The East End Festival began in 1979 and ran annually until 1991. The Festival showcased a broad range of gallery exhibitions, theatre and performing arts events and workshop activities. When it began it was hosted at the Half Moon in Alie Street but as it grew over the years it later took place in many venues across Tower Hamlets.
Rob Walker talks about instituting The East End Festival, which was a true project of open access to all the community.
Marie McMahon attended the Youth Theatre for ten years, from the age of 11. Here she recalls how nervous she was when she first performed in the East End Festival and what she got out of her years with the group and why her own son now attends. Interviewed by Toni Tsaera
Steve Harris talks about introducing diversity within the young people’s theatre company and how that led to bi-lingual plays for young audiences. He also talks about the way in which the Bangladeshi Youth Workers who were employed at Half Moon supported the work of The East End Festival. Interviewed by Alexia-Pyrrha Ashford.
Our band ‘Mischief’ were scheduled to play halfway through the 1982 TEEF programme but the headline act at the opening night pulled out and we were asked to step in at short notice. It was the biggest venue and audience any of us had experienced before so we agreed with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
We got there early to do a soundcheck. That was new to us; we just played in local east end pubs. I used an old Watkins Copycat echo tape machine for my vocals so I connected it as usual. When the vocal soundcheck started, I hit the foot switch and nearly deafened the sound man, sitting high up in a booth at the back of the theatre! I hadn’t sung through a PA system and monitors before, and when we ran through a number, it was an amazing feeling to be able to hear my voice so clearly above the band.
There was no raised stage, we were at the same level as the floor audience, with circular rows of seats above looking down at us.. Felt quite intimate and a little exposed! The stage area was surrounded by stage props, probably left there from plays. A beat up piano, an ironing board and cleaning materials,that actually relaxed me a bit because it felt so down to earth and informal. It was the first time I’d been in a theatre and it had a friendly atmosphere that reflected the area around it. Not too up itself.
We followed two very good acts; a reggae band and an African dance/music outfit, can’t recall their names now. We got on really well with the reggae guys in the dressing room, who were as nervous as us but a few beers and banter helped relax me. When we came on, the place was packed and buzzing. The mayor of Tower Hamlets was sitting in the middle of the front row with his chain of office glinting in the lights. A strange feeling to have people above you as you played, usually you’re looking down from the stage. Lots of flashlights were going off and one guy was filming in the front row but we never saw the footage, luckily we got a few pictures afterwards from a friendly journalist .
We had a good response to our set once we warmed up and after a while everyone was up dancing in the right in front of us. That was the best feeling and the adrenaline kicked in. I got a bit carried away and went into the audience with my guitar and danced along with them; it was that kind of evening, very relaxed and great fun. We weren’t the most polished band around but we had lots of youthful energy and the audience responded to that.
A memorable night. Whenever I pass the Half Moon, I smile at the memory of being with good mates doing something we all loved.