Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping is back in Britain with The Golden Toad Resurrection tour. This summer, along with his Earthalujah choir, he has already brought glorious evangelical activism to Latitude Festival, Freedom Books in London and the city of Liverpool.
Why is it called the Golden Toad Resurrection tour? Because these tiny toads were made extinct 25 years ago in the US due to deforestation. Now, they have come back, to bring their song to the banks most involved in devastation of our environment, abuse of our last resources and destruction of our biodiversity. In fact, the Rev and the toads can’t keep themselves out of banks; on Saturday 27 July, he will join a ‘creative invasion’ of a fossil fuel-investing bank in central London. The tour will culminate at The Secret Garden Party festival on 28 July, after two nights at the Battersea Art Centre on 26 and 27 July.
For those who follow The Rev, you will already know that his joyous and often hysterical performances are powered by a deep intent to see the end of fossil fuel domination and create a fairer and sustainable world for futuregenerations. In his latest book, The End Of The World, he describes the potential heartbreak felt by someone who follows the latest and most reliable information on climate change while also being the loving father of a three-year old daughter.
Behind the expert holy-roller shenanigans of Billy, there remains a constant thread of deep analysis on how to win the radical changes needed to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change. The man can have you bemused and laughing but at times, he sears your soul. His message is often very personal, not just about himself but also about us, how we live, how we feel inside, our separation, frustration and yearning for something better. The role of evangelical preacher is most suited to this but he is not after your money, he is after your support for those who seek radical change through direct action.
The Rev is no stranger to taking direct action himself and is constantly in and out of prison in the US for occupying corporate spaces and bringing his message to the 1%. It was during one stay in a notorious New York prison that the Rev experienced something of a revelation that he relates beautifully in The End Of The World.
Billy had been arrested with several young Occupiers who were in the large holding cell with him and around 30 other men. He feared for the safety of the young activists when he heard them start up a peoples’ assembly in the cell, explaining to the hard-nosed husslers the well known hand signals used in the occupy system of direct democracy. But, to his amazement, the crowds of arrested people in all the cells joined in, using the hand signals, waiting their turn to speak and responding with deep thoughts and observations about the system, how it is weighted in favour of the 1% – how the justice system perpetuates that imbalance and how crime is a natural corollary of it. Even thought the young and somewhat innocent Occupiers were in a denizen not known for activism, patience or politeness, their message, their challenges struck a chord with all who were in there and gave a voice to those who are never listened to.
Seeing the Rev and his choir at established venues is a joy and a unique experience that I would recommend to anyone, but seeing him in action, in spaces where he and his choir are not supposed to be is something else again. From exorcising the spirit of BP from the Tate Modern to populating banks with Golden Toads, nobody does it like the Reverend Billy does.