Next month, a band called the Fish Police will be getting in a van and embarking on an eight day UK tour. This, in itself is nothing new and it’s likely that you might be asking yourself, “why should I care?”
Well, there are two reasons why you should care. Firstly, the band create some of the catchiest and most uplifting left-field pop music you will hear. Their album, The Marzipan Transformations, is a good time captured in music, a journey through their own unique world with nods to everything from MF Doom, Kraftwerk, De La Soul, the Ramones to Grace Jones (in fact, bassist, Charles Stuart, and drummer, Andrew McLean, can sometimes be found in Grace Jones’ backing band). The musical world in which the Fish Police exist has been created by and informed by singer Dean Rodney and guitarist Matt Howe’s autism, and the way they see the world. Dean pictures the world as if it were a TV show, he takes things he observes in his own life and twists them into unique creations.
Which leads us on to the second reason you should pay attention to this band. Because even if you’re able to resist the chorus of Chicken Nuggets for Me (nigh on impossible, by the way), then you have to recognise the that the band are breaking barriers and pushing boundaries as musicians with learning disabilities. Through being a band at the forefront of a nascent music scene, they are helping to shift perceptions and attitudes towards the learning disabled community. Up until this point, the concept of these musicians being able to tour across the UK has sometimes felt impossible. For years there have been arts organisations who have helped support people with learning disabilities to make amazing music, which in turn has created pockets of creativity and scenes across the world. However, making the transition into the more traditional pastimes of bands – such as releasing records and going on tour – has been elusive.
When I first saw the Fish Police it was at The Beautiful Octopus Club, a night run for and by people with learning disabilities in Deptford organised by Heart n Soul. I was so impressed by their charisma, the standard of playing and above all their music that I dutifully told everyone I knew about them as much as I could, over and over again. This was many years ago, and since then they have only improved, and I’m very pleased that I can now play their songs at home on my turntable. I was convinced that they would have no problem getting more shows, playing to bigger audiences and playing to audiences outside of the learning disabled community. Sadly this hasn’t been the case due to many reasons, one of which being the massively increased costs of adequately supporting band members who are vulnerable adults.
Last year – after I had set up my organisation Constant Flux whose aim it is to create more opportunities for musicians with learning disabilities – I applied for a grant from the Arts Council to put the Fish Police on tour. This grant came through and on the 4 April the tour begins, travelling through Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Sunderland, London, Brighton and Swansea. They’re playing with some of the best bands in the UK’s DIY, alternative and learning disabled scenes, bands as diverse as the music The Fish Police make, such as Fair Ohs, Cold Pumas, Raviloi Me Away,Daniel Wakeford, Ultimate Thunder, Cowtown and Beat Express. All the gigs are in accessible venues and will be fully integrated, meaning the stages and the audiences will contain people with and without learning disabilities.
There is, of course, a serious side to the tour – it combats social exclusion and perceptions of ability. But mainly it’s going to be about dancing, having a good time and bathing in the Fish water.