‘Waving flags’ is, it has to be said, an anthem, built for festivals, for celebrating togetherness. I usually have a problem with anthems (not to mention festivals) but this is one of very few that I’d happily sing along to. Perhaps what saves it from anthemic bombast is Yan’s voice, which is considerably softer than the musical broadside booming behind it. It’s this – together with the background choral harmonies – that gives the song both a vulnerability and a touching politesse. Then there are the words, which cut through the fat surrounding the subject of immigration to go to its emotional heart. The song is both an acceptance of the freedom of movement across national borders that the British seemingly take for granted only as emigrants, and a lightly-issued plea for focussing on what different national identities hold in common. Forgive me if I conflate two issues, namely immigration and the expression of anti-Islamic feeling in the wake of the recent murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, but it seems obvious to extrapolate and go so far as to say that the message of ‘Waving flags’ could just as easily stand for ethnic as well as national identity. So were those opposed to the narrow-minded intolerance of either the UK Independence Party or the English Defence League to choose a song behind which they could unite, it would surely be a leading contender.
Not so long ago, on a late night train shortly after the Woolwich attack, I witnessed random, real-life racist thuggery from EDL sympathisers or supporters. I hadn’t seen anything like it for many years, and it both worried and shamed me. I support the right of the EDL to say what it thinks – assuming that anything in the way of thinking has taken place – just as I support a UKIP member’s right to retire to the Costa del Sol, or even to emigrate to Australia or New Zealand if down under was prepared to have them. But when a gang of drunken thugs threaten and harass a random passer-by because of the colour of his skin and its presumed associations, then they leave themselves open to being treated with the same contempt that they have shown towards another human being. The EDL and their like are guilty of meeting intolerance with intolerance; how sheepish some of their number must have felt when that intolerance was met with engagement by one of the very communities they seek to attack, soaking up hostility with the offer of a cup of tea followed by a game of football.
I admire British Sea Power for writing this song, and making an anthem of it; for choosing to stand in the face of what British media would have you believe is the tide of opinion, that ‘something needs to be done’ about immigration; that we need to put up the drawbridge on entry to fortress Britain. It’s narrow-minded, blinkered, historically ignorant and just plain wrong on so many levels. So I’m right with Yan when he sings ‘Welcome in!’ to those coming here – for however long – from the countries above which the Carpathians rise. I only wish they were coming to a better and more understanding country than perhaps they imagine it to be.
British Sea Power are my kind of British – proud of or at least fascinated by our history but far from uncritical of it; celebrants of the full extent of a body of culture which is peppered with eccentricity; and internationalist and anti-authoritarian in their outlook. And I’m not the only one who made all these connections when listening to their song, for I discovered as I was writing this that earlier this year a pro-immigration, anti-UKIP campaign was deliberately formed around it. The campaign may not have succeeded in its stated aim, but it and the song nevertheless serve as a reminder to those of the UKIP persuasion that plenty of us are happy for all manner of flags to be waved on British soil, not just the Union Jack or the St George’s Cross.
In the spirit of the fifty word fictions currently being posted by Chan over at A wild slim alien, here are some reviews of exactly that length – tips of the hat to my long-player listening so far this year. With the odd hand gesture or wrinkled nose thrown in.
The Shortwave Set – Replica sun machine
Seduced by the alethiometeresque cover, but disappointed by the frequency with which the wan, characterless vocals of Andrew Pettitt displace the considerably more elegant singing of Ulrika Bjornse. Danger Mouse production? Check. Van Dyke Parks string arrangements? Check. Tunes? Mostly. ‘Glitches ‘n’ bugs’, ‘Distant daze’ and ‘No social’ stand out.
Elbow – The seldom seen kid
In the last couple of years Elbow’s records have been surreptitiously stealing their way to the centre of my listening world. This confirms their place there with its high musicality and wry humour. Guy Garvey’s songs are lugubrious and beautiful, even managing to reanimate the corny image of the mirrorball.
DeVotchKa – A mad and faithful telling
Romany Mexican indie with Greek or Klezmer undertones, anyone? Not forgetting occasional forays into chamber and oompah band territories? Singer Nick Urata looks like a roughed-up cross between Clooney and Morrissey. One song – ‘The clockwise witness’ – is truly great, throwing off excessive stylistic colouring for an affecting shade of blue.
Carl Craig – Sessions
How long it’s been since I was lost in niteklub rhythm. For all that Craig is a master of dancefloor dynamics, Sessions ultimately feels relentless, at home or in car. It’s a relief when the end is near and the unpredictable rhythms of ‘Bug in the bass bin’ take hold.
Four Tet – Ringer
A river whose flow is as relentless as Sessions, but out of the current more is going on. I wish I had more time to relax into ‘Swimmer’’s patterns; fretted less about the time Kieran Hebden takes to develop his swirls and eddies. Moments of life that won’t come again.
Neon Neon – Stainless style
After the Rhys-Boom Bip collaboration on Blue eyed in the red room, and Gruff’s loveable Candylion, a disappointment. In evoking the worst aspects of the eighties, it’s loud, shiny, and as attractive as the boxy lines of the De Lorean car. But ‘I lust u’ achieves a Depeche Mode-esque melancholy.
Colin Meloy – Colin Meloy sings live
Just occasionally in these solo performances, Colin Meloy is one note short of a melody. Otherwise he conveys the best of the Decemberists – as well as Shirley Collins and the Smiths – with songwriter’s conviction, stand-up comedy and helpings of the ‘campfire singalong’ spirit that he declares he is aiming for.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The age of the understatement
The chief northern monkey and his best mate perform a Dukes of Stratosphearic take on Scott Walker (and indeed Brel through Scott’s distorting mirror); in their turtleneck sweaters they’re photo-fit go-getters. The result is a noirish existential beat group and the second of many reinventions Alex Turner may yet perform.
Goldfrapp – Seventh tree
I lost interest between Black cherry and the insistently decadent electro of Supernature. Fortunately the duo are aware of the benefits of reinvention and return; Seventh tree is closest in spirit to Felt mountain but with added folk sensibility and pop nous. ‘Little bird’ floats and ‘Caravan girl’ drives along.
British Sea Power – Do you like rock music?
Like Open season, this is eight-tenths of the way to greatness; if I were eighteen and at my first Glastonbury, I would wave my flag to it. But it’s as rock as the substance you’d mine were you to tunnel into Mount Blanc, and for me that remains a problem.
Paul Weller – 22 dreams
Press would have you believe that Weller has suddenly emerged from a lengthy spell in rock purgatory. Truth is he rediscovered his touch over the two preceding sets; you could not get more pastoral than ‘Pan’ on As is now. 22 dreams expands the lightness in familiar and fresh directions.
Portishead – Third
Top bombing from Barrow, Gibbons and Utley. The avant-garde attack of the electronics is reminiscent of New Order discovering synthesisers. Next time Portishead can worry less about making it impossible for anyone to countenance putting them on as dinner party listening; this is music with which to greet the apocalypse.
Robert Forster – The evangelist
The healing power of song – I’m so glad RF rediscovered it. But how could the tone be anything other than elegiac, with fragments of Grant’s last songs among Robert’s lyrical responses to his death. As we hear those last tunes, Robert sings ‘it was melody he loved most of all’.