As the 1980’s dragged on, life got worse and worse for ordinary people under the Thatcherite Tory dictatorship and by 1988 she was openly boasting about her plans to introduce a Poll Tax which was tantamount to kicking the working classes when they were down. There was a battle raging in the Labour Party to stand up and fight this and across communities the people were becoming more confident in their resistance. This was reflected in the small Somerset town of Bridgwater, devastated by unemployment and the run down of industry and now following a bloody bout of in-fighting within the local Labour Party with almost no opposition. But there was. The Somerset Community Defence Campaign had been set up after the Miners Strike created by people from many parties and none coming together to unite and fight back and the Sheep Worrying organisation was at the forefront of every battle with its member now battling on all front. Maybe 1988 would be a turning point.
13 Jan– The Art Centre board, still dominated by Tories, empowered new manager Alec Mortimer to challenge Sheep Worryings position at the centre and tension escalated once more
13 Jan – The Labour Party produced a draft campaign on how to fight the Poll Tax. Dave Chapple and Glen Burrows were prominent in this. It was agreed not to make Labour Party too prominent on the leaflets but to organise meetings across the district, petitions and national speakers.
16 Jan Art Centre gig featured Jive turkey, The Blurr core and Mouse
1 Feb Brian had written and researched a new socialist history play. The ‘Vernon Bartlett Show’ told of Bridgwater’s heroic stand against fascism in the 1938 by-election. The Theatre Group accepted it as their next production.
February sees a new feature on the Bridgwater scene. Sheep Worrying Rock supremo Adrian Fraser opens his record shop ‘Good Value Records’ first in Unity House and then in July move dto West Quay where he stayed until 2017.
6 Feb Rock club gig featured Culture shock, Mudslingers and Samantha Hesitates
10 Feb The Labour anti-poll tax campaign is stumbling along. Meetings are poorly attended, some leaflets have been given out but the T&GWU union is reluctant to support with funding. Union leader Tom Searle believes the legislation will be seriously changed before being brought in . Many in the branch support this position as they’re reluctant to alienate their big backer. The left/right battle in the Party continues
14 Feb Brian and Alexia interview Vernon Bartlett’s 1938 campaign manager Sir Richard Acland at his Broadclyst cottage.
20 Feb The Labour Party opens it’s main function room as ‘The Labour Club’. It operates as a traditional old style working mens club and becomes a main stay for the Party over the next 2 decades.
21 Feb Brian and Alexia interview 1938 veteran socialist Tom Edmunds in his caravan in Exmouth.
25 Feb– The Labour Party holds an anti poll tax meeting in St Georges hall
CLARION issue 15 leads on the Anti-Poll tax campaign plus a new threat by county Tories to close the Mary Stanley Maternity hospital.
8 Mar– Woolavington anti poll tax meeting
21 Mar– Hamp anti poll tax meeting at the Activity Centre
26 Mar– Art Centre gig is Teenage Uglies, Poke it with a stick and Mourning fields .
1 April-Combwich Labour Party member Mac McCausland turns up and demonstrates his massive range of popular songs. Can he act? Yep. He is snapped up by Sheep Worrying.
8 Apr Rock Club features Darling buds, Gixlets and Mourning fields
11 Ap– Psychiatric nurse Elaine Di Campo turns up to a Sheep Worrying rehearsal and is welcomed into the fold.
Ap 13-Brian puts a motion to the Labour Party condemning the shooting of unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar and the and Loyalist attack on Milltown Cemetry. It is passed 11-3
20 Ap Brian writes and releases a second local history book published by Sheep Worrying. The Vernon Bartlett story.
Meanwhile behind the positive news the Art Centre board has voted to remove the Rock Programme from Sheep Worrying altogether and set up it’s own Rock Committee. Rock Club members elected through Sheep Worrying – Sean Field, Jon Eydmann, and Sam Terry have agreed to be that rock committee under the auspices of art centre assistant manager Nick Chapman . Sheep Worrying members are outraged and call an emergency meeting.
22 Ap– The Sheep Worrying emergency meeting votes 11-5 to contest the BAC ruling and a new Battle with the Art Centre is launched to include picketing the building. –
Steve Coram says “Alec Mortimer was never pro-rock. He just ‘suffered it’. His background was in drama and education. “
28-29-30 april Sheep Worrying Theatre puts on The Vernon Bartlett Show with Labour party members in prominent roles. Allan Challenger plays Bartlett, Brian and Glen play a husband and wife in a sub plot role and even Bob Brookes gets a walk on part.
3 May The Art Centre goes ahead with its scab committee and close the doors on Sheep Worrying members trying to attend. Sheep Worrying pickets the venue.
Matt Bartlett recalls “Eydmann went on to work for Fire Records and was involved in the music industry and with Suede. This was all about getting Brian out of the picture.”
6 May The 1st scab rock gig. Sheep Worrying organises a boycott
10 May Eastover anti poll tax meeting
14 May—It’s the May Day March and guest speakers include Labour MP Joan Maynard and jailed Miner Terry French. The Mary Stanley campaign is high on the agenda.
23 May– A Save Mary Stanley meeting at the Town Hall attracts 140 people.
4 June-2nd scab gig again boycotted by Sheep Worrying -this one features the Rosehips and Groove farm
15 June bac board meeting. There is a major confrontation between Alec Mortimer and Brian Smedley. Mortimer threatens that he will resign unless the board backs him. The board backs him. Smedley walks out and resigns instead.
1 Sept—Sheep Worrying Theatre does 2 x one act plays-North Country girl by Robbie Moffat and ‘??’ by Glenn Cane . The cast includes Alexia, Elaine, Mac, Allan, Brian, Stuart.
20 Sept-Brian at this point started to go out with Elaine
12 Oct At a Labour Party meeting Glen argued the case for breaking the law in the case of the Poll Tax. Another division as right wing members argued that this was impossible without a lead from the Labour party and the TUC and must therefore campaign within the law
26 Oct– Sheep Worrying stands a slate of candidates at the art centre AGM -Brian, Mike Butland, Pat Morley and Mike Burgess. All lose.
9 Nov– Labour group votes against the poll tax at council but would not advise people to break the law…
Dec 8– Sheep Worrying Christmas Revue . The members again form a cabaret band with it’s members and ‘The Spanners’ featuring Mac and Elaine on lead vocals plus ‘The Pop Group from the Black Lagoon’ featuring Alexia perform at the art centre. Sheep Worrying issue 52 is brought out to promote the battle against the art centre board
Meanwhile down in Yeovil Automatic Dlamini had started going places. John Parish remembers “It was in 87 that I met Polly (PJ) Harvey – a 17 year old folk guitar player. We became friends and in 88 I got her in Dlamini which she stayed with until 1991 . We did a few tours abroad, East Germany for instance. A Berlin label signed us . We did gigs west and East also Poland and Spain . I have to say that I never felt part of a scene in Somerset. I remember my school band career 14-18, then Headless Horsemen and early Dlamini. We were just always about trying to find a way out of this. Things only ever happened when we played London or Bristol cos nothing would happen in Somerset . Nowadays of course you can stick something on you tube and it doesn’t matter where you live. Yeovil wasn’t crawling with A&R scouts to check what was happening. The Best Yeovil scene was the late 80s early 90s when Simon Barber was running the Electric Broom Cupboard. This was the most productive scene. I was also doing performing arts course teaching at Yeovil college, running the ice house studio and both the Chesterfields and Dlamini were putting out stuff and people could see there was a path. First a place to play , second a place to records. Another thing was the Enterprise Allowance Scheme –actually a by product of Thatcher, getting everyone off the dole . For me that meant 2 years as a producer funded by Thatcher from 85-86 then I went off it 87-88.”
1988 had been a difficult year for Sheep Worrying. It was losing battles. The Art Centre had wrested back control of the rock programme with the help of turncoats and Sheep Worrying had been kicked off the board The battle for rock as it had been fought for over the years was over. Sheep Worrying magazine had made a brief re-appearance but just as a tool in the battle against the Art Centre board. Only Sheep Worrying Theatre was still flying the flag with its socialist history plays. Maybe 1988 was just the uneasy calm before the storm and 1989 would be the year of revolutions…