This blog began, last year, with music when online political and cultural conversations with Austrian trumpet star Thomas Gansch inspired me to start interviewing and talking with my fellow Europeans about Europe, Brexit, coffee, stereotypes and more. The blog began with the aim of discussing what Europe – and being European – is all about. Music is part of this, one of those common threads. The BBC Proms in 2017 have seen Barenboim’s plea for internationalism and Igor Levit’s encore performance of Ode to Joy, as well as protests revolving around the EU flag.
Music and protest go hand in hand, it has always been so. Music crosses borders and appeals to the heart, the emotions. It is a powerful tool. No wonder then, that anti-Brexit protesters are increasingly turning to music to make a point.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed Peter Cook for the first time, focusing on his musical protests. Peter is a force of nature and since that interview, has moved on to a new project, Rage Against the Brexit Machine. I am delighted to have had chance for another chat with him about this new project – and the support he’s looking for. Here’s the interview:
1. Your new project is an album of songs against Brexit. Where did this idea come from?
I’d like to say that the Rage Against The Brexit Machine (RATBM) project was inspired whilst walking through wheat fields … but in truth it wasn’t! It did however come about partly as a result of walking through “Fields of Gold”, aka Downing Street, where I have been Musical Director at the No.10 Vigil, rewriting classic rock and pop songs as biting pieces of what I call BS or Brexit Satire. The great people at The No 10 Vigil discovered that music reached people’s hearts much better than spreadsheets or speeches. It’s a point that I’ve always understood as a blend of scientist, business author and musician at The Academy of Rock. You can see one of The No 10. Vigil’s rewired songs below “Brexit Oddity” by David Bowie. Rage Against The Brexit Machine will be about writing original catchy songs to capture people’s heads, hearts and souls whilst challenging them to change their minds about Brexit.
Rarely does a single stimulus inspire a great idea and the RATBM project was helped along by some other elements. The second element was seemingly negative, but adversity often spurs improved ideas. I had a “Facebook argument” with some people at The No 10 Vigil. It was all about my idea to stage a re-enactment of The Sex Pistols 1977 Silver Jubilee boat trip to shame Johnny Rotten for being a Brexiteer and gain us massive press attention for the Vigil’s work. Some commentators could not get past their feelings of hate for Mr Rotten, which I fully understood. However, I was unable to explain the satirical and media value of the idea adequately on a social media forum. Perhaps this is a life lesson for entrepreneurs in an age where ideas are judged instantly on social media. Facebook is a wonderful platform for many things but it is not a medium for exploration of nuanced ideas. A lot of damage was done as a result of this, which I deeply regret. I now insist that people call me by phone to discuss novel and subtle ideas in their infancy to improve levels of dialogue and understanding. We certainly would not have now been in this position if the original conversation had taken place in a pub.
However, I knew that I must resign my role at No 10 after this and it broke my heart. A number of people wrote to me subsequently, saying that the idea was too good to dump so I started to think more about developing it into an independent project. A third component came into play to make this happen in terms of the networks I’ve cultivated over many years. I got talking with my friends at NUB Music and Jon Morter, the man who beat Simon Cowell to the Number 1 slot at Christmas with “Rage Against The Machine”. The idea of “Killing Brexit Populism with Pop Music” was born …
Overall, one morning in the shower I had the epiphany that the Brexit referendum was caused by naked populism (the use of three word meaningless chants such as Take Back Control, Brexit Means Brexit etc.). I concluded that a more meaningful form of populism would end Brexit and started to consider how we might start a non-political movement to cause the centre ground of politics to stand up and be counted. Out of this was born Rage Against The Brexit Machine and through conversations with Jules Cava, our first single “Pants to Brexit”. I did find a wheat field to contemplate the storyline of the song …
2. What sort of music will be on the album?
It will be hugely diverse. From platinum pop to base metal, P-funk, punk, country punk, classic rock and classical. Our outlook on politics is rainbow coloured, as will be our music. Our first single will be Pants to Brexit. Here’s the storyline:
