Saturday, 25 April 2015

Rock & Electoral Roll

Cliché though it may be at this point, by and large it does seem to remain the case that the majority of our politicians are either unable or unwilling to give straight answers to important questions.  They duck and dive on a whole range of subjects, but ever since first becoming interested in politics I’ve noticed there is one issue in particular which parties on all sides have been consistently at great pains to avoid.  This is doubtless due in part to the stakes being so high of course.  As with so many areas in public office, politicians probably feel they can’t be seen to make a mistake while addressing it, lest opponents and the media jump over them and tear their credibility to shreds; so instead they attempt to distract, deflect and confuse, preferring to talk instead of policy announcements, budget details, growth projections, job prospects and other such bumf.  Yet as we approach arguably the most keenly contested election in our post war history, with the general public crying out almost as one for clarity on the single matter which at this point could make all the difference, the question of ‘If your political party were a band or musician, which band or musician would your political party be and why?' is again conspicuously absent from any and all manifestos.  And they wonder why we’re disengaged from politics?

Well you know what, if those fat cats in Westminster won’t be straight with you then I will.  Because while I believe it’s vitally important for people to use their vote, I think it’s equally as essential that they have all the salient facts before they do.  That’s why today I’m here to give you the very  I first started pondering the age old question of  ‘If the political parties were a band or musician, which band of musician would they be and why?’ on my own a couple of nights ago but when I realised what a potential game changer I had on my hands I sought the advice of a pal and together we added the final pieces of the puzzle.  What we worked out is theoretically massive and could have huge implications for the upcoming election.  We’re basically the modern day, British equivalent of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman when they discovered Watergate or whatever.  I hope you wore double socks today, Establishment, because I’m about to blow at least one pair of them off.

My first instinct was to cast the Labour party as The Rolling Stones because, like Labour, in the early part of their career The Rolling Stones were amazing, weren’t they?  They came out with some proper revolutionary stuff.  ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Exile On Main Street’  ‘Sticky Fingers’ – that’s pretty much your musical equivalent of the welfare state right there: NHS, Trade Unions, the works.  Brilliant.  Recently though…not so much.  I mean they’ve both done a few okay things since their glory years, ‘Start Me Up’ and Devolution say, as well as some crap things, ‘Sex Drive’ and starting illegal wars for example, but generally speaking from the 90’s onwards things have been patchy for both.  Increasingly they seem quite content get by on their rightly revered name and fine reputation, to just live off the hits.  Nothing truly ground-breaking from either in a while.  Generally a bit bland.  Definite sense of it being more about the bank balance these days.  I thought this was a perfect fit, but it was pointed out to me by Jamie that there’s a certain smug slickness to New Labour that doesn’t equate to Old Stones.  

After a quick rethink we hit instead on U2.  Similarly to the Stones and Labour, they arguably started out well; the early work had some real heart and power to it with plenty of social conscience in there too.  Unfortunately, with massive success it seemed to gradually become more about style over substance, much more of an emphasis on image and P.R.  Started to believe their own hype possibly, get a bit pleased with themselves.  Labour: The wearing-sunglasses-all-the-time-even-indoors-and-at-night years, you might call them.  Out went inspiring inventions like Pride (In The Name Of Love) and the National Minimum Wage and in came meaningless, allegedly crowd pleasing what’s-the-pointeries like ‘Elevation’ and the Millennium Dome.  Also it has become more and more difficult in recent times to reconcile the good values both expound with the fact that they’re incredibly well off people, some of whom have decidedly questionable personal finical ethics and are rather snugger with big business and banks than they would care to admit.  That said, both Labour & U2 still have a lot of fans and still manage the occasional decent effort (um, that one off the ‘Batman Forever’ soundtrack maybe, and, I dunno, the fox hunting ban I guess?)  On top of that there’s always that slim chance they could recapture old form, and to be frank, they're still better than what’s coming next.


