Communities of performers and musicians
Communities of performers and musicians
Communities of performers and musicians have existed for centuries. Some early examples were troupes of performers formed and patronised by aristocrats, others were extended families who lived and worked together. In the early period, the difference between players, acrobats, musicians and other entertainers was not hard and fast. Some performers and musicians were organised into guilds. These were early egalitarian communities which had sworn among themselves to support one another in adversity and back one another in feuds or in business ventures. (They were called “guilds” for the gold deposited in their common funds.) As early as 1321, the minstrels of Paris were formed into a guild. A guild of royal minstrels was organized in England in 1469.
Companies of players attached to households of leading noblemen and performing seasonally in various locations existed before the reign of Elizabeth 1. These became the foundation for the professional players that performed on the Elizabethan stage. The tours of these players gradually replaced the performances of the mystery and morality plays by local players, and a 1572 law eliminated the remaining companies lacking formal patronage by labeling them vagabonds.
In Renaissence London, playing company was the usual term for a company of actors. These companies were organized around a group of ten or so shareholders (or “sharers”), who performed in the plays but were also responsible for management. The sharers employed “hired men” — that is, the minor actors and the workers behind the scenes. As well as groups based in one place, groups of travelling players, such as The Earl of Worcester’s Men existed in sixteenth century England.
In eighteenth century England, the first modern circuses came into being, some being based in one place, others travelling the country. The popularity of the circus in England may be traced to that held by Philip Astley in London. The first performance of his circus is said to have been held on January 9, 1768. The Englishman John Bill Ricketts brought the first modern circus to the United States. He began his theatrical career with Hughes Royal Circus in London in the 1780s, and came over from England in 1792 to establish his first circus in Philadelphia. The first circus building in the U.S opened on April 3, 1793 in Philadelphia, where Ricketts gave America’s first complete circus performance.
Twentieth century communities of performers and musicians
During the nineteen sixties and early seventies, at a time when many members of the counterculture were forming communes, a number of music groups experimented with communal living.
In 1965, the Los Angeles band, Love, lived communally in a house called “the Castle” and their first two albums included photographs shot in the garden of that house.
From September 1966 to March 1968, the Grateful Dead lived communally at 710a Ashbury Street in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. (See 710a Ashbury St. – Grateful Dead House).
In 1967, about a dozen musicians and artists started the Amon Düül commune in Herrsching, near Munich. (See Amon Düül).
In Spring 1968, Jefferson Airplane’s manager, Bill Thompson, organised the purchase of a 20-room mansion at 2400 Fulton Street across from Golden Gate Park near the Haight-Ashbury district, which became the band’s office and communal residence. On their 1969 album, Volunteers, the themes of nature, communities and ecology were also explored with the songs, “The Farm” and “Eskimo Blue Day”.
From the end of 1968, most of the British psychedelic folk band, The Incredible Sting Band, lived communally at a farmhouse near Newport in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in the same area as the farm of John Seymour, an influential figure in the self-sufficiency movement, and the current community of Brithdir Mawr. There they developed ideas for mixed media experiments with Malcolm Le Maistre and other members of David Medalla’s Exploding Galaxy troupe and the Leonard Halliwell Quartet. By late 1969, they had established a communal base at Glen Row near Innerleithen in Scotland.
The anglo-french band, Gong, formed somewhat of an anarchist commune in rural France between 1972 and 1974, and later in the seventies, the founder of the band, Daevid Allen, lived in a hippie collective in the village of Deià (Majorca).
Also in the early 1970s, the Global Village Trucking Company, known to its fans as “The Glob’s”, together with their road crew and their families all lived together in a Norfolk commune, and undertook numerous benefit concerts and free festivals. (See documentary film: What happened next – The Global Village Trucking Company?).
In mainland Europe, the german band, “Ton Steine Scherben” lived communally for most of their existance, first in West Berlin, then in Fresenhagen in norther West Germany.
Since 1967, Dial House has been an anarchist-pacifist open house, the base of operations for a number of cultural, artistic, and political projects ranging from avant-garde jazz events to helping found the Free Festival Movement.
Perhaps the best-known manifestation of the public face of Dial House was the anarcho-punk band Crass. Following the DIY punk ethic, Crass combined the use of song, film, sound collage, and graphics to launch a critical broadside against what they saw as a culture built on foundations of war, religion, and consumerism.
Crass retired from the public eye in 1984. The band members soon came into conflict with developers who wanted to urbanize the last remaining green belt around London. This struggle came to a head in 2001 when Crass co-founders Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher bought the Dial House at auction, a decision that left them £100,000 in debt but secured a future for the community at Dial House.
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