3. How will the album fight Brexit?
We will not be fighting anyone physically, although I have been punched twice in the last year by angry Brexiteers … I’m hoping this does not continue! The main theatre for our conflict is inside the minds of those who were fed gross lies by the gutter press over 40 years in small doses of faux patriotism, bananarama myths, EU “snakes and leaders” etc. The battleground is in finding ways to positively confront mistruths about the European Union and Europe that have been laid down repeatedly by our “unpopular press”. My ground research with Leave voters suggests that these are deeply rooted beliefs. These reveal themselves in everyday language in phrases like “They need us more than we need them”, “We need to take back control” and so on. There’s no doubt that some people feel left behind in the 21st century and we do need to address the underlying issues that prompted the referendum decision, but the EU and Europe are not the root cause of the vast majority of these concerns, for that we must look much closer to home. Moreover, leaving the European Union is a sure fire way to ensure we have no influence on Europe and the rest of the world. All political systems need periodic reform including our own national and local Government, but we achieve little outside those systems without an equivalent power base.
Our album of songs is called “Rage Against The Brexit Machine”. It will reach deeply into popular culture and thus swing public opinion and that of Westminster MP’s. Compared with a march, it will be inside every home, pub, on every iPhone, tablet and so on over an extended period whilst it will compliment other initiatives from the various Remain movements. I wish there were one concerted effort but Remain has remained (sic) fragmented, so we need a tsunami of initiatives timed together to slide the Brexit Titanic into the Atlantic Ocean.
4. I understand there are already high profile figures involved in the project? Who, and what role are they playing? Are you hoping to get others involved?
Nub Records will release the album. Nub won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for their innovative album 100×30, which contained 100 thirty-second songs. Nub is the brainchild of Mark Christopher Lee who was on a mission to stop Spotify from exploiting musicians. He figured out that if a song only had to be 30 seconds long to qualify for Spotify royalties, what was the point of making them any longer? Nub has since signed deals with Warner Bros and is a force to be reckoned with.
Jon Morter will be assisting us in creating a viral storm for the songs. Jon was responsible for disrupting the UK Christmas chart, ejecting Simon Cowell and The X Factor from the No 1 slot with a song by Rage Against The Machine. His expertise will help us create the viral marketing needed to help Rage Against The Brexit Machine and “Pants” to aim very high. A number of class A music artists are currently considering a contribution to the album, including Rage Against The Machine themselves.
We will be joined by Rebecca Bowler, a Marilyn Monroe tribute artist and Drew Galdron aka Faux Bojo. They will be starring in the video for “Pants to Brexit” in a Brexit Titanic comic tragedy.
5. I’ve heard you talk about ‘thoughtful populism’. What do you mean by that? Does it apply beyond Brexit? Who is the intended audience for the album?
In the information age, we are bombarded with data. I mention this in my last book “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise”. For example, during our leisure time every day, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words. The impact of this for some is what I call “information grazing”. Newspapers and unscrupulous politicians know this all too well. They package their stories up in 3 word headlines, such as “Build a Wall”, “Enough is enough”. Linguistically these phrases are massive generalisations and hide important details. Busy people or those who are overwhelmed tend not to look any further.
In contrast, the Remain campaign is characterised by people who have attempted to explain the detail, pointing out flaws in the three word chants and headlines. Unfortunately they have been widely ignored as their arguments take time and intelligence to understand.
I decided to combine the power of three-word generalisations with powerful but concise details to help tired remainers recharge their EU batteries, and for leavers in regret to question their decision and change their minds. So we are not dumbing down the artform. We are, in a sense “dumbing up” by using the Leave campaign’s own methods to empower people to a place where they can gain new understandings of what Brexit means for them.