The Forgettable Fire

Now see originally I was going to just say the Conservatives were Chris De Burgh, as both have been around forever and both are awful, but again it was suggested to me that it might need to be a little more nuanced than that.  After all you don’t get into Government god knows how many times if everybody hates you so it would have to be an act with a certain amount of support, however inexplicable.  It was Jamie again who first hit on the idea of the Tories being represented by, ironically enough I suppose, Simply Red.  Difficult as it may be for some of us to comprehend, during the 80’s and 90’s Simply Red and The Conservative party were quite popular.  You would see them on TV or here them on the radio all the time and think to yourself, who likes this stuff?  Who buys it?  Who finds it even slightly agreeable?  Nobody I know.  Then of course you come to learn that just because you’re not a fan, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.  Some folk might think the NHS could use a good ol’ fashioned privatisin’.  Some voters might have reckoned our manufacturing industries needed taken down a peg or two million.  Some individuals may genuinely wonder, what’s a few billion in cheekily avoided tax between multinational friends anyway?  Plenty of people probably liked ‘Fairground.’  Yep, I just equated the worst excesses of the Tory party to the song ‘Fairground’ and I don’t regret it.  I hate that song. 

The Tories and Simply Red it turns out (on account of the latter being considered classic sophisticated soiree background music) tend to be quite big with people who refer to wine by year instead of colour and who would really prefer it if you left your shoes at the door before you come in, thanks.  Maybe that’s a bit sweeping.  I don't say all Conservative voters or Simply Red fans are like that, some are just normal folk.  Heck, sometimes even I’ll hear something like ‘Stars’ or ‘Record numbers of people in employment’ and I’ll think, ‘Aye fair do’s, that’s alright.’  But then on closer inspection you’re like “Nah, that’s cheesy as hell and they’re all low paid or zero hours contracts so it doesn’t count.”  It’s not that I dislike what they’re supposedly striving for (successful people and Soul music) I don’t, it’s just that I consider the way these two do it to be atrocious.  Look if all these links seem a little tenuous and aren’t really cutting it for you, try this one on for size: Simply Red had a song called ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’, yes?  And what’s the one thing you’ve heard out of every Tory without fail for the last five years?  And did either of these two groups look particularly hard up while they were telling us this?  Naw.  Exactly.  Thank you.  Nailed it.


Holding back the poor

This was quite easy.  When the Lemonheads started off they were a rough round the edges alt rockish punk band.  When the Liberal Democrats first set out they were also relative outsiders.  Neither did particularly well in terms of converting a large audience but they did put out some good stuff for a while and even though it was probably never going to go anywhere, their fans loyally supported them anyway.  Even if they weren’t your own personal favourite, it was perfectly possible to hear things like the album ‘Hate Your Friends’ or an anti-war stance or the album ‘Lick’ or the championing of civil liberties and go, ‘Yeah that sounds pretty good, I like it.’  Again, they were never going to be number 1, but the other options were so insipid and ever more samey that at times it was tempting to choose them regardless.  Then the Lemonheads and Lib Dems mirrored each other further by losing an old leader and handing control of their group to a very presentable looking young fella with much greater pop sensibilities.  The subsequent move into the mainstream brought both much more attention, but the changes they made to get that attention – by abandoning their punky aesthetic and a lot of political principles – left much of their original fan base bitterly disappointed.  Incidentally to anyone reading this now and thinking, ‘Ah except wait a minute, because Simply Red and The Lemonheads never formed a five year super group though, did they?  So that analogy doesn’t work,’ I would simply say: Pipe down David bloody Dimbleby!  This is a wafer thin concept I’ve got going on here and frankly I feel like I’ve done spectacularly well to eek it out this far.  And I’ve still got another four of these to do, so do me a favour and get off my case.  Anyway my main point about them both being taken over by a bit pretty boys who sold out is totally valid.  So Lib Dems are The Lemonheads, cos they just are, if you don’t like it bugger off to the Financial Times or something.


