the pitch, with two teams going for it. We strategically waited til they were tired out to ask for a game in order to stand any chance! Team Spanner sprang into action and had a fun game, despite relentless swarms of flies and a beating sun, surprising ourselves and everyone with a 2-1 win! When one of the guys, fresh off the pitch and 2 hours of fast football, started some incredible break dancing moves, we knew what had to happen next. There were laughs all round at an aging Spanner member’s caterpillar dancefloor entrance and comedy attempts to get down with the kids! Much more impressive was a large group of migrants using the space for a meeting with no borders activists. Apparently a lot of good solidarity work goes on here with migrants self organising and the squatters giving practical, active solidarity. The squat also provides a library, screenprinting workshop, a cafe and a people’s gym amongst other things. As in El Paso, their history is all over the walls, with hundreds of posters for events, demos, gigs etc and lots of murals, banners and graff. One of the comrades explained that they have had to move 10 times in 14 years. Well they’re certainly not showing any signs of getting tired of it!
A film showing and talk about French rebel and prison breaker Charlie Bauer, hosted by the casa antirepresione, was well attended and generated much interest and discussion. The antirepression group is extremely hard working, tirelessly putting on discussions, film nights and events as well as being right in the thick of a lot of other active solidarity organising. We were very proud to be touring alongside them.
Stonking pizzas were on the menu for dinner, made in a big bread oven on the patio by the football pitch. They were swiftly demolished. We were on the menu for the mozzies again and gained an understanding of the saying, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” After dinner it was gig time and Goz had the apparently great idea of conga-ing onto stage to get people involved and up for it. Well, we had a go anyway. Except Goz, who had clearly had second thoughts and was stood where we started looking highly amused at our antics! People did quickly get in the swing of the gig though and some dancefloor champions were identified. Ben had a couple of empty mind moments and there were suggestions for a cover of Paul Hardcastle’s “19”, i.e. “Didn’t really know what was going on…”. The gig was a goodun though and we finished up looking forward to the next night; the big finale in the mountains!
Saturday 9th July:
A photo with the partisans started us off on our way to the mountains. This was the day we’d been waiting for and after another scorcher drive (and a total, against all odds result finding vegan choc ices in the local supermarket!) we arrived at the beautiful “La Barbaria” social centre in the mountain village of Mentoulles, where we finished up 2 years ago on our first tour. It was so good to see old friends again.
We knew this was going to be a good one, surrounded by the jaw dropping beauty of the mountains and the welcome provided by great people and comrades. They’re not workshy this lot and it was clear how much effort had been collectively put in to make this an absolute corker of a gig in a field in the mountains. It was a benefit for the antirepression group as well. A lot of boxes ticked here!
The sound crew, the cafe crew, the bar crew were all a force of nature, “pezzi di pane”, as they say round here. So it was all you can eat waffles, sandwiches and pasta and lots of drinks. As usual, they wouldn’t have any talk of us paying for our food and drink! Ben had a dunk in the ice cold river, avoided getting washed away but then had a mishap with some red ants in the pants and some very painful bites! There was football skills on show from Goz and Nick as we waited excitedly for the bands to begin.
All the bands were great and we had a good stomp to a few of them, not least the Dirty Artichokes, a punk folk outfit from the neighbouring valley! It was so good to see so many fun loving rebels going for it and to meet some local bands and hear their noise! As night fell we were treated to a spectacular light show by fireflies illuminating the surrounding forest. Then it was our time to shine and we had an absolutely frantic gig, possibly our best ever, as good comrades went mental in Mentoulles!
As we said from the stage “Cuesto movimento non si arresta!” – this movement is unstoppable! Goz had to fend off an overly eager bass interferer, Nick expertly and very casually caught the bass head as it fell off the stack but hit his floor tom so hard it fell over. Needless to say the sound crew were right on it. Eve and Richy whipped the crowd up and Ben got on top of it for a bit of air guitar crowd surfing. Alex joined in the relentless mob crowd surfing and Sam and Carolyn represented in the uproarious dance. We saw some exemplary crowd surfing and some proper tumbles that looked very dangerous! A favourite plectrum was lost in the process, but that’s a fair swap for so many good memories! We got such a buzz from seeing so many good comrades with faces alive, dancing so wildly and having a blast.
There was a whole lot of love between us and the crowd. We were very proud to play for such a great bunch of solid, passionate and committed people and to support their struggles in our small way. What an amazing finish to a cracking tour. The party continued all night and into the next morning with a bit of Black Eyed Peas thrown in for good measure as the sun came up. Euphoric! We will be back for sure! Huge thanks to all the crews who helped us out and hosted gigs: Alpi liberi, La casa antirepresione, El Paso, Vis Rabbia, FOA Bocaccio, Barbaria, NO TAV, all the bands and everyone else who came to the gigs. Spacciamo! Avanti compagni / e!!! A la prossima…