My degeneration: Why old rockers love Brexit
One of the great (and sadly apocryphal) stories of rock concerns the moment Bono silenced the crowd at one of U2’s megagigs and began slowly clicking his fingers.
“Every time I do this, another African child dies,” he intoned. To which a man in the front row is said to have shouted, “stop doing it then”.
Brexit makes for strange bedfellows. For several reasons, their leader’s epic pomposity high among them, I belong to the camp which regards Bono’s mob as sixth-rate chancers inexplicably elevated to the demigod status deservedly earned by the likes of The Who. Yet place the singer’s statements on Brexit next to those made recently by Roger Daltrey and you have to admit that this is a rare occasion on which U2 actually are even better than the real thing. Or, indeed, even better than the Real Thing, the 1970s Liverpool soul band whose Can’t Get By Without You outshines With Or Without You any day of the week.
On stage in Belfast the other night, Bono told the audience it was “still a great European city... always and forever. Whatever happens, whether there’s a hard or soft or no border at all, more than ever, we need to trust each other on this small island in the North Atlantic Ocean. It looks like some rough weather ahead but it’ll be a lot less rough if we navigate it together.”
Characteristically hokey, but far more impressive than Daltrey’s recent assertion that the EU is a “gravy train soaking us dry”. This was possibly the most ridiculous thing to come out of his mouth since the opening lines of the title track on his 1977 solo album One Of The Boys: “He speaks with a terrible stammer, so he don’t have much to say/ But he can spit further than any punk, so nobody gets in his way.”
I am no great fan of Queen either, but read Brian May’s quotes from this week (“I get up every day and put my head in my hands about Brexit; I think it is the stupidest thing we ever tried to do”) and the whole being “caught in a landslide, no escape from reality” thing begins to make some kind of sense.
Of course, coming out as a Brexiteer cannot and should not diminish the importance of your past work. No-one will delete Baba O’riley or Won’t Get Fooled Again from their Spotify playlists simply because Roger Daltrey believes that all Brexit will mean for musicians is “a bit more paperwork on this side of the Channel”. The greatness of Ringo Starr’s drumming on Rain and Something is undimmed by his belief that leaving the EU is “a great move...
I think, you know, to be in control of your country is a good move”. The shivers still induced by John Lydon’s voice on God Save The Queen and Poptones have survived his Country Life adverts, and will survive his calls for “a truly brilliant British exit”.
Turning to the crowning achievements of people from my hometown of Manchester, Mark E Smith of The Fall’s decades of magnificent output will outlive his thoughts on Brexit (“I thought it was great, still do”), while How Soon Is Now? will still be danced to long after Morrissey’s hatefulness is forgotten. And when our memories of Noel Gallagher telling Remainers to “fucking get on with it” have finally gone to that champagne supernova in the sky, people will look back fondly on how well he once kept the Inspiral Carpets’ guitars in tune. When musicians we admire turn out to support Brexit we can be disappointed but we shouldn’t really be surprised. Starr is 78, Daltrey 74, Lydon 62, Morrissey 59, Gallagher 51 and Smith was 60 when he died in January; placing all in age demographics which went for Leave. All hail from the white working class, another happy hunting ground for Leave (“the working class have voted and I support them,” said Lydon last year). All, in varying degrees, see themselves as the champion of the ordinary guy against The Man, a persuasive Leave message. All are self-made, living lives involving little compromise or negotiation. All began as equal parts of groups before going solo or assuming control.
And all have almost certainly spent the last few decades surrounded by people who are unlikely to ever tell them that they are talking complete and utter bollocks.
Though perhaps something else entirely led Daltrey to Brexit. It may have been that, curious about the subject and eager to research it, he innocently entered a website containing disturbing pro-brexit material.
But then who would ever believe an excuse like that?
SAY WHAT? “We haven’t played all the cards in our arsenal” - Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns bewilders the Question Time audience as she shuffles her pack of guns SAY WHAT? “There’s billions of people in the Empire, let’s get back to being a British Empire again. That’s what it’s all about, you know - it’s about being a British Empire” - An attendee of Nigel Farage’s Leave Means Leave rally in Harrogate tells Sky News he’s looking forward to the returns of colonialism, slavery and gunboat diplomacy
FOOLED AGAIN: The Who frontman Roger Daltrey