Frank Sinatra, Future Islands and Status Quo: a musical history of the SNP and Scottish Labour

Originally printed in New Statesman 01/05/15

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/frank-sinatra-future-islands-and-status-quo-musical-history-snp-and-scottish-labour

Just noise?

These days you’d be hard-pressed to find any credible indie rock kids willing to admit they’re Status Quo fans. There are no breakbeats, hip hop samples or underground indie kudos here. It’s just the old guard cranking out the same old hits of yesteryear, pushing nostalgia tours on their ever-diminishing audience.

A once mighty commercial force, Scottish Labour, according to all the polls, are now passé. As far as the electorate is concerned, they have become the Status Quo, minus the ponytails and denim shirts (although perhaps Jim Murphy and Co are missing a trick there.)

How did these formerly psychedelic rebel rockers turn into yesterday’s news? They took their ear from the underground, hooked up with commercial producers to smooth out their sound, and now all they can do is tell the kids that the new music sucks.

Scottish Labour has failed to realise that in the current climate, trying to rubbish SNP policy on austerity or threatening the electorate with another Tory government is the equivalent of Frank Sinatra describing that new-fangled rock’n’roll music as “the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has ever been my displeasure to hear”. Frank, the kids just don’t care.

A vote for the SNP has become nothing less than a rejection of the current political establishment – a repudiation of the two-party system that only offers voters a choice between Status Quo and… well, Status Quo. That’s not a particularly enticing DJ set, unless you like all your songs sounding the same.

Sturgeon and her nationalists are smart enough to side with the anti-austerity vibe and sing that song in the hope it brings them closer to their dream of independence. Surprising no one but establishment politicians, they have become the first viable mainstream voice of protest to have risen in the United Kingdom since the beginning of the Occupy movement.

While their stance on austerity is far removed from that of Occupy, the political reaction to their slight economic deviance loudly echoes the times we live in. To even question the prevailing austerity wisdom amounts to an act of rebellion so severe it generates horror from both Labour and the Tories.

This time, however, the rebels may have a political mandate that has completely blindsided the prevailing powers. As far as Cameron, Miliband et al are concerned, the anti-austerity tide has found a way to successfully infiltrate the system at the highest level.

You can see why the entire political class and media are doing their best to undermine the democratic validity of an SNP surge in the House of Commons. “Call that music?” they shout at the kids in the street. “That’s just noise! You can’t even play your instruments properly.”

Right now, anyone with a care in their hearts and a stake in shaking up the mainstream about the future of these islands should enjoy clicking on that metaphorical YouTube link to the latest viral music sensation. It’s Future Islands on the Letterman Show, the singer beating his chest, belting out something primal and entrancing. It’s the sound of a pissed off populace. It’s rage at having the democratic voice of the people limited to a binary choice of Tory and Labour.

You could have heard this new song in all the villages and cities of the UK anytime over the last seven years if you were willing to listen. But when you go for that middle ground vote like the big boys of politics always do, you tend to lose touch with real life and your instinct for what really matters.

The SNP’s day at number one will come and go. All great political love affairs eventually sour. That’s understood. But right now, Status Quo is wondering why it’s not cool anymore. It’s because it is incapable of even countenancing the kind of songs the Scottish electorate wants to hear. Right now the freaks and outsiders have stolen their fanbase and there’s not much Labour can do except crank out the old hits and remember a time when its songs used to mean something.

Kev Sherry is lead singer of Scottish indie band Attic Lights. He tweets @KevSherry1

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