“THIS WAS NOT A GIG, THIS WAS POLITICAL ACTION” ROBERT WYATT’S COME BACK TO THE STAGE
The left wing of the Labour party meets in Brighton to collect money for their party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a concert. Paul Weller put together a band for the night. The sensation: He can convince Robert Wyatt to return to the stage, that he is more afraid of than Seehofer about losing the absolute majority. Wyatt’s excuse for himself: “This was not a gig, this was political action.” But that proceeds abundantly tumultuous. André Boße on a contradictory event, that managed to aptly depict the left wing in its structural haplessness.
That was really deceitful from Weller. He called Robert Wyatt and asked him if didn’t want to get on stage once more. Weller knew that the hermit is afraid to get on a stage. Not just profane stage fright – the sheer idea having to play live chokes him. Therefore Wyatt declared a while ago that he would end his career as a musician. From that point on he just wanted to act as a political activist. Weller did know it and took advantage of it. Because he didn’t want to win over Wyatt for a Gig, but for a political event: “People Powered”, an evening in Brighton for Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party. “You will be playing and singing, but you’re basically making politics.”
Wyatt accepted. And cursed himself for it, because the anxiety was inevitable. For the fans of the musician, in compliment to whom a verb exists (“wyatting”: infuriating clueless ears with smartypants-music), the performance was a sensation: On the Friday before the fourth advent the 71 year old, who is in a wheelchair since falling from a window in 1973, was brought onto the stage of a hall in Brighton by his son. Also on stage: Paul Weller and bass player Danny Thompson. The men performed just under a dozen songs. Wyatt sang his “Blues in Bob Minor”, based on Dylans “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. At the end they played “September In the Rain”, a classic, also sung by Sinatra and Doris Day, Rod Stewart and Norah Jones. But Wyatt’s version is obviously the best: his high fragile voice, the slight lisp, this unmatched tenderness! Wyatt hardly mentioned one thing about politics while on stage. Weller didn’t say anything on the subject. “Weller, get angry”, someone from the audience demanded. “We are not here to be angry, but to make music”, he hissed back at the audience. That’s what it’s like when pop and politics are meeting nowadays: They are sharing the stage, but preferably don’t want to have to do anything with each other.
Just to explain: Labour-Leader Jeremy Corbyn is terribly disliked by many of his party colleagues. He is too left wing for them, too brash. In short: Hardly anyone believes that Labour will be able to win an election with him. There have been attempted coups, but all of them failed, as the basis loves Corbyn. Because he is left wing. And brash. For the last few months young Brits are standing in line to join this party that usually is seen as hip as the German SPD. It’s kind of comparable to Bernie Sanders in the USA: The left wing youth sees in Corbyn someone who really wants to change something – not only for his own career but for the people out there. “He opens doors and thereby set a wave in motion”, Robert Wyatt says about Corbyn, when we asked him what distinguishes Corbyn. Because of the politician’s refusal to take money from donors from big industry or the finance business, Weller affiliated with an idea of “Momentum”, a movement within the party: With a series of “People Powered”-concerts money for Corbyn is supposed to be collected. The evening in Brighton is the kickoff.
Next to Wyatt and Weller the Temples and Stealing Sheep are also playing, and as finale the seemingly indestructible The Farm are singing their popular hit “All Together Now”. Shortly before the old “Madchester” warriors are entering the stage Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech. Short – but not sweet. Everyone who doesn’t know this man would think that he is a over-motivated civics teacher. Corbyn carries a few slips of paper that had been scribbled on hastily, but mostly talks freely about this and that and nothing specific. The key terms come up again and again: solidarity and fairness, change and hope. Corbyn praises Weller. Corbin praises The Farm. “All of them exceptional artists.”
Weller and Wyatt didn’t witness anything of this. “My granddaughter did record the speech with her mobile”, says Robert Wyatt later on, he preferred to spend this time with his good old friend Julie Christie at the backstage. “Maybe I will listen to it sometime.” He probably won’t, because there are more important things to do.
The evening in Brighton sums up why the relationship of pop and politics are going through a crisis. The pop heart is beating for the left, the right-wing hipsters from the Identitarian movement will not able to change it. That’s also the reason why Donald Trump is not able to find someone other than Kid Rock or Meat Loaf to play at his inauguration as president. But populism is the strength of the right-wing. They like to assemble, switch of the criticism mode, indulge in the community and belabor the establishment. The left-wing is not able to do this. Or rather: not anymore. In the 80s in the Commonwealth it worked fine: The bogeyman’s name was Thatcher. It was worth to fight, against the Falklands War, for the rights of the unions and the miners. The movement “Red Wedge” supported left-wing Labour leaders like Neil Kinnock and Ken Livingstone. Weller was already part of it back then, together with Billy Bragg and Lloyd Cole, Prefab Sprout and The Smiths, Madness and The The, Sade and Spandau Ballett. Interesting fact: Wyatt was missing back then, he was regarded as a communist. And that was too extreme. But he sung one of the most important songs of the movement: “Shipbuilding”, a song by Elvis Costello that asks the central question: “Is it worth it?” But it’s not about war per se. But about the issue that the British arms industry was producing military equipment for the war at the Falklands. At the South Atlantic soldiers were dying. In Great Britain the war provided for jobs and prosperity: “ A new winter coat and shoes for the wife/ And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday.“
“Tonight I’m wishing for this song”, says Andrea, around 60. She came with her husband, both are loyal Labour voters – “because everything else is out of the question.” Both of them have already been part during the times of “Red Wedge”. During the decadent 90s, when the coked up Gallaghers were celebrating New Labours success together with power-crazed Tony Blair at Downing Street Andrea was living in Spain. Now she is back in Britain – and close to political despair: “I am badly missing the differentiation.” Brexit, Trump – the simple solution are winning, but they just withholding resultant problems. “And that although the text of ‘Shipbuilding‘ is illustrating that everything has two sides. For example that economic success always has drawbacks, because other are suffering because of it – nations, workers, the environment.”
The left loves differentiations. The zeitgeist, on the other side, demands simple solutions for incredibly complex questions. Therefor it is as complicated to develop a left-wing populism as it is to prepare a calorie-reduced Christmas roast. Corbyn is trying. But it doesn’t spark. Weller and Wyatt are suspecting it – and don’t confess themselves to the party politics on stage. The rage is there, but both of them don’t want to let it on stage.
And would it even be to any avail? Robert Wyatt should be able to tell. In the end of January he will be 72 years old. He is still chain smoking, has been married to Alfreda Benge for over 40 years: wife, muse, manager, guardian angel. Wyatt is full of political theories, he has written divine love songs with lyrics like “you’re terrific when you’re drunk“ and “you’re madness fits in nicely with my own“. So, pop and politics – is something there? “I don’t know if music is a useful political activity”, he says. “Let’s take national hymns for example, are they having an effect? Or love songs, do they work? Church songs, are they meaningful? Do fan chants in a stadium help the home team win?” He contemplates for a second. The he says: “Songs are maybe warming our hearts.” That is nice. But the world out there is possibly too cold to win elections with that.
(Translated by Denise Oemcke)