Tally-ho! Coun­try­side stars unite to save the fox-hunters

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

We’re used to rock stars do­ing the char­ity con­cert thing for famine, Aids, the en­vi­ron­ment, Amnesty, Green­peace, Ti­bet etc. The ben­e­fit gig has be­come a reg­u­lar fix­ture on the mu­sic cal­en­dar and, due to the na­ture of th­ese events (rais­ing much-needed money/con­scious­ness), there is usu­ally a tem­po­rary sus­pen­sion of the usual crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties.

Still, some will per­sist in ar­gu­ing that many of th­ese events in­volve con­di­tions that, even with the best will in the world, no amount of “star-stud­ded casts” can even be­gin to ame­lio­rate.

There are also more ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated op­po­nents of ben­e­fit con­certs. A ben­e­fit gig next week, though, should see ev­ery­one united in peace, love and har­mony.

The Coun­try­side Rocks gig on Satur­day, May 19th is about cel­e­brat­ing na­ture, the coun­try­side and the rural idyll. Al­ready lined up to play the show, which will be staged in the spec­tac­u­lar sur­rounds of High­clere Cas­tle in Berk­shire, are Bryan Ferry and Eric Clap­ton, to name just two.

What’s wrong with this bu­colic pic­ture? Plenty. Coun­try­side Rocks may, on pa­per, seem to be a sort of neo-hippy, let’s-all-get-back-to­na­ture-and-don’t-for­get-the flow­ers-in-your-hair. But all is not what it seems. Coun­try­side Rocks is a ben­e­fit for Coun­try­side Al­liance, a po­lit­i­cal lobby group which was set up in 1998. CA calls it­self “an or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to the coun­try­side, such as food, farm­ing and coun­try sports”. By “coun­try sports” they mean killing an­i­mals.

The Al­liance came to promi­nence when the UK in­tro­duced a hunt­ing ban in 2005. Mem­bers are vig­or­ous de­fend­ers of hunt­ing, es­pe­cially fox hunt­ing. Their op­po­nents claim that the bit about “pro­mot­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to the coun­try­side” is non­sense and that CA is a sin­gle-is­sue lobby group: they want to bring back hunt­ing.

One of the per­form­ers sched­uled to play on the day, the renowned pi­anist and com­poser Robert Wells, pulled out of the gig af­ter al­leg­ing that the CA de­ceived him.

“I felt that the Coun­try­side Al­liance were keep­ing some­thing from me when they de­nied that they had any­thing to do with fox hunt­ing,” Wells told a Swedish news­pa­per. “I warned them not to mess with me or I’d get re­ally pissed off. As far as I knew, this con­cert was in sup­port of na­ture and the coun­try­side and then this crap shows up. That’s when I said that is against my be­liefs and I can­celled.”

An­i­mal Aid, an an­i­mal rights group­ing, has now weighed into the ar­gu­ment, stat­ing that the gig is “a con­cert pro­mot­ing the killing of an­i­mals for plea­sure”. Gosh.

None of this seems to have both­ered the other per­form­ers on the bill – Ferry, Clap­ton, Steve Win­wood, Steve Har­ley (you’d sort of ex­pect bet­ter from the Cock­ney Rebel man), Ken­ney Jones, Rick Wills and Mike d’Abo. They’re all still listed to per­form on the day.

In the two main head­lin­ers, you’ve got a suave singer who, in a re­cent in­ter­view, opined “the way the Nazis staged them­selves and pre­sented them­selves, my Lord! I’m talk­ing about the films of Leni Riefen­stahl and the build­ings of Al­bert Speer and the mass marches and the flags. Just fan­tas­tic – re­ally beau­ti­ful”, and a fa­mous blues gui­tarist who once urged his au­di­ence to sup­port Enoch Pow­ell. Charm­ing.

All is not lost. Now that Wells has re­vealed him­self to be a pinko bleed­ing-heart fox-lover, there’s room on the bill for a cameo ap­pear­ance by Otis Ferry, son of Bryan and House of Com­mons-storm­ing Coun­try­side Al­liance hero.

Stop this tally-ho rock mad­ness now.

Clap­ton: wily old fox

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