Saturday, 25 June 2016


Babylon is burning, baby, can't cha see? Babylon is burning with anxiety.

(Image copyright: Chris Wormell)

All this punk nostalgia is a double edged thing.

On Thursday night I went to see the 1970s band the Rick Kids play the O2 in Islington. In 2016, they look like a glam punk super group: Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) on bass and vocals, Rusty Egan (The Skids, Visage) on drums, Midge Ure (Ultravox and, um, Slick) on rhythm guitar and vocals, supplemented by none other than Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp (below, right) on lead guitar and vox in place of Steve New. The very tall Spand was endearingly humble, gushing that the Rich Kids were ‘The best group I’ve ever seen and I never thought I’d be standing on stage with them.’

At least three of the 2016 Kids must be millionaires, so to see them together performing the one album they made Ghosts of Princes in Towers, when they clearly don’t need the money, was quite touching. Proudly showing off his Mod roots, Matlock and the band also ripped through a great version of the Small Faces’ ‘Here Comes the Nice’.

Outside, the atmosphere was very 1970s too. London was humid and there was a very edgy atmosphere on EU Referendum day. At Angel Underground station it was packed because the trains were all screwed up because of rain and flooding. A white sports top wearing, young guy couldn’t get on a train and punched the doors in frustration. When they opened again because there were so many people jammed in the carriages, another guy, dressed all in black with tattoos, leaned out and yelled ‘I’ll break your f***in’ arms, you f***in’ c***!’ It didn’t kick off, but it was close. Outside the Tube station, IN campaigners were urging everyone to vote in a referendum that would decide whether we remained part of Europe or not – very 1975.

On Friday morning, I admit things hadn’t gone the way I wanted. As a nation, by democratic mandate, we’ve turned our back on Europe and, by implication, made all the immigrants working and living here feel unwelcome. Things weren’t too bad on Welling High Street that morning. The amusingly named Giggling Sausage, the cafĂ© run by a Turkish family, was full; in Cruisin’ Records, the amiable Barbadian man who’s often in there and has lived in London for years joked ‘I’d better pack my bags, then.’ We laughed and the bloke behind the counter sardonically commented, ‘It’s not the end of the world – yet.’

Much as there were (maybe) legitimate and reasonable arguments for leaving, the whole referendum debate was hijacked by the kind of gutter politics I thought we’d seen the last of with the National Front. A courageous MP was murdered and right wing idiots insulted both the charity set up in her honour and her Trafalgar Square memorial service. This is the sort of 1970s nostalgia I can do without. The Ruts’ ‘Babylon’s Burning’ was written nearly forty years ago, but today the lyrics have never felt more uncomfortably relevant:

You’ll burn as you work
You’ll burn as you play
Positively smouldering
With ignorance and hate

Regular readers will remember that last year I reviewed the Doctor Who story ‘The Zygon Invasion’. At the time, I felt it was a rather hysterical allegory about immigration, extremism and racial integration. Today, I can see that my favourite TV show was once again ahead of the game: things are so serious that this isn’t the time for subtlety. For those people who haven’t seen it, I direct your attention to the Doctor’s moving speech at the end of part two, ‘The Zygon Inversion’.

As a family, this morning we talked about the idea of leaving England for sunnier climes; it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility. The kids were all in favour, particularly if it means 24/7, all year sunshine. I can’t help thinking that the same idea will occur to all people of a liberal outlook like myself – depart for countries with a sympathetic attitude and cleaner air. Part of me thinks it would serve the OUT lobby right if, in a delicious irony, all the people who make British culture such a rewarding, cosmopolitan and respectful place emigrated.

But is that cowardice, just because we don’t need this fascist groove thang? Looking at Facebook today, I know all my friends to a man and woman are concerned about the future of dear old Blighty. I know what the Doctor would do: he’d stay and make the UK a better place. In fact, he’s already started – Peter Capaldi and John Hurt have proudly revealed their political colours this year with their support for the junior doctors.

 Whatever happens, Britain is a different place now.

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