My wild night at a Brexit rave

MP Andrea Jenkyns sang her own song, Bropera was born – and the ex-singer of Pigface rocked out. So did our writer want to leave or remain at the Big Brexit Party?

On a stage once graced by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell, Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns is singing. It’s a song she wrote herself, “for the true patriots”, although she admits she hasn’t performed it in public since the days she “wore red rubber trousers”. It’s called The Spell, and she says she hopes it puts “a spell on the cabinet”.

After segueing into the theme from The Godfather, the member for Morley and Outwood concludes this somewhat unlikely gig with her personal take on Theresa May’s frantic weekend of negotiations: “Let’s face it – the deal is shit!”

The crowd cheers as union jack flags fly above the stage. “She’s great,” says compere Chloe Westley, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. “The music was a bit strange but she carried on.”

Confused? You’re not alone. We’re at the Big Brexit Party, a night of eclectic entertainment organised by the group Artists for Brexit at the Troubadour club in west London. And it’s not just Jenkyns’ performance that stands out: the sheer range of performance and opinions out on display seem to be as messy and unclear as Brexit itself.

Commons people ... Andrea Jenkyns sings her own song The Spell

There’s opening act Meg Lee Chin, who was born in Taiwan and once sang with anarchic industrial supergroup Pigface. Her set incorporates Peaches-esque hip-hop, chugging hard-rock guitars and impromptu critiques of New Statesman journalists (“Now that’s a woman who would not take shit from the EU,” notes Westley).

Next up is Lucy Harris, founder of Leavers of London, and seemingly the creator of an entire new genre – “Bropera”, or Brexit opera. She sings in Italian and talks about the scorn she’s received for supporting Brexit. Much of the crowd feels the same way.

“This is the first time I’ve been in an environment where I haven’t got to feel embarrassed or ashamed about being a Brexiteer,” says a 34-year-old GP. He’s here with his American boyfriend, yet even on the weekend of Pride he feels that this is the place that best allows him to express who he really is: “I go to GP meetings where it’s assumed you’re a remainer. This is the first place I’ve been in where I can be open, where I can say, ‘I voted Brexit.’”

It’s time for former Labour MP Gisela Stuart to follow in Andrea Jenkyns’ footsteps and take to the stage – although sadly there are no self-penned songs during her appearance. She offers her own take on why we’d be better off out of the EU. But as the night progresses, it becomes harder, not easier, to get a handle on where people stand on the leave/remain spectrum. As one university friend of Westley says: “You could put a hundred Brexiteers in a room and you’d get 100 different answers for why they voted Brexit.”

Ain’t no party like a Brexit party ... musician Meg Lee Chin on stage.
Ain’t no party like a Brexit party ... musician Meg Lee Chin on stage. Photograph: Oscar Ricketts/The Guardian

Certainly Michael Lightfoot, the sweet and earnest 41-year-old from Devon who organised the night, doesn’t conform to the stereotype of an angry leaver. He arrives on stage with an acoustic guitar and plays a “song for British freedom” that rivals, in length, some of Bob Dylan’s more prolonged musings. He follows it with a number that takes its lyrics from Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Buddha.

“I’m a Buddhist and that’s my main motivation,” he tells me. “I want to come from the heart and be a compassionate person.” Lightfoot believes those who voted remain voted for the fantasy of Europe, not the reality of the European Union.

But it’s not all good vibes. Back on stage, pro-Trump US comedian Will Franken is doing an impression of a trans woman: “I’m a fucking bird!” he roars, gruffly. This is followed by a bit on 17th-century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz.

“I draw the line at nastiness and I’ve got to admit I squirmed a little bit during some of Will’s stuff,” Lightfoot says, “but I survived.” He adds that he has “mixed feelings” about groups such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance, but believes the fact Brexit can incorporate so many wildly diverging viewpoints is a good thing.

