Interview: Newcastle Ewan Brown Anarchist Bookfair | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The third annual Newcastle Ewan Brown Anarchist Bookfair is set to take place on Saturday 1st June. The event celebrates the life of popular musician, graffiti artist and political activist Ewan, who tragically lost his life following a mental health crisis, and the radical past, present and future of the North-East.

Once again, the event will be hosted at the Star and Shadow Cinema and will feature stalls, workshops, live music, art, film screenings and children and young people’s activities throughout the day.

Here, we talk to one of the organisers Cara Brookes to find out more about Ewan and the event…

 

How did you meet and come to know Ewan?
Ewan meant many things to the people that came together to make the bookfair. He was a regular face at demos at Monument who would come up and comment on a bag I was wearing from the Newcastle Free Education Network, some of us met him through playing football in the park – we had a mixed group of general Leftist politics and he would turn up once or twice, we’d chat about politics, computers or whatever was on the horizon.

We’d go on Anti-Fascist demos together, all over the country which is where some of us really got to know him. Long travels to London, chatting in a Wetherspoons after a long Megabus early in the morning. Just sharing personal grief, his patience and kindness in these situations always struck me. He’d always share his newest design for his stickers, I had a large collection of them but couldn’t keep up with when he would put them up in my neighbourhood before I even had a chance.

Ewan knew people everywhere we’d go – he had friends in Germany, in Japan, just about everywhere. A testament to his approach to life, with the kind of patience and interest that really stuck with people.

His parents are involved in bringing the bookfair together – Ewan’s mam is incredibly proud of her brave and talented son. He had a big heart and fought injustice wherever he found it. An artist whose work is still on show outside the Black Bull, Gateshead. A musician, he’d play guitar and make chip-tune music. He was funny and caring and we miss him more than is possible to say.

Can you tell us a little about him?
Ewan seemed to have endless layers, he’d always pop up with something interesting. He always seemed to be making plans and inviting us all over town, just doing cool and different stuff. For someone who had so many talents in art and music, he always tried to raise us up to try and have a go ourselves rather than rub his talent in our faces. A kind and a deeply brave soul who helped us through some difficult times.

Above all he was kind, the least judgemental person I’ve ever known. Very politically active and a great supporter of the hunt saboteur and anti-fascist movements, among others.

Before he died he was really progressing with his BSL courses, which put him in community with the wider deaf community and this, in turn, led to a greater contentment within himself.

He will be loved forever.

What are some of your fondest memories of Ewan?
One that immediately springs to mind was in the Ouseburn when he randomly pulled a spray can out of his backpack and painted a massive vagina on the wall, out of protest to the amount of penis doodles getting all the focus.

At a London demo he lifted a 4-pack of Strongbow from a popular supermarket chain and gave it to a homeless man we had seen outside, along with some money. Because of the demo there were police everywhere. One of those moments you just laugh at the courage shown. He wasn’t even subtle, one of the staff members had seen it and came outside. We managed to talk them into letting us get away with it.

There’s so many to choose from, a very funny person who loved jokes. His smile is one of the things we miss the most.

Where did the idea for the book fair come from and what has the response been like?
One of Ewan’s friends T came up with it, it became part of our healing journey in the wake of his death. It has become something EWan’s family, friends and people who never met him can meet together in his name.

The event itself became massive, people have come from near and far to do stalls, workshops, performances or just to visit with many parts of the local community also getting involved.

How does it compare to your less anarchistic book fair? What is the ethos behind the event?
The ethos behind the bookfair is doing things in Ewan’s memory. This manifests in things like making the bookfair more accessible to the deaf community by having sign language interpreters. It’s about giving people the chance to do things themselves, like Ewan would encourage people to do.

There’s a strong connection between the venue, the volunteers, the local community and the politics. Something embedded in the ideology of Anarchism and in turn embedded in Ewan’s legacy, a legacy he continues to be a part of. We’ve had bands play after the bookfair who knew Ewan personally, Ewan would volunteer at the venue where he’d help set up and stock up the Canny Little Library there.

