Saturday, 7 April 2012

'Union Black' - The Olympics, The Jubilee and the 'Best of British' (Continued...)

(The Olympic Mascots - About as British as France)

Britishness is a perplexing complex (indeed, if it can even be deemed a concept.) Chrome's spellchecker does not even recognise 'Britishness' as a word and yet it seems to dominate so much of our discourse on public life, culture, academia etc.  Notions of Britishness have been deployed to defend traditional cultural values, even to propagate hate driven racist ideologies, yet Britishness has also come to be seen as a less-problematic and more inclusive way in which to define an increasingly multi-cultural society. In short, Britishness means different things to different people; when I think of Britishness, for example, the image that most readily springs to mind is that of a slightly over-weight man eating a lukewarm portion of fish and chips on a park bench in the rain. I am sure you will have your own visual conception of Britishness; possibly a slightly haggard looking woman churning butter? Or maybe a man muttering angrily to himself having just missed a bus? Perhaps it is to be expected, however, that Britishness will always be a hard concept to pin down. After all, Britain is, in essence, a rather resentful enforced conglomeration of four countries that largely dislike each other - it's an identity crisis waiting to happen.

Having now come no closer to defining 'Britishness', let us proceed to continue the line up for my proposed 'Best of British' festival. I must admit, neither the Queen nor Lord Coe were particularly receptive of my initial suggestions. However, in true British spirit, this lady is not for turning - "Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more..."

Mid-Afternoon Slots (Continued...)

Everyone's favourite northern purveyors of heavy brutality, Carcass would be the perfect accompaniment to a spot of afternoon tea or possibly a violent brawl in a pub (two quintessentially British past-times I'm sure we will all agree.) Along with Napalm Death, Carcass were pioneers of Grindcore and then, not being content to merely innovate one extreme heavy metal sub-genre, went on to aid in the development of Melodic Death Metal. When you have recorded albums as good as 'Heartwork' and 'Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious', you can even be forgiven for having a Swede in the band. Besides, there is no questioning Carcass' strong British credentials; hailing from Liverpool, Carcass are in many respects the natural successors to that other most famous of Liverpudlian bands, the Beatles, whose influence can strongly be heard on tracks such as 'Incarnated Solvent Abuse' and 'Vomited Anal Tract'. Indeed, its hard to imagine anyone other than a British band penning lyrics that are quite so grossly and needlessly offensive.
(Carcass - Heartwork, Live)

Much to the irritation of Gerry Adams and the provisional IRA, Northern Ireland is still a part of Great Britain and as such this band effortlessly qualify for my 'Best of British' festival. Once hailed as the 'British Nirvana', Therapy? never quite lived up to their commercial potential (and what could possibly be more British than underachievement?) Having said that, Therapy? have proved to be a remarkably consistent band, continuing to release fantastically strange and catchy alternative metal albums to the ongoing delight of an incredibly dedicated fan-base. Therapy? also showed America that Britain could compete with the Seattle-centric grunge explosion of the early 1990s without having to conform to American notions of 'coolness'. In many regards, Therapy? were probably too British for their own good; it's hard to imagine a songs like 'Knives', which largely consists of front-man Andy Cairns yelling "I'm going to get drunk come round and fuck you up," ever appealing to anyone but the most cynical and bitter of Brits.
(Therapy? - Screamager)

Dub War
Britain is now a multi-cultural society and all the better for it. Thanks to the large swathes of immigration, which have largely defined Britain since the Second World War, we now eat better food, read better books and certainly listen to better music. If you still need convincing on this point, however, then look no further than Dub War. Formed in the early 1990s by a group of working class lads in the industrial valley town of Newport with a Welsh singer of Afro-Caribbean parentage, Dub War fused traditional British heavy metal with American Alternative Rock and Jamaican Ragga to form a potent blend that, as well as being downright awesome, was very reflective of Britain's changing cultural composition. Sadly the band only released two albums before calling it a day, however, frontman Benji Webbe went on to form the similarly fantastic band Skindred. Last year Skindred released a brilliant album in the form of the fantastically titled 'Union Black', complete with a dub/electronic version of 'God Save the Queen' for its introductory track  - very British.
(Dub War - Strike It) 


In choosing two artists to headline a 'Best of British' music festival the notion of 'Britishness', or at least my warped understanding of 'Britishness, was at the forefront of my mind. However, from the outset of this pointless exercise in self-indulgent time killing, Genesis (or at least Genesis in their earlier Peter Gabriel incarnation) were the logical choice of headliner. Few artists encapsulate that uniquely British sense of eccentricity, bordering on clinical insanity, quite like Genesis. Take a song like 'Supper's Ready', for example;  clocking in at nearly 20 minutes, 'Supper's Ready' is a bizarrely beautiful exploration of the quirks of the British psyche in which Peter Gabriel's lyrical musings touch upon subjects as wide ranging as 'Winston Churchill dressed in drag' and 'mum doing the washing'. If you are still finding this a rather confusing proposition then I'm sure this sample lyric will explain all: "the frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg, the egg was a bird" (or not, as the case may be.) Genesis' next album, 'Selling England by the Pound', is, in my eyes at least, the finest musical encapsulation of Britishness we have to date; a beautiful exploration of melancholy, eccentricity and misty-eyed nostalgia that is as haunting as it is beautiful. You can keep your Elgar, because nothing is quite as fantastically British to me as Genesis in full flight powering through 'Dancing with the Moonlit Night'. Simply stunning.
(Genesis - Dancing with the Moonlit Night)

Iron Maiden
Of course, when I say there is nothing quite as British as Genesis' 'Dancing with the Moonlit Night' I am lying - and that is largely because this next band thankfully exist - the incredibly fantastic Iron Maiden. Formed in the mid-1970s Iron Maiden have gone on to be one of the most well respected and commercially successful heavy metal bands of all time. Despite often being maligned by the mainstream press, Iron Maiden have sold over eighty millions albums (and in case you need any help visualizing that, just imagine a lot of albums,) sold out some of the biggest music festivals in the world and helped create and define a genre. All of this is even more remarkable when you consider that Iron Maiden have rarely compromised nor deviated from their own creative vision. Whilst peers, such as Metallica, may have felt the need to get trendy hair cuts and conform to prevailing cultural trends, bassist and band leader Steve Harris has steered the good ship Iron Maiden through the tempestuous seas of critical opinion for over thirty years - always remaining true to course. Surely that sense of stubborn refusal and determined singularity is one of the things we Brits can truly celebrate. We should also not forget that Iron Maiden were formed in the east end of London, a literal stone's throw away from the site of this year's Olympic games; so if Lord Coe is looking for local talent, look no further! And if you still need convincing, please view the video clip provided for your convenience below - I defy anyone to tell me that a Union Jack waving Bruce Dickinson singing a song about the charge of the Light Brigade is not the most British thing you have ever seen.
(Iron Maiden - The Trooper, Live)

No comments:

Post a Comment