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Beef Of The Week #375: Pop v Politics

By | Published on Friday 6 October 2017

Calvin Harris

What with all the various gaffs and misfortunes that plagued Theresa May’s Conservative Party conference speech this week, the traditional ‘musicians don’t like Tories using their music’ story seems a little inconsequential. But it is a tradition, and Tories love tradition, so let’s push forward.

As ever, the Conservatives recognise as well as anybody the power of music to rouse people. Every year they use various bits of pop music at their big gathering to rouse their crowd of party members, most of whom – it is fairly safe to assume – have no interest in pop music. But I suppose Theresa May coming on stage to ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ might not go over so well. And so it was, earlier this week, that she arrived on stage to ‘This Is What You Came For’ by Calvin Harris and Rihanna.

I’m sure it was supposed to make her look like an unbeatable boxer entering the ring, but given the speech it pre-empted on Wednesday, it now looks like the rallying cry of the many members of her party who would like to see her gone.

Whatever it was, Calvin Harris wasn’t happy about it. He quickly tweeted: “Conservative Party conference playing my song was not approved – I do not support nor condone happy songs being played at such a sad event”.

He was also on hand with some medical advice for May, after she coughed and spluttered her way though her speech, saying: “Cough plus grey complexion suggests liver cleanse needed – blood prob very dark – body trying to cleanse but lack of nutrients pls Google”.

It may, of course, have just been that her battery was running down. Elsewhere at the conference, more pop music was being played. For some reason, it was deemed appropriate for Florence And The Machine’s version of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ to be boomed out across the conference venue’s speakers, apparently without irony.

Florence Welch was not best pleased and, like Harris, knew nothing of her music being used until people started asking her about it on social media. She tweeted: “Today’s use of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ at the Conservative Party conference was not approved by us nor would it have been had they asked”.

She also added a specific request that the Tories “refrain from using our music in future”.

As noted at this point every single year, simply asking the Conservatives to respect her wishes is really as much as Flo can do. Use of music at political conferences of this kind will be covered by the blanket licences held by the host venue, ie the licences that are dished out by collecting societies PPL and PRS.

Once you have a licence in hand, you can make use of any recordings and songs repped by those organisations (which is most recordings and songs) in your public space. And the telly broadcasts of the event – which is how the use of pop music by Tories often makes it to public attention – will be covered the broadcasters’ own PPL/PRS licences.

So long as the relevant fees are paid to the collecting societies, the Conservatives (or whoever – but it’s mainly right leaning parties who annoy pop stars) are completely within their legal rights to use whatever music they like. Morally, well that’s another matter. But I’m not sure this is any time to start discussing morals with Tories.

As mentioned above, taking to the stage with a cold, May was plagued by various coughing fits throughout her speech. Downing several glasses of water and being handed a lozenge by Chancellor Phillip Hammond did little to help (either with the speech or the balance of power between her and Hammond).

It also turned out that a portion of the speech she did manage to say in one go without so much as a splutter appeared to have been plagiarised from an episode of ‘The West Wing’. To top it all off, as she spoke, letters began falling off the sign behind her displaying the slogan of “a Britain that works for everyone”.

All of which would have constituted a shambles. But there was more, as comedian Simon Brodkin managed to get close enough to May to hand her a mocked up P45 form – paperwork to mark the end of employment – purporting to be signed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Brodkin got close enough to the stage for May to actually reach down and take the P45, which – incredibly – she did. Perhaps she was trying to mimic Jacob Rees-Mogg’s relaxed engaging of a protester earlier in the week. Perhaps she just wanted to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. As it is, when May is eventually ousted by her party in the coming months, the media will have lots of pictures of her holding a P45 at the ready.

Best known for his character Lee Nelson, Brodkin has become known for various pranks such as this in recent years. In 2015, he managed to get on stage during Kanye West’s headline set at Glastonbury. After that incident he explained that he’d managed to pull it off by shouting “I’m meant to be on stage!” at a security guard and getting the rest of the way on adrenaline.

