John Bird: Shambala Festival – young, committed and ready for a Big Plan

The Shambala audience are ready to hear the serious stuff – but piecemeal problem solving won't work, we need a Big Plan.

An older man with long hair tied into a bun at the back of his head lent forward as I sat at a small table signing books. I had just finished an hour’s talk at the Shambala Festival, in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire. He crouched down to talk over the noise of the tent and its competing sounds. He offered me great wisdom.

Actually, greater wisdom than either he intended or I was capable of attaining on my own. Wisdom that almost fell from the skies, so to speak.

I try to show  how wasteful was much of my effort… because otherwise you become a kind of finely honed piece of bull, as you go from crisis to self-realisation. You become saintly. And that don’t fit with me.

This was my third day at the festival and my third talk. The first talk in a crowded tent called the the Imaginarium was called ‘Poverty to Purpose’ and was my usual struggle story up from empty slum life through crime, homelessness and other wrongdoings, mistakes mixed in with rough sleeping and self abuse. This is the popular story that people love to hear. It tires me so I always add elaborations, deviations, general observations, and lacerations. I try to show as much as a can how wasteful was much of my effort, how confused and lost was I. Because otherwise you become a kind of finely honed piece of bull, as you go from crisis to self-realisation. You become saintly. And that don’t fit with me.

The second talk I did, with storyteller outfit 5×15 Bristol, was about my book ‘John Quixote’ which still languishes on the desks of perhaps ten publishers, and had done so since early Spring. I told about the pain, the real pain that comes with writing something, being told it contains genius, and then having the languishing. I even admitted that parts of the book might be crap. But I add in my defence that I have never ever read a book that was not part good, and part crap; even part genius and part crap. Of course there is also the part crap followed by part crap.

The Shambala audience, largely young and committed, were there to hear serious stuff but dressed like the lightest of light.

I passionately described, loudly my struggle through the book writing world, having never really written what I wanted to write, and John Quixote is definitely that book; or almost.

I did say when it comes out people will be able to register their disdain with the book by getting their money back, in the form of Poundland gift vouchers, having filled in a simple 32 page questionnaire, less a 43% handling fee.

I made it as comic an event as I could but the wound is still there; the publishers have yet to bite. So far I have about five rejections. Perhaps if it does not get sold to some clever publisher realising that even the crap is deep within it, I’ll publish it online with you being offered the chance of receiving a page a day for the circa 350 pages it will end up as. Wow! Almost a year of ‘John Quixote’!

DID YOU KNOW…

If you pay for the magazine you should always take it. Vendors are working for a hand up, not a handout.

Shamabala is a remarkable mix of hedonism, music, colour, dance, fun, with thoughtfulness. Everyone except for me seemed in fancy dress, or dressed like an August christmas tree; there was a serious run on the glitter. Doing my talks to people dressed in party mood, and getting their enthusiasm rarely happens, if at all. Most audiences I talk to are seemingly dressed to listen. But the Shambala audience, largely young and committed, were there to hear serious stuff but dressed like the lightest of light.

Shambala from a hot air balloon this evening 🎈

A post shared by Shambala Festival (@shambalafest) on

My last talk last Sunday, this time on the Rebel Soul stage, on a blazing hot day was the one I really enjoyed. It was about how you need to grasp the opportunity to think your way out of the crises of today. And how we have all of the answers out there, but there are these thinking mechanisms, these systems run by governments that get nowhere near bridging the gap between rich and poor, and ending the domination of poverty in our lives; and bringing true social justice to all.

I did what I considered was a reasonable job in describing the various stages of a game-plan to get out of the sticky stuff; which does involve practical things like changing our disastrous education system, and taking trade away from the gated community as we learn to trade with the community.

Creating a ‘Social Amazon‘, so to speak, because all the big money these days is made in distribution. Wouldn’t it be brill if we learned to trade for the benefit of our communities? To trade sociably?

We need to solve all the problems in tandem, not simply one at a time. Because it doesn’t work that way.

The man who crouched down to give me his advice probably summed it up for me. He said “You have to move away from this broad overall thinking and get down and get really good at something in particular.” He was saying it in the nicest of possible ways. And I understood. But I answered “But that has been the biggest of all problems. People always want to concentrate on one thing, one problem. And that is what they do. But all of these wonderful efforts never coexist or coalesce into an overall solution. The energies are never joined. We need a Big Plan again. We need to solve all the problems in tandem, not simply one at a time. Because it doesn’t work that way.”

Clumsily, I had arrived at what I need to concentrate on: the Big Plan. And, right or wrong, being expert at one thing is not enough for me.

I had three brilliant field days in a field at Shambala’s adventures in utopia. I do hope they ask me to gas-on next year.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords