After several of his contemporaries have suggested they have no political opinion – or even suggested politics plays no role in their lives – ahead of Thursday's (7 May) General Election, Spector frontman Fred Macpherson has written for Q arguing if musicians are not going to engage themselves then at the very least they should not discourage their fans off from having their say.
Elections don’t come around too often, but when they do it’s one of the few times journalists ask musicians directly political questions. One would like to think this makes for incendiary or even vaguely engaging reading but over the last couple of months I’ve been sad to see a lot of artists quick to make it clear that they have no political stance at all. Most recently, in an issue of NME that came out last week, some even concluded that politics doesn’t affect their lives at all, and there’s no point in voting. I’m not going to call them out by name because A) this isn’t personal, and B) I know how easy it is to speak absent-mindedly about sensitive topics when you’ve been answering banal questions for an hour or so down a crackly phone line. That said, I think some of what was printed made for pretty uncomfortable reading so I wanted to share a few thoughts on the same subject before the polls close on Thursday and before it’s too late for another five years.
When asked what I do by the majority of people I meet (who’ve never heard of my band and probably never will) I’m always slightly embarrassed to say I’m a singer. It’s a preposterous vocation, and one that (when you’re busy) tends to dislocate you from your community and maybe, to a certain extent, society in general. You make up songs about things and record them, your revenue streams are inconsistent and often bear no relation to hours worked. You pay council tax to a borough you only live in a few months a year, you get given free hummus and coca cola every day and you end-up in hospitals in other countries, made possible by health insurance organised by your tour manager-cum-travelling nanny. As a result it becomes tempting to think of yourself as part of some artistic netherworld that isn’t routed in the drudgery of the everyday. Except it is – because without the support of the people who buy your tickets, t-shirts and albums (or even the big corporations who occasionally pay your syncs or sponsorships) you wouldn’t have the luxury of being that most loathed and revered of creatures – someone who gets paid to do exactly what they want.
If living in a fantasy world wasn’t dangerous enough, you also have an audience, who – as mentioned above – pay to listen to you. Apathy and attention are risky bedfellows, and if you get to the stage where you have young people buying music magazines to read what you have to say, it might be time to think about taking some responsibility. For the years in my teens when I bought NME religiously, the opinions of Casablancas, Doherty, Skelly and co meant a lot to me. I’m not ashamed to say that I idolised the lead singers of indie bands growing up, and naively took their opinions and experiences on board: whether it was discovering beer could be a hair product, that doing smack didn’t always work out great, or that Love’s Forever Changes was worth a listen. Luckily (or at least as far as I remember) these guys weren’t going on the record and saying that voting didn’t matter, because at that age I probably would’ve believed them.
I don’t want to sound jingoistic but as musicians I think it’s worth remembering that this is the country we live in, entertain in, pay tax in and that’s inspired us... A place we might one day raise children in, grow old in and eventually die in. If you don’t want to have a say in how it’s run I’m probably not going to change your mind by writing this column, but for God’s sake don’t waste your time convincing your fans to take even less of an interest in politics than they may do already.
As an artist you already have a voice: you can post on your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and people will absorb the information you share, however inconsequential. People come to your concerts and listen to your lyrics and melodies amplified and blasted at them across big loud rooms. You have a platform that your fans don’t. Imagine what you could do with that power if you recognised it and began to connect it to the issues that affect everyone who takes pleasure in what you create. It’s not that I think British artists should all start writing politically charged songs about real issues, they’d probably be shit and no one wants that. But that’s not an excuse to be completely apolitical.
Of course voting can feel meaningless, we don’t need pop stars to tell us that, but even if your vote’s only a grain of sand, it’s still part of the beach we’re all trudging along. In Sir Geoffrey Hill’s very erudite appearance on Newsnight he even reluctantly agreed: “I think one has to go through the motion or the gesture of voting: We put our pathetic tick beside the name of the candidate who is least awful in our opinion.” Musicians don’t have to align with a party or even spoil your ballot if that sounds too much like hard work, but if you have even a few fans who listen to you, the very least you can do is not spread a message of apathy and defeatism. If artists occasionally used their empowered position to help remind others that they also have a voice, we might actually begin to see a change.
However disenchanting British democracy has become, it’s still given us the NHS, the minimum wage, the welfare state, foreign aid, gay marriage, maternity leave, a recognition of equality between all sexes, races and ages, the climate change act and the freedom of information act. The list goes on. So I’m going to give those who spoke out against voting in last week the benefit of the doubt, having faith that if they sat down for a minute and really thought about it, they might notice that politics is important, regardless of the impact they think it has on their own tunnel visioned lives. Like Russell Brand said in the latest part of his Ed Miliband interview, democracy is for every day – it’s a constant conversation not just a tick in a box every five years. So let’s try and keep that conversation going, or at least do our best not to stop it in its tracks. If Brand can see the light then so can you: vote and talk about it, or don’t talk about it at all. Fred Macpherson @fredmacpherson
For more head to Spector.co.uk.