Bastille, Eddie Izzard and Lily Cole teamed up for an inimate ‘celebration of voting’. We were there.
Lily Cole’s airy workspace in Borough has been taken over. Bastille are jumping off a makeshift stage, Bob Geldof’s loitering in a corner, and Eddie Izzard teeters over to a live TV camera in high heels. It’s chaos, but exciting chaos. So how is this living room concert – organised by model/actress Cole – hoping to challenge voter’s perceptions ahead of tomorrow’s EU Referendum?
“We’re throwing a voting party and you can only come if you pledge to vote,” says Cole. “We want to turn voting into a celebration, instead of it feeling like this really dry thing you have to do, can you actually celebrate it, because there is something really cool about people being democratically engaged and genuinely affecting our country’s future”.
By “we”, Cole is referring to a host of celebrity support, including the aforementioned Bastille and Eddie Izzard as well as Maverick Sabre and Rio Ferdinand. This concert – organised by the living room gig promoters Sofar Sounds and hosted by Cole in her boutique office The Glass House – sees a collection of musicians, artists, poets, and comedians perform as 150 competition winners squeeze cross-legged onto the posh, somewhat uncomfortable, granite floor.
Aside from a sharp debate between comedian Eddie Izzard and outspoken ‘Leave’ campaigner Steve Hilton, who were each challenged to present a three-minute speech without using the words “in”, “out”, “economy” “immigration”, “leave”, or “remain”, the evening was tactically safe. With each artist performing in quick, neither-leave-nor-remain ten-minute slots, it is perhaps one of the least political ‘political’ events around.
“We’ve totally framed this as a neutral event,” says Cole. “Whilst I’ve been open about my feelings, I haven’t wanted to shove that down other people’s throats… It’s a simple, neutral call to arms to try and engage a high voter turn out this Thursday.”
Dan Smith from Bastille was equally careful while introducing an acapella version of “Pompeii” during their first acoustic performance in over a year. “I’m just gonna shut up because we’re not qualified to say anything political. But… Thursday!!”.
This tentative attempt at neutrality is why Cole’s event is so important: here she is using the arts – music, comedy, poetry, even beatboxing – to celebrate the importance of each vote.
“I’m just here to speak to as many young people as possible,” says Eddie Izzard. “We want to get through to young people because older people will tune in to programmes – they’ve got Newsnight and all those programmes for them – what about younger people? This event is great – set up in an unusual space and streamed across Facebook and YouTube. I’m here to get people young of age, young of heart, young of mind involved.”
Despite the June 23 EU Referendum being ominously named “the biggest vote of a generation”, only a sixth of the population are expected to vote, with the Electoral Reform Society stating earlier this month that almost 4 million 18-24 year olds were not registered.
Cole’s efforts to use her profile, and that of Ferdinand, Izzard, Bastille, and others, is significant. Teaming up with BT, and shared on each artist’s social media pages, the live stream of the event had an estimated reach of 9 million.
Does Cole think she or the big names involved tonight have a responsibility to engage voters? “No, I never think like that. Everyone has a different skill set to bring to the table – it just so happens that some people have a lot of followers”. We certainly shouldn’t overegg Cole as ‘noble’, but this work to exploit her address book – and, of course, lending out her swish granite floor – to use culture not as a weapons of an ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote, but instead as a neutral knees-up for voters, should be applauded.
Words: Chris Lloyd