It’s a mystery how he still manages to pull these things off, without everyone pointing and saying, “Look, there’s the noted prankster Simon Brodkin, we’d better stop him from pulling off yet another of his audacious japes”. Which is how Tories talk, of course.

Like West, May attempted a rewind in response to Brodkin’s stunt. Referencing the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who she’d been speaking about as Brodkin interrupted her, she said that it was he who she’d like to hand a P45 to. It got a big laugh in the room, but it did rather draw attention to the fact that she’d just taken hold of a P45 (albeit a fake one) during a speech that was increasingly sounding like an exit interview.

Even if she doesn’t actually need to heed Calvin Harris’s advice to Google information on liver conditions, it might be a good idea for May to brush up her LinkedIn profile and check out a few recruitment sites. After a lifetime of wanting to be Prime Minister, it appears that attempting to deal with the impossible fall out of the Brexit vote will likely make her tenure in the top job short lived. She should probably just get out the way voluntarily and let Boris Johnson totally fuck up the UK’s exit from the European Union instead of her.

Anyway, speaking of precarious political party leaderships, UKIP has just got its latest new leader in the form of Henry Bolton. Don’t bother remembering his name, I’m sure it’ll be someone else soon enough. And it’s quite likely that the first you heard of a UKIP leadership election was Morrissey banging on about it on 6 Music.

Ever the contrarian, Morrissey has increasingly aligned himself with UKIP in recent years. Brexit was “magnificent” and all thanks to the “quite logical” former leader of the party Nigel Farage (who will probably return for a third go next time his ego needs the rub of a few thousand deluded sycophants). Was Moz happy that Farage loyalist Bolton was now in charge of the UKIPers though? Apparently not.

“I was very surprised the other day”, he told the gathered audience at Maida Vale studios, there to watch him perform at the start of ‘6 Music Live’ week. “It was very interesting to me to see Anne Marie Waters become the head of UKIP. Oh no, sorry she didn’t – the voting was rigged. Sorry, I forgot”.

Waters was one of six contenders for the leadership, and possibly the most fervent on the more anti-Islam side of the party. Many thought she would win comfortably, not least because it was feared a large number of far right sympathisers had signed up as members at the last minute simply in order to vote for her. But she was beaten into second place by a decent margin by Bolton, hence Morrissey’s conspiracy theory.

I’m not sure what Morrissey’s core audience gets out of his increasingly right-leaning views these days, but an intimate audience of 6 Music listeners and BBC staff doesn’t really seem like the right crowd to try that sort of material out on. Morrissey, it seems, was expecting quite a reaction from his comment. Perhaps an angry uprising or shouts of agreement. Instead, he was met with bemused silence – presumably due to a mixture of embarrassment and confusion at how else to respond.

Morrissey took it to mean that the audience just wasn’t up on current affairs. “You didn’t get it, did you?”, he berated them. “You obviously don’t read the news”.

I’ve gone over this incident again and again in my head. I still don’t really know what Morrissey’s intentions were. Is he angry that Waters isn’t the new UKIP leader? Was he just passing comment on what he saw as a compromised vote with no real view on the integrity of the politician or the party? Was he just blurting out whatever nonsense he thought would most rile the BBC and its listeners?

Do you remember when Morrissey’s proclamations were pointed and funny? I much preferred that. It wasn’t even that long ago really. Now he’s just a kind of noise you occasionally notice and think, ‘Oh God, is he still talking?’

There was one example of music and politics coming together in harmony this week though. As Wolf Alice went head to head with Shania Twain for the UK album chart number one spot, that Jeremy Corbyn came out in support of the British rock band. “After helping Labour beat the odds in the election, it’s great to see Wolf Alice doing the same in the charts”, the Labour leader tweeted.

Bit weird, yes. But he’s come a long way from the days when he was holding press conferences with UB40 and asking them about classical music. We’ll find out if his support will actually get Wolf Alice to the top later this afternoon, or if they’ll just come second and still walk around telling everyone they won.

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