6. What are the pants all about?
There is no deep and meaningful message embedded in the pants, so there’s no need to subject the campaign to a deconstructionist view or phenomenological analysis! Brexit is Pants, pure and simple. The originator of the Pants idea Jules Cava thought the best way to associate these two ideas would be to ask people to wear pants to symbolise Brexit shambles. In briefs, Pants to Brexit seeks to expose the naked truth about Brexit and persuade tired Remainers and Leavers in regret that we should drop our pants and Brexit at the same time. I’m looking forward to some of the manifestations of the art form in a kind of “Benny Hill / Alan Partridge meets Westminster” surrealist musical theatre.
7. The album will launch at the Lib Dem conference in September. Will you be taking it to other party conferences too?
We hope to, although trucking professional musicians around the country costs money and so far it seems as though the barrel is dry re funding with all the competing initiatives. I’m hoping we can turn that round and we have people ready and waiting to join “Pan(t)’s People” at Brighton and Manchester. We are hoping that Vince Cable, Nick Clegg and others will join us to expose the naked truths behind Brexit in their pants on the pier at Bournemouth
8. How do you hope politicians and activists will respond?
Well, we already have had a range of reactions. Liz Webster, Lib Dem candidate for Swindon reported that my appearance in Swindon High Street singing Brexit songs produced the longest piece of press coverage from the BBC from any official press activity by the Lib Dems in the West Country. This is no surprise in a way. In 2010 I wrote “A Song for Democracy” for the Lib Dems. It was given more airtime on BBC Radio than the two “official” party songs from Labour and Conservatives. Nicky Campbell described their songs as “vapid” and gave mine praise for its clever combination of a call to action combined with a decent storyline to the song.
We have also had the Scottish National Party and a Baroness join us at Downing Street to join in the song. I’ve engaged Sir Bob Geldof, Nick Clegg and Jarvis Cocker in conversations about our No 10 musical protest. A.C. Grayling supported our project to convert Theresa May’s desire for a landslide majority to a landfill Government. It seems that music crosses so many barriers to great impact.
9. I’ve heard mention of a Sex Pistols inspired boat trip. Tell me more.
We planned to stage a re-enactment of the famous 1977 Sex Pistols Jubilee boat trip as a launch event as I explained in the opening answer, however it was fatally misunderstood and it precipitated my departure from the No 10 Vigil, a mistake which I will probably regret for the rest of my life. We are offering a limited supply of VIP tickets to a boat trip which will probably see a birth, death and car crash within our voyage (well, not really). We’re calling it Friggin’ in the Riggin’, in the spirit of the Pistol’s album “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” which, after all, is just what Brexit is. Sooner or later I predict we’ll be hearing Rotten’s rotten words “Ever thought you’ve been cheated?” in the pubs, clubs, betting and (bargaining) chip shops of England.
10. How can people get involved and support the project?
First and foremost we need a “hive” of people to join our Facebook page. At least 5000 so please add all your friends and earn your place in history. Come “B Day” on 22 September we need everyone to buy Pants To Brexit on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify etc. and push the song into the charts. In doing so you will be playing a key role in “Making Brexit History”.
Secondly but no less importantly, our Go Fund Me site needs feeding with money from individuals, corporate backers and influential individuals. We have offers from a fiver to £5000 and beyond and all help is welcome.
Thirdly and crucially, I need the help of a team of volunteers to reach the world. To quote a song “I can’t do this all by myself”. Some days I have had 2-3 hours sleep and I need the help of people who can spread the message on social media, people to send letters out to potential sponsors and so on. If a lot of people do a little each we will reach our goal. Please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a couple of hours a week to help.
11. On a more philosophical note: Do you believe music has the power to change the world?
Yes, of course. The philosopher Emmanuel Kant said that music is the language of the emotions. So did Madonna, although she isn’t a philosopher! Bob Geldof demonstrated the fact with Live Aid, doing more to change the lives and fortunes of the people of Africa than any politician could ever achieve. We’re here to Make Brexit History so please help us and make your mark on history.
All photos and graphics courtesy of Peter Cook