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Sam Duckworth Talks About @Riotcleanup

Andrew Kelham
Andrew Kelham 10 August 2011 at 17.03

The musician talks to Rock Sound about his response to the rioting in London.


Sam Duckworth aka Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, is no stranger to getting off his arse and sorting things out when the situation requires it of him. In 2009 the singer curated an evening of live music at the London Astoria and got Frank Turner, The King Blues, The Automatic and more together for a Demolition Ball the night before the venue closed its doors forever.

Motivation was never a problem for the musician and on Monday night, as he was at home watching the riots in London, he felt the urge to get involved again. By the following morning he was out cleaning the streets alongside hundreds of volunteers while co-ordinating thousands more through the @riotcleanup Twitter he was manning. One of the many who who wanted to do something positive after the disturbances in the capital, Sam's experience (just one of the many) is the important other side of the story that has shaken the UK in the past few days.

Rock Sound finally got him on the phone a few minutes ago to talk through events of the last 48 hours. From the sofa, to the street, to the front cover of the New York Times - it appears a lot can happen in a day.

A busy few days Sam?
(laughs) "It's been hectic but not too bad to be honest. People were talking about the riots online on Monday night, discussing what we could do about it and I saw on Twitter that some people starting to post locations and times to meet up and clean the streets the next day. It quickly got to the point where seven different times and locations across London had meet-ups were planned and a guy called Dan had just set up a website to help co-ordinate it. We were talking so I decided to set up a Twitter feed to help aggregate all the information to make sure that all the meeting points were clear. It just seemed like the best thing to do to ensure that people all got to the same location, got strength in numbers and didn't waste any time wondering around trying to find people."

So effectively @riotcleanup is the product of you trying to make it easier for people who were trying to organise a positive response to the riots?
"Yeah, but it was the product of everybody really, I was just forwarding tweets. Today the clean-ups in Manchester and Wolverhampton are actually running themselves and it's really just been a case of spreading information so that everyone can go do it themselves."

What was your take on what was happening before Monday night? What was your overriding feeling of what you were watching on TV?
"It's the same thing I'm feeling now, I wanted to make sure that @riotcleanup remained very opinion free and is very much focused on information but personally I just want to know why this has happened. There are a lot of tensions within these boroughs and there is a reason why people are rioting, as soon as the violence has died down the conversation needs to change, we need to start asking why people felt compelled to riot. There must be a reason - whether it is greed, cuts, a crisis in our cities - I don't know, but discussions, time and energies need to be directed into working with the people who were rioting to find out the root of the problem and what we can do to prevent it happening again."

You've kept very low-key throughout the last few days and focused on this project without bringing you or your music into it, any particular reason?
"I'm doing this as someone who lives in London, and in that sense I'm just like everyone else out there cleaning. I haven't really been talking to many people about it because, to be honest, I've just been very busy. Secondly it's a separate thing; music is something I love to do but this is completely disconnected from music so I don't see the need or feel the need to talk about it."

How was it cleaning the streets on Tuesday and were you surprised when @riotcleanup gained over 60,000 followers after only a few hours of existence?
"The first meet up was in Bow, we walked down to Bethnal Green which was also pretty clean and then we all went to Hackney Town Hall. I wasn't sure how many would actually turn up but there was a crowd of about 300 there when we arrived, which was amazing. Then we walked down Clarence Road and met a shopkeeper whose business was looted, to see the damage first hand was when it really hit home for me. It wasn't something we were watching on television, it wasn't a film, it was something real that was affecting people massively.

The antidote to that was people's attitudes. There was not a moment where it felt like a self-indulgent or earnest operation, people were joking and every time a plane flew over everyone did a Mexican wave with their brooms. It's funny as there were a lot of press down at Clapham Junction and we were held there for about an hour until the smoke and chemicals were dealt with, a lot of photographers tried to get us waving our brooms for a shot but no-one was really into it as it felt tacky, but then a plane went overhead and we did the Mexican wave and started cheering again, and it was actually that moment that ended up on the front cover of the New York Times."

How has today been different, the situation has evolved at pace?
"This morning was busy as I was on the phone to friends in Manchester who were helping to co-ordinate the clean ups there and in Salford. In Manchester and Wolverhampton they have set up their own branches and are running it themselves which is great as people are doing it in their own towns. Honestly it's been relatively quiet for me, speaking to the councils to see when Croydon and other places will be open for cleaning. Not much actual cleaning today but when we can get to the other places it'll just be a case of watching and helping everyone do their thing.

I don't know where it will go tonight, last night was miles calmer in London. Partly because of the Police presence but also because of the fantastic efforts of the communities where people turned up outside the mosques and shops. The people in Southall were incredible, because of groups like that today has been relatively quiet and hopefully that trend continues so we can get back to living in our cities and normal life soon."

What's next for @riotcleanup?
"Well there is definitely a tangible sense of community through this, in terms of @riotcleanup I think when that starts to wind down we'll put people in touch with groups or organisations within their community. It's important that the feed remains information based as I don't want it to be hijacked in any way or by anything else, but we'll certainly be putting people in touch with the relevant charities or associations if they want to get further involved after the riots dispel."

And for yourself? Going back to the day job anytime soon?
"Yeah, I'll see what's going on for the next few days then I'll have a sleep and watch England storm the cricket hopefully! Then I think next week I might get back to the day job."

For more from Sam check out @forgetcape, however he'd probably ask you to check out @riotcleanup first!

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