There’s a lot more to an Anarchist Bookfair than just “books”. There’s a whole practice of Anarchism around the day, community support, fighting injustice and sharing the tools to make a better world. Like all good Anarchism, you don’t have to be an “Anarchist” to understand it and be welcomed into it.

These are all embedded in the fibre of our bookfair, Anarchism celebrating someone who practised it well.

What was Ewan’s connection to the Star & Shadow? How important is the venue to the local community?
Ewan was a regular volunteer at the Star & Shadow Cinema, stretching back to their old venue. He’d help wherever was needed – he helped play a part in the cafe being vegan and the foundation of the Canny Little Library, which is now full of lots of Ewan’s diverse selection of books which may have one of his stickers tucked away in them.

How does the event reflect Ewan’s life and continue his legacy?
The bookfair was made in Ewan’s image, to the very best of our ability, by his family and friends. The atmosphere is so lovely and speaks volumes to the kind of person Ewan Brown was.

This is the third year of the Anarchist Bookfair. How does this year’s event differ from past ones?
It is awesome to have continued year after year. We’ve started getting the hang of arranging everything now so the main difference may be that this one runs smoother than the last. Every year has its own challenges to overcome but this one looks set to be just as massive as the first 2.

What can people expect from this year’s event? Tell us about some of the things that will be happening on the day and at the evening gig.
We will offer more stalls than last year with a slightly larger array of stallholders than the previous years. It will be one of those events that you may walk into it looking for 1 specific thing and find it. Books and art, queer and feminist, hunt saboteur and unions – we’ll have a little of everything.

Further to the stalls, we have the workshops, from a range of local groups sharing their knowledge. We’ll have workshops on the tactics that got the disability movement’s voices heard, mutual aid and migrant solidarity, BSL (British Sign Language), prisoner letter writing, bike maintenance and graffiti stencilling.

After the stalls and workshops are over we move into the After Party section with live music. Almighty Uprisers, Fiona Liquid, Benny Rabble and 21 Melville Street will be playing with a good range of radical poetry, synth pop and punk. During the day we will also have a range of local DJs.

Which films will be screened and what were the reasons for their selection?
Throughout the day Ewan’s films will play in the cinema as a backdrop to the event’s stalls. The cinema space is a comfortable area to chill out and look through some of the items you have bought – playing Ewan’s films gives people an impression, if even for a glimpse, of what was important to him and the art he created.

Can you elaborate on some of the workshops that will be taking place throughout the day and your relationship with some of the groups who are part of the event?
Every year we try and pick a theme for the workshops , something along with the ethos of the bookfair but magnified in a little to a specific section of the movement. The theme for 2024 is ‘Practicality’ things you can take away and help you as soon as you leave the door.

  • This includes things like:
    A workshop on disability justice, how the disability movement had to fight to get their voices recognised.
  • Sign It Hear will be giving a workshop on BSL (British Sign Language), a subject linked ostensibly with our bookfair.
  • Food & Solidarity, a local Mutual Aid and Migrant Solidarity organisation who do wonderful work in the area and encapsulates the mantra of “Solidarity, not Charity
  • NEAG (North East Anarchist Group) will have a workshop on Prisoner Letter Writing and its importance. That solidarity with political prisoners can build something greater.
  • Finally, there will be workshops on graffiti and bike repair from local people to scratch that creative and mechanical itch.

The event is free but donations are welcome. Where do the donations go?
Donations to the bookfair will go directly into running the bookfair for future years. Things like printing costs, hiring of BSL interpreters and the unseen things that go into making a day like this really add up. Donations are always appreciated as they are critical to the running of the bookfair.

Further to this the Community Kitchen will be accepting donations alongside the food they provide, this helps their wonderful work in the East End of Newcastle and can help them expand operations in the future.

A lot of the stallholders and workshops are ran by volunteers of grassroots organisations. People who do what they do because they truly believe in it – so no matter where your money goes on Saturday 1st June, it goes towards something greater.

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