Since joining Gaggle six months ago, I’ve done some pretty bizarre and unimaginable things; from singing Sabbath covers to Ozzy Osbourne at the Kerrang! awards to taking part in atheist gatherings. This one however, has to be up there with one of the strangest.
To celebrate the release of our debut album (From The Mouth of the Cave) as well as to promote it, we’ve been playing pop up shows in relevant, unusual locations. A member of Gaggle came up with the idea of singing ‘Lullaby’ at a monthly vigil for deceased ‘outcasts’ which takes place at the gates of the graveyard at Winchester Goose Gate in Southwark. Why is it suitable? Well, ‘Lullaby’ is a song about the falsity of some relationships and about feeling like you’re uncared for - “You, who are you to me? Will you take good care of me?” The London ‘outcasts’ were clearly uncared for as they had no family members or friends to bury them, thus making this vigil the perfect place to perform the song.
We arrive fifteen minutes early at the site which was once one of the most dingy, sworded streets in London and wait for John ‘Crow’ to arrive. He does shortly after in the possession of an acoustic guitar, donning a Spanish religious T shirt. A small crowd are also starting to gather before the gates. We wait until 7pm as that’s when the vigil must begin. On the stroke of seven, now in a long, purple, velvet tail coat, John hits two small symbols together and begins the chant that he begins every ceremony with; a homage to the goose. The goose he later explains is the vision that came to him in 1996 who told him of the graveyard and of her history as a prostitute.
John then goes on to explain the importance of the monthly gatherings and why it’s such a crucial thing at this moment in time; TFL are planning to build over the graveyard. Planned building works on the site is how these monthly vigils began nine years ago – Crossbones managed to stop them happening. Hopefully, they will be able to do the same again.
A man then comes up from the crowd with an acoustic guitar and sings the ‘Crossbones’ song – yes, it is everything that you would expect: a hippie folk song yet it’s also oddly moving. A few talks are given, including one from a lady that works at a large publishing company who has had Crossbones banners printed. It’s then the time to bring the offerings to the fence, these include flowers, more ribbons (many with handwritten messages on), notes and a large colourful banner is added which features pictures of The Virgin Mary. The banner has been bought with the money taken from the collection that takes place at the end of each vigil.
John then circulates the crowd (which is now up to about fifty people) and wafts incense into the faces of emotional participants with a pigeon feather. He also hands me and a few other people a small candle to hold.
At last it is time for our performance; we line up against the gates and launch into ‘Lullaby.’ The woman standing directly in front of me looks as if she’s about to burst into tears.
When we’re done John invites an opera singing violin player to perform. It’s very fascinating indeed as well as being genuinely impressive. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. John then asks us to take part in his song ‘Green Man’ – a song about a mysterious figure who is said to look after the graveyard.
We’re up again next and we decide to perform ‘Leave The City’ as it’s appropriately about not having anywhere else to go. Again, the crowd are still filled with emotion, as are most of us. John then thanks us by walking up to Deborah (the leader of Gaggle) with a hand held drum.
The ceremony is then wrapped up by everyone going right up to the fence, almost until our faces are planted within the railings whilst we listen and repeat John’s words – a little like in a catholic mass, before the ‘sacred’ bottle of Gordon’s gin is passed around which has been ‘blessed’ by John. It’s a pretty strange yet uplifting way to end the ceremony. It is a Saturday night after all.
Yes, I had a rather interesting time at the vigil and some of it was extremely odd but the reasoning behind the monthly meetings is very profound. Some of it for me was a little too much admittedly but there were also moments where I was incredibly moved by John’s sermons and the dedication of the people who take part in Crossbones.
Help Crossbones save the graveyard by signing the petition.
The vigils take part on the 23rd of every month at 7pm. For more info visit the website.
Words: Katie Wilkinson
Photos: Angela Platt