The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…
The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an album Don’t Say Baloney in 2005.
I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.
“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”
“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.
“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.
“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.
“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.
“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.
“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.
“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.
“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.
– What would you like to see?
– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?
– I wanna fuck ‘er.
– Right… What’s your name?
– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?
– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.
“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.
“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.
“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.
“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.
“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.
“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.
“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.
“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?
From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?
Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.
So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.
“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!
“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.
“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.
“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”
“Where are they now?” I asked.
“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.
“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?
“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.
“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.
“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”