It's a shame about tuition fees.

Tough one.  The SNP would have to be a band that really divided opinion, in the early years and still today.  There would need to be a lot of people who questioned their quality, motives and authenticity, as well as plenty who heard them and actually really rated them.  So I had a think and in the end I’ve decided to plump for Pearl Jam.  Now, just go with me on this for a second, okay?  Right.  I reckon the SNP are like Pearl Jam because when Pearl Jam first came to prominence many (if not in fact the majority) wrote them off as one-note opportunists, taking advantage of the trend at the time, jumping on the grunge bandwagon merely to cash in and sell records.  Same with the SNP.  Except the trend wasn’t grunge music, it was opposition to the Tories.  And they didn’t want to sell records, they wanted to gain independence.  You see?  When Pearl Jam sang about anguish and torment, loads of people rolled their eyes and went ‘Yeah right, you’re in this for the money.’  Likewise when the SNP spoke of inequality and social justice, the response used to be largely be ‘Aye, heard it. You’d say anything to get independence, you lot.”  It was expected therefore that when both the movements that gave them a platform dwindled so would they, but in fact the opposite has happened.  The two have gone on to become even bigger and have enduring success by expanding their horizons and in turn their support.
Let’s say the Pearl Jam album ‘Ten’ is the case for independence, because that’s arguably what both sides of this pairing are chiefly associated with.  Hands up, I’ll admit it, I like ‘Ten.'  I bought ‘Ten’, I hope one day everyone will buy ‘Ten’, I feel strongly our lives would be considerably improved if we all took a punt on‘Ten’; but even if you don’t like that LP, even if every time you hear it you’re like, ‘This again?  Dear god, change the record, please! If I never hear this again it’ll be two soon” then there’s still plenty of very different, decent offerings to explore.  Scrapping tuition fees for example, that would probably be the album ‘Vs’ because everyone's in favour of that, eh?  Mitigating the Bedroom Tax is like the SNP’s ‘No Code’ as it’s also very impressive.  Forming a minority government, that’s maybe ‘Vitalogy’ – tricky but ultimately rewarding.  Wind Farms, you’re looking at ‘Riot Act’ in terms of not being everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it. Naturally there have been mistakes along the way - the odd duff policy, the occasional entirely ukelele based album - but generally speaking both have been at lot more successful and effective than many would've expected.  However there’ll probably always remain a question of credibility in some the minds of some.  For every one of us who watches Eddie Vedder or Nicola Sturgeon and goes, ‘Caw they sound good don’t they?  I think I might even fancy them a wee bit’ there’s somebody else going, ‘God I hate these guys.  What are they trying to pull?  They’re not at all authentic.”


I confess I was struggling to come up with a band for the Green Party because you need an act who were always good but for the most part ignored anyway.  Jamie's shout was ‘Pulp.’  Inspired I thought, because Pulp and in particular Jarvis Cocker, like the Green Party, were indeed around for ages before anyone took any notice.  For a while albums like ‘It’, ‘Freaks’ and ‘Separations’ were similar to the Green Part’s environmental message in that they were well worth listening to and yet largely fell on deaf ears.  Niche listening.  Cult following at best.  Then as time went on they began to register a bit more in the public consciousness.  As people began zipping up parkas in August, slapping on the sun cream in October, occasionally canoeing along a street they usually walked down, or hearing songs like ‘Babies’, ‘Razzmatazz’ and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ they began to feel this lot might actually be on to something.  And I have a feeling that in this particular election, with more emphasis on social policies alongside the environmental stuff and with smaller parties looking set to have real influence, the Green Party might be a ‘Different Class’ this time round; they might genuinely breakthrough to the 'Common People.’  After all it’s about time ‘Something Changed.’  (I tell you what, this concept isn’t perfect, but when it works, boy does it work.  Buzzing with how this one is turning out.)  Also, also, may-maybe if the Green Party did well they could go out to celebrate at ‘Bar Italia’, in ‘Underwear’ and a ‘Pencil Skirt.’  Then on to a Disco...2000….I’ve lost it, haven’t I?  I got greedy.  Made a nonsense of it now.  Anyway my point is this time the Green Party has a real opportunity to get the recognition they deserve and even if, like Jarvis and Pulp, the excitement is relatively short lived, they’ll always be around and listening to them will never be a waste of time.  Moreover if we refuse to acknowledge the existence of Pulp the planet is doomed.  (Ach, STOP IT now Andy, you’re undoing all your good work from earlier.)


