Fans bring
to stage

Three members of Piccadilly Rats are to perform at Manchester’s Parklife festival have first-hand experience of homelessness

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Three members of a cult busking outfit are to perform at Manchester’s Parklife festival have first-hand experience of homelessness, they have revealed.

The Piccadilly Rats – a surreal street performance group who play rock and roll covers while wearing animal masks – will grace the stage at the Heaton Park event in June, after fans on Twitter petitioned the festival’s organiser.

“Part of street community”

Now Gary Stanley, frontman and guitarist of the band – which performs in Piccadilly Gardens – has told how half of its six members have experienced spells of homelessness.

One – Kenny Weaver – is currently homeless, while dancer Dave Copeland lived in hostels until his death in 2014. A third member, Heath Dean, slept rough when he was younger.

Stanley said: “To get on the bill at Parklife is a big thing for us – we’ll be getting off the streets and into this huge event. Two founder members – Heath and Kenny – have both been homeless, and in fact Kenny has recently ended up back on the streets.

“Heath, our drummer, spent about six months sleeping rough before managing to get himself sorted. Dave lived in various hostels over the years and at one point lived in a caravan on someone’s land.

“Because of all this, we see ourselves as part of the street community. We have got to know all the Big Issue North vendors and many of the homeless people who spend time around Piccadilly.”

Tongue-in-cheek campaign

Formed in early 2013, the Piccadilly Rats began as a trio but picked up additional members along the way – mixing straight rock and pop covers with aspects of street theatre. At 60, Stanley is the youngest member – the band’s dancers are aged 76 and 77.

They have performed fundraisers for homeless charity Coffee4Craig and for the Manchester bomb appeal, and when Copeland died they managed to raise enough money to prevent him being buried in a pauper’s grave.

They normally perform every Saturday but so far this year the rain and low temperatures have got in the way. They recently lost the city centre space where they kept their instruments, which has also made life difficult.

The Parklife campaign began when Stanley was bored at home one day and put a tongue-in-cheek comment on Twitter. He said: “I wrote that the Piccadilly Rats would be playing the festival this year, ha ha… not on the main stage though, but busking on the grass outside.

“Someone brought my tweet to the attention of Sacha Lord-Marchionne, who runs Parklife, and told him we should be inside the event and on one of the stages. Lots of other people responded and he very quickly sent me a message directly to confirm it.

“I couldn’t believe it was true and had to get my daughter to check.”

Despite the size of the festival – which is attended by up to 140,000 fans – Stanley says the Piccadilly Rats are unlikely to be phased by the experience. They once played at Kendal Calling, so it will not be an entirely new experience.

He said: “That time we were in a small tent and it was rammed. This time I think it will be a bigger deal as it’s in Manchester and we’re known.

“We’ve had quite a few offers of work over the past few years but it’s not that feasible for us.

“Our dancers are well into their seventies and we have no transport. It’s lovely to get some recognition – it’s just come at the wrong time of life.”

Photo: Lawrence Holmes/Creative Commons

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