David Bramwell is someone that does many things well. On his occupation roll call he’s got author, journalist, documentary maker, podcaster, public speaker and musician (God, he’s probably really good at cooking too).
Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s electrically engaging company so we’re delighted that he’s coming to PLATF9RM to give a talk about his book, The No.9 Bus To Utopia. He wrote the book after a difficult break-up and, deciding he needed to get better acquainted with the art of sharing, went off in search of Europe and America’s most unique communities.
We grabbed David – a Hanover resident and also co-author of the massively successful Cheeky Guide To Brighton – for a chat to talk happy communing and the best of secret Brighton.
PLATF9RM: To the uninitiated, can you describe the premise of No.9 Bus To Utopia?
David: I spent a year traveling around Europe and America, visiting the strangest and most inspiring alternative communities. I went to anarchist communities, free love communities, fetish communities, spiritual communities. My favourite was Damanhur in the Italian Alps. They built an underground temple that’s the size of St Paul’s Cathedral. No-one even knew they had done it! They also claim to have built a time machine and to have taught plants how to sing…
Woah. Can anyone go to Damanhur?
Yes. I love encouraging people to go there! People should cross the Pyramids or the Sphinx off their bucket list and go to Damanhur instead.
How old were you when you were doing this?
I’m 50 now and it was nine years ago so you can work back from there…
How do you relate to the person who wrote the book?
At that time I was immersed in the cult of individualism that western societies fought so hard for in the 20th-century. It’s like the Wild Ones sample used by Primal Scream (in the song 'Loaded'): “We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna get loaded and have a good time”. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this but there’s a lack of community and sharing and we lead more isolated lives. There’s a price to pay: we have spiraling depression; increased suicide rates; people having a lack of meaning and purpose.
Do you think people are now starting to become more aware of the importance of community?
I do. Look at something like Sunday Assembly. It has the community aspects of church, but does away with the need to believe in an interventionist God. So you attend, sing along to Cyndi Lauper or ABBA, have some cake and watch a great speaker. I think we’re turning to experience-based community sharing.
You are a freelance writer so you must encounter periods of solitude. How do you combat this?
I do, absolutely. Last week i did some voluntary work and spent the day handing out tote bags and stickers at Brighton Digital job fair. It gave me a sense of sharing and being involved in my community.
Were there any common traits in the communities you visited?
Pride is a troublesome word but I’d say pride in the place, the life and the system they’ve chosen to live by. Also the necessity of compromise when you’re living with a bunch of people. Neighbourliness! When I was in Christiana, an anarchist community in Copenhagen, a guy was doing massive changes to his house. I told him he was going to have to hire some professionals. He said, “Why would I do that? My neighbours will help me.”
Did you find that people were happier?
People were happier in these communities because they’d made a choice go there. They were mindful of their neighbour’s health. I was massively struck by was how creative the architecture was; when people are left to their own devices they don’t just build their ordinary homes; the build really amazing buildings.
You also wrote the Cheeky Guide To Brighton which has been a huge success. What three secret things would you recommend to do in the city?
Club Silencio at Subline: the best, the weirdest, the most funny underground cabaret night. It’s run by Stuart Warwick and is just brilliant; it could only come from Brighton.
Bom-Bane’s on St George’s Street is the home of Jane Bon-Bane. She’s a wonderful human being and a great performer who does a lot of nights in her 27-capacity room downstairs. Despite its size she’s had people like Stewart Lee, Jerry Dammers from The Specials, and Robin Williamson from The Incredible String Band. Big name performers go there because they love her.
My number three would be Brighton’s weirdest piece of outsider art. It’s on the beach between Concorde 2 and the Palace Pier; a stone grotto created by fishermen that continues to grow. It has strange figures looking out to see, it has creatures, 12-foot high stone statues, archways, all built from flint from the beach. When you walk past it – it’s big and and there’s a fence round it – you almost don't see it. But when you look for it, you’ll think, ‘How did I not see this before?’.