Let's all cycle to work in the year 2000

Before I start I feel it’s important to point out that just because I’m comparing this band to a party of principally narrow minded, backwards looking, xenophobic gonks, I’m not automatically branding said band as correspondingly narrow minded, backwards looking, xenophobic gonks.  Mind you, I have already compared a Rolling Stones song to international warfare and a Simply Red tune to the systematic destruction of hundreds of communities in the eighties, so I suppose it may be a little late to be scrabbling for the moral high ground now.  Nevertheless, we just needed a band which only ever really sings about one or two things, constantly brings everything back to those things, is generally a bit of joke and can’t really be taken seriously.  In the end we came up with The Wurzels.  Simply because The Wurzels seemed preoccupied with farming and cider in the same way UKIP do with the European Union and immigrants.  I’m not saying all those things aren’t important in their own right, but come on, not every single issue/song revolves around the E.U or immigrants/farming or cider.  To just continuously bang on about those particular things in isolation is just not sustainable in career terms.
Ooh arr, eee yew
As I say though, both certainly have fans and it’s absolutely right their concerns in these areas should be legitimately scrutinized.  I mean of course we should have chief control over our own combine harvester and ultimate say on who we give the key to, but personally I just feel a little uneasy about potentially withdrawing the U.K’s 20 acres from the E.U’s combined 43.  We are competing with American, Russian and Chinese farms after all.  Okay, maybe you think 43 is a little high with regards control of the overall crop, so we stick in there and negotiate ourselves a few acres back, no?  (What?  I said concerns should be legitimately scrutinized, I didn’t say by me, right now, using The Wurzels.)  So if farming is the metaphorical E.U that leaves the contentious attitude to cider.  It’s fine to champion cider.  I like cider.  However, a lot of people, me included, find the inherent suspicion of any drink which is not cider to be deeply troubling.  Spirits and beers from all over the world enrich our pub and bar experiences, not to mention make a sizable net contribution to our economy, it we stopped the flow of such an eclectic mix of drinks into this country we would be considerably worse off in my opinion.  This Wurzels/UKIP link was never the strongest so in closing let me say; by all means buy a Wurzels record if you so wish, at least they’re purposely ridiculous, but vote UKIP?  Don’t make I laugh! (That’s Somerset for ‘No.’)


Lovely Plaid Cymru.  I’m going to make them the band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci because they’re both Welsh and I haven’t heard a lot of their stuff but what I have heard, I like.  Also I don’t have much of a clue what either of their names translate as.  If you live in Wales though I’d encourage you to check them both out.  I would.


So there you go.  No excuse not to get involved now.  All your options for the 2015 UK General Elections made crystal clear.  U2, Simply Red, Lemonheads, Pearl Jam, Pulp Gorky's Zygotic Mynci or The Wurzels.  Simple.  I mean obviously there are the wee dinky parties who I haven’t covered here but for the purposes of this analogy let’s just say they’re all unsigned bands: not widely known, but if you like one of them, provided they're not unspeakably awful, by all means fill your fully enfranchised boots 
Search me.

I gave Northern Ireland a miss too, not out of disrespect, simply because to me over there is summed up by the Progressive Rock genre: excruciatingly complex, well over my head and just generally not my scene.  Again though, if all that's your thing, get stuck in.  Happy votin'.

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