Margaret Thatcher’s influence on 1980s British culture spawned a generation of angry musicians. Will we ever witness such a rebellion again?

GSH 50

Margaret Thatcher was often accused of having little (if any) affection for the Arts. In a 2009 ‘Guardian’ article for example, an assortment of writers, musicians, composers, and painters who were active during her premiership spoke out against her supposed philistine attitude. The newspaper’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw opined, “from 1979 to 1990, nothing, with the possible exception of football, was of less interest to Margaret Thatcher than cinema. For her, the Arts were greedy and ungrateful gobblers-up of public subsidy, and cinema was the least compelling of this fantastically undeserving lobby. She had visited the cinema in Grantham as a child and was said to enjoy Hollywood and British films from the 30s and 40s, but her biographer and friend Charles Moore says that it’s doubtful she saw much as an adult. Film was entirely irrelevant to her personally and politically, and her tentative contact with shrewd ad-men such as Gordon Reece, Tim Bell and the Saatchi brothers was the nearest she came to show business.” Hanif Kureishi, perhaps best known for writing the screenplay for the 1985 movie ‘My Beautiful Laundrette‘ which tackles issues such as racism, homosexuality and Britain’s political and economic policies during the Thatcher era, was far more scathing in his assessment of her. He stated that she, “like the Queen, is basically vulgar, and has little cultural sophistication or understanding. But unlike the Queen, she actively hated culture, as she recognised that it was a form of dissent.” He continued, “Thatcher had no understanding of what a central place the Arts have in British life. Or how good Britain is at producing books, films, theatre and music.” It’s somewhat ironic, then, that her influence on the cultural landscape of 1980s Britain is deeply profound. Within hours of her death last week, bloggers and social commentators were quick to illustrate this through countless examples of songs, movies, TV shows and plays that poured out during her historic run as Premier. A number of musicians who formed bands or were well known for singing out against her policies during this time have commented on her passing, including Bobby Gillespie, lead singer of Primal Scream, one of the most innovative British bands to have emerged during the latter half of that decade. He reportedly told ‘AFP,’ “I was very happy when I heard the news. My friends were texting me and everybody thought it was great.” He also praised bands that flourished during that era such as Joy Division for “making art that felt like Britain… It was a grey, paranoid, violent place and they were making music that reflected that, so to me it’s true art. They were important because they were questioning authority, ‘think for yourself’ that was the message of that stuff. (Now) we live in a very violent and extreme time but the music I hear doesn’t reflect that. Young bands are so conservative, so bland, no one says anything that’s controversial or confrontational.” His observations on the lack of social commentary in contemporary Rock is a theme that ’Conspiro Media’ has explored in the past at some length, for example, in a June 2011 article titled, ’The Cowell Connection,’ the corporate-led centralisation of the music industry towards the end of the 1980s and the swallowing-up of small independent labels that were once breeding grounds for outspoken artists was cited as a possible cause for the downturn in songs with a social/political emphasis, as was the meteoric rise of Simon Cowell and ‘X Factor’ in 2004 and the never-ending stable of Mind-Controlled puppets that have rolled out of it’s production-line ever since.

It would be wrong to assume, as have a number of commentators over the years, that Thatcher’s resignation in 1990 somehow starved artists of a muse that they could vent their anger and frustration against. Whilst there’s no denying the fact her policies led to deep, often violent divisions during the 1980s, and her tough, uncompromising public image riled her most passionate of critics, modern-day bands needn’t look too far for replacements. As Bobby Gillespie states, we do indeed live in an “extreme time,” arguably even more extreme than the days when the so-called ‘Iron Lady’ was residing at No.10 Downing Street. Since her resignation 23 years ago, sections of the world have been (or are being) bombed into submission by a cabal that justifies it’s acts of aggression based on the lies of 9/11 and Tony Blair’s and George W. Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, millions of people across the globe marched on the streets in protest in an international display of solidarity not seen since the Vietnam War years when well-known musicians of the time were quick to add their voices to the chorus of discontent… In the 2000s, the music scene, in the main, remained silent. In present-day Europe, the ordinary man