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August 2003

Me, my guitar and disability art

By Robin Surgeoner
AKA Angryfish

The most profound emotion experienced in performing my first 'Disability Arts' gig was the unadulterated feeling that I was engaging in debate with an audience of disabled people. This might seem an odd statement in a performance that in terms of the medium, guitar and lyrics, would certainly traditionally be seen as a one way process, and I will try to determine what I mean.

I cannot deny that it was a powerful position to be in. However, and perhaps as part of my identity as a disabled person, and more so as an aspiring artist, I need to see or feel an audience reaction (hopefully positive). But more than that, especially as my repertoire and audiences change, I increasingly find myself attempting to direct parts of my performance, and to identify in the audience, realisations, or epiphanies in their lives, from engaging with the text I am creating, the scenarios my songs construct.

Now I know this is an arts article, but that lot sounds a bit philosophical, (blame it on my up-bringing). So what do I mean?

For me the genre known as disability arts is much more than an arena for disabled artists to ply their wares. It is a stage where art mimics life, but uses the ironies in its delivery to address the very real oppression that disabled people face in their ordinary lives, and through that to effect change. Disability art is about celebrating the lives of disabled people, but in a way that shows them as everyday people, with everyday lives, who are forced to confront a myriad of barriers to pursuing equitable everyday lives.

I believe that the way I use lyrics and the style of my performing really gives people the opportunity to understand what I am saying. I hope it furnishes people with a framework to pose questions for, and of, themselves and their relationship with society, and ultimately to create affirmations or re-affirmations within themselves, that they have the right to be free, to choose and control their own lives, and to extend those beliefs beyond themselves to the communities in which they go about their everyday lives. Hell sounds a lot, but ambitions are what many of us aren't allowed to have.

Disability art though does have its ambiguities and one of the ambiguities is that as an artist we want to be noticed and taken notice of, yet the ideals we chase champion anonymity, yet celebrate difference, aspire to equality, yet applaud success. For me this begs the question of how I want my art to cross-over into the mainstream. When I play to an inclusive (or would be) audience, is there a point at which I am an artist with an impairment, and not a disability artist. Is purely hearing the music and verse that I do, appreciating disability art, or is there a need to contemplate and reason with what is being said?

If my art only ever changes one life other than my own then I have been successful. For me, disability art is not about making huge piles of filthy lucre (although a modicum would be nice), it is about social justice, and using all forms of art, from Novel to Sub-Pop to combat social exclusion, and create individual awakenings.

However I have recently, 13th July 2003, become forty and I am more than ready to start to live. Actually to be honest I have already done a hell of a lot of living, including competing in three Paralympic Games as a swimmer and collecting Nine Gold medals in the process, I've toured the country when I was at university in an indie band called Dan Dares Dog, I am married to a beautiful woman, Tracy, and have a fantastic seven year old son called Joshua.

Where next?

So now being forty I am about to enter a critical new phase in my performance career, which is to take what I do direct to mainstream venues, to demand that I am heard, and not allow myself to be fobbed off with shite about whether or not I can levitate onto the stage, and questions about whether my music is for non-disabled people.

At my core I am a poet and a songwriter, I make the statements about who I am, and I will define my own future. Robin Surgeoner AKA Angryfish will become famous. If you want to get onto my email fan base then email me at angryfish@angryfish.co.uk, or buy my cd's from www.angryfish.co.uk

Always listen loud and enjoy!

Cheers from Robin the Angryfish.

Editor's note

Angryfish's new album is titled "Barbed Wire and Pot Holes". Song lyrics and a sample audio track are available on his web site. Robin is available for bookings and happy to support other well known artisits. Living in England, he is also keen to get a tour gig "dOWN uNDER"!

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