For his part, Franken sees himself as a champion of freedom of speech and the individual. Like almost everyone on this night, he’s angry at the way the Brexit negotiations are going. He’s also upset that he’s had bookings cancelled because of his politics, although that’s not entirely surprising. Discussing the night’s proceedings, he says that he got to speak with Jenkyns: “But only because I’ve always wanted to shag a Tory MP.” (Instead, he came away with an offer to be introduced to Jacob Rees-Mogg.)

The Troubadour is a club that’s suffering. Passing trade has dropped off since the Earl’s Court exhibition centre shut down. Some staff are angry that the Big Brexit Party has been put on here. It’s a “politically agnostic” place, says Ian Williamson, the Troubadour’s “director of happenings”.

But it’s always had its quirks. The Ban the Bomb movement used to meet here. Then there’s the picture on the wall that’s been there since 1955, taken by Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, who lived across the street.

Back in the basement, it’s close to 11pm and the crowd is thinning out. The final act – which involved an enormous drum and a penny whistle – has left the stage. On the stereo, Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie is playing. Twenty minutes later, David Davis will resign his position as Brexit secretary. The next day, Boris Johnson, who isn’t mentioned once at the Troubadour, follows suit, engulfing the government in tumult and ensuring that no matter how bizarre and unfocused this night became, it still can’t top Brexit itself.


Oscar Rickett

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wallop our EU punchbag! Artists talk us through their Brexit creations
Marina Abramović, Elmgreen & Dragset and Bernard-Henri Lévy are just some of the big names involved in United Artists for Europe. Here’s why they’re taking a stand

Interviews by Stuart Jeffries

20, May, 2019 @3:41 PM

Article image
Three lions on a beach: a sculpture for the age of Brexit
What are three decrepit beasts doing washed up on Dover sands? Sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor reveals why The Pride of Brexit protests the ‘most unpatriotic events’ Britain has ever seen

Stuart Jeffries

17, Nov, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
Militias, chaos and starvation: Britain 10 years after Brexit
The Queen has fled, Polish workers have been forced out, and violent factions roam a broken land. Writer Jonathan Meades imagines the country The Great Chaos will create

Jonathan Meades

10, Apr, 2019 @12:21 PM

Article image
Kieran Hodgson review – Brexit history skit is jam-packed with funny
Ted Heath and Harold Wilson feature in a terrific caricature comedy that traces Britain’s EU troubles back to the 70s

Brian Logan

04, Aug, 2018 @4:29 PM

Article image
‘We finished every bottle!’ Berlin's cultural legends on the night the Wall came down
It divided families, trapped half a city and symbolised the cold war. Then, 30 years ago this Saturday, the Berlin wall fell. Wim Wenders, Ute Lemper, Daniel Barenboim and more share their memories

Interviews by Simon Usborne

05, Nov, 2019 @1:10 PM

Article image
Matt Forde: Brexit Through the Gift Shop review – headline punchlines
Comedy’s rational surveyor of the political scene fires a centrist shot at easy targets from Boris Johnson to Jeremy Corbyn

Brian Logan

29, Jan, 2019 @8:00 PM

Article image
Honk if you like my arias: the summer of drive-in culture
With venues locked down, entertainment-starved audiences are getting in gear for a season of opera, comedy shows and movies experienced from your own car seat – but is it an artistic cul de sac?

Stuart Jeffries

22, Jun, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
How Mongolia went wild for opera
Why are so many Mongolians winning international singing awards? To find out, Kate Molleson travelled 1,000 miles across the country to meet latest star Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar, drinking mare’s milk, sleeping in yurts and recording its vocal masters

Kate Molleson

02, Jan, 2018 @6:51 PM

Article image
Elton John: Brexit negotiators 'screwed up' deal for British musicians
Singer calls for return to negotiation as touring artists face red tape and new costs, with Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood adding fresh criticism of UK government

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

07, Feb, 2021 @3:01 PM

Article image
Madonna, Motown and Mongolian metal: the music to listen out for in 2020
The queen of pop gets intimate, Taylor Swift feels the sunshine and Stormzy takes on the world … plus, classical celebrations begin for Beethoven’s 250th

Alexis Petridis and Andrew Clements

01, Jan, 2020 @11:00 AM