THE BEGINNING

The big No of polite company is today even less welcome in popular music

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The big No of polite company is today even less welcome in popular music

Discussing politics after a dinner party has always been a massive no no, causing tempers to fray enough to tarnish what was otherwise a lovely middle class time, making everyone feel rather stupid the following day. Politics down the pub, in the office, on Question Time even; it has a similar effect everywhere as it slowly makes grown adults squabble like infants. It’s understandable – it’s a topic that’s all affecting and therefore extremely important. But popular music, if not immune to the after-effects, was at least once brave enough to tackle government issues without regard for the consequences. Now, making a political statement in a song is about as much a good idea as pondering “God: could he really build the universe in 6 days?” before dessert is served.

In this issue of Loud And Quiet, Chapter Sweetheart point the finger at Bono for making politics in music uncool, and we’re certainly not going to bend back that digit in protest, but there are artists who have ‘gone political’ regardless. John McClure – aka The Reverend – is never more at home than when on his soapbox. He’s never shown much resemblance to or admiration for Bono and yet most of us consider him the righteous preachy type, rarely giving him credit for at least trying to make music that exceeds “Some people think I’m bonkers…”. It’d of course help if Reverend & The Makers’ songs weren’t stylistically little more than Arctic Monkeys b-sides set to gloopy indie-disco synths, but even if they were as overtly, darkly charged as The Clash’s ‘The Call Up’ it’s safe to say that we’d not react to them as people did to Joe Strummer’s leftist messages in 1980, simply because we don’t care. That’s really what’s made politics n music uncool – our own cynicism.

We call Bob Geldof ‘Saint Bob’ to mock his efforts at lessening Third World horrors, convinced he’s doing it, first and foremost, for himself in some way. And when we’re not presuming that Bono is lunching with Mandela as a PR stunt (which he may well be), we’re looking at the Manics pulling on their red star caps for studio album number 105 and largely thinking, ‘let it go, guys’. Billy Bragg has impressively held on to his credibility whilst singing protest songs over a 30-year career, but he’s something of an anomaly, and besides, Bragg no doubt makes less of an impression on the world today than Lady Gaga currently does singing about fame and, in ‘Poker Face’, bluffing, rather ironically.

If all of our favourite bands released political albums tomorrow, we’d probably find them too stuffy and serious or not believe a word of it, and that cynicism was planted when Tony met Noel.

Back in the 60s when alternative and popular music was a powerful weapon against particularly The Vietnam War, musicians and politicians were far from bedfellows. Hippies were friendly, creative idealists; the government, especially in America, was a conservative, evil bully, and artists like Bob Dylan – with his overtly damning songs and views – would most certainly have not been invited to The White House for tea. By the 70s, John Lennon was considered such a threat to ‘the administration’ and its policies that the CIA reportedly tapped his phone and very publicly attempted to have the ex-Beatle deported on a trumped-up marijuana possession charge. And it took a fair while for the British government to realise that people like pop stars better than them too, until, as we all know, the penny dropped for Tony Blair who promptly wooed the smart Gallagher and captained the good ship Britpop to electoral victory 1997.

Noel’s visit to Number 10 is all rather forgivable, not least because he genuinely supported Blair and was arguably not of sober mind for any of the 90s, but it doesn’t change the fact that politics and music had been brought together like never before. They were on the same side. If the establishment was a stuffy old bastard though, what did that suddenly make our precious bands that were drinking with them?

Thankfully, the trick grew instantly old so our bands were given back to us way before David Cameron could claim – as he did – that he loves The Killers on Desert Island Discs. And you never know, with a general election coming, this time our favourite bands could shock us with some political song rather than politician flirting, and we could shock ourselves by giving them a chance. Until then we’ve got The Reverend. Now read this out at a dinner party – there’ll be lasagne on the ceiling in no time.

By Danny Canter

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Originally published in issue 15 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2010

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