Chris Coltrane is the first to admit that any political radicalism he might once have possessed had faded over time, thanks in part to a depressing sense of powerless after the UK went to war in Iraq despite more than a million people marching against it. Possibly, though, his energies were simply diverted into a more personal defence of his bisexuality. Coltrane spends much of the opening few minutes of his set pulling the rug from under the usual bi-phobic criticisms - that bisexuals are "greedy", "unable to make up their minds" or just gays who are "confused or in denial". It’s a subject that seemed to unsettle some of the older audience members; have they forgotten that the “personal is political”?
Despite not being “a natural rebel”, protesting Coltrane is now back with a vengeance — he even hands out a list of “recommended reading” to all his audience after the show. So, why the change? There's one obvious reason: the 2010 election of a Tory-led UK Government with a severe austerity agenda that has cut spending on disabled people and those on low incomes while letting vast corporations avoid paying billions of pounds in tax. The latter clearly vexes Coltrane; time and again, he returns specifically to Vodafone's £6 billion tax bill and how that would have funded the vast majority of cut services.
Yet it’s clear that the really important factor in Coltrane's renewed radical streak is down to him finding a form of civil protest that’s positive, creative and above all fun — whether it’s turning a branch of NatWest into a children's library or seeing ITV 1’s Loose Women crying for revolution on afternoon commercial television. Forget petitions, or marching and waving placards; protest works for Coltrane when it’s “lovely”. So, for example, when a religious fundamentalist group starts intimidating prayer groups outside a London abortion clinic, the best way to fight the hate is by having a party, preferably with a Samba band and a few hundred willing participants.
Coltrane is an open, warm orator with a quick turn of phrase and a sharp eye for the idiocy of those in power, reminding us of a simple truth — that even the most feared, oppressive forces collapse when enough people simply no longer take them seriously. War or free Maltesers for All? There’s a victory in even the question being asked.
At the risk of being pedantic, though, there are a few niggles that Coltrane might address: a few early mentions of "evening" in the routine seemed out of place, given that the show started at 2.15pm. More importantly, Coltrane needs to remember where he is at the moment; in this neck of the woods, the likes of the NHS and schools are under the control of the decidedly non-Tory Scottish Government.