The Diamond Serenade

2012, Performance. Duration: 5 hours.
Hazard Festival, Manchester.

A review by Wayne Burrows:

Simon Raven’s Summer Holiday was described in the programme – and probably pitched to the organisers – as a fairly straightforward busking session, where the performer would put on his best tropical shirt and play through a songbook of holiday-themed songs for the afternoon. Raven being Raven, though, it didn’t stay quite that simple for long, and evolved through the afternoon from oblique politics (he was immediately drawn to a pitch outside Barclays Bank, where he chose to serenade Bob Diamond, the recently resigned Chief Executive, instead of those passing in the street) to fund-raising (initially worried about being offered money, and depriving real buskers, he resolved the problem by joining forces for awhile with a homeless woman, who sat beside him holding a ‘thunderstick’ emblazoned in Hazard Festival colours while her collection hat sat at Raven’s feet, gathering contributions from shoppers) to something much stranger as time wore on.

By the late afternoon, Raven’s busker was becoming a very unsettling presence, his face obscured behind a newspaper mask, a swanee whistle in his mouth and a carnation (one taken, as it happens, from Sean Burn‘s performance, happening elsewhere at Hazard) gripped, flamenco dancer style, alongside it. While protests were staged in the background (another Hazard performance, this time by Claire Cochrane) the whole exercise stood out as one of the more surreal presences in a square that was full of odd and self-consciously quirky sights. Perhaps it was the lo-fi quality of the materials deployed and the oddly matter of fact way that this strange figure continued to strum away, carefully but almost inaudibly playing the guitar, that seemed to make many viewers uncertain about the nature of the performance they were witnessing: a point made visible in the nervousness with which those who did stop to watch looked around for the reassurance of a noticeboard to confirm that this was, after all, part of the afternoon’s programme.