It’s raining. Properly raining. The lovely, dedicated audience, including the occasional otter, are huddling under a gazebo in the yard of Stirling’s Old Town Jail, we’ve handed out some bright red Wallace Monument ponchos (they clash with the t-shirts, but it was short notice.) Zara takes to the stage, triumphant on home turf, to announce the final concert of Yestival open. Have we really come this far already? The last month is a whirlwind of places and voices. The bunting flaps in the storm as Jamie kicks off the evening. It doesn’t take long before we’re out dancing in the rain, as his songs implore politicians, forget about your GDP, remember your humanity. He’s sung No Gods and Precious Few Heroes every night he’s been on the tour – it’s become an anthem and it fortifies us.
Janice Galloway gives us our final Journey to Yes for the tour. She counters the negative mantras of her upbringing – don’t think you’re special, who do you think you are, and, indeed, you’ll pay for it – with wisdom from the likes of Superman and Alice in Wonderland. It’s not showing off to try. To give it your best shot. Trying’s what we do best at Yestival (I’ve heard from my tour mates I’m very trying…) We set out with ideas, sure, and something that in certain lights could be mistaken for a plan, but everything we do depends on people in the places we go – to turn up, to take part, to spread the word, to join in the choruses. We had no idea how big or small the audiences would be, relied on donations and kindnesses and determination and love. The response has been better than we dared to imagine.
Northern Exposure comes on, getting more dancing going with upbeat observations on how we are all interconnected, influencing each others’ lives. It’s All Good. It is. This feels like a proper festival now, rain and all. Then it’s Zara Gladma…sorry, Lady Alba and the Wee Terrors, fast becoming the singalong hit of the referendum. For Bad Romance, me, Rós and Alex have been co-opted to come on and invade the stage as dancing politicians. Rós tries to maximise Alex Salmond’s bosom. Alex does a great job as Nigel Farage, pint and fag in hand. I realise how hard it is to dance when Johann Lamont’s face is on your face.
The crowd are drawn out into the rain – more ponchos, we have more ponchos! – to get a closer view of Ruth Mills’ incredible dancing. Her dramatic movements echo the wind and thunder outside the stage canopy. The energy from her feels like it could burn off rainclouds. As the next act, the band Blank Canvas, set up, Zara calls up the Yestival team for individual thanks. We’re all a bit giddy, laughing and singing our silly tour bus chants to the audience. Then it’s dancing time – Blank Canvas, Jelly Roll Soul and Pro-Vinylist Karim fill the jailyard with tunes. Team and audience alike throw ourselves into the music. The rain even goes off.
At 11pm, it’s time for a quick tidy-up – which becomes a lengthy and vaguely terrifying process when the inflatable stage canopy collapses before it’s been tellt to and we have to hold it up on our shoulders like mini-Atlases while the Stirling team relay all the breakable equipment from under it. But soon everyone’s off duty for the after-party inside the jail. Wandering around earlier, it was spooky, the cells left as they were when it was last used as a prison, maze-like and dimly lit. Now it’s beginning to feel like a nightclub – say, the sort of nightclub you might find in a culturally engaged city in a recently independent small European country. Blue-green lights pulse behind our sign – If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When? Vote Yes!
Before the crowd arrives for the after-party, Mairi ushers the team into a small room where a projector is set up, showing the green Yestival logo. This bit wasn’t in the programme. We sit on the floor – just glad for a wee bit of a sit-down, really. As she presses Play, big letters fill the screen – “Welcome home, Yestival team! You made it! XXX” Over the next eight minutes, we are all, to a person, reduced into wobbly heaps of sheer emotion, as we watch pictures from our journey of 34 days, 1786 miles, MANY TENTS, and a trailer named Gloria – interspersed with heartfelt tributes from several of the touring acts, including Kieran Hurley, Julia Taudevin and Zara Gladman. Several tears of joy are shed. And then, out we go into Stirling Old Town Jail to dance the night away in the name of democracy, optimism, and change.
We can’t quite believe we’ve done it. And now, is it back to reality? This is reality now. Things are exciting, we’re realising what our potential is, and the air is electrified with possibilities. The Yestival tour may be over, but the Summer of Independence will continue – for starters, we’ve got the One Love reggae concert at Studio 24 in Edinburgh on Tuesday, National Collective Presents… at the Fringe, and more local sessions to come throughout August. Then it’ll be September, and then… And then. Let’s give it our best shot.
Here’s where to see Mairi’s Welcome Home video!
Erin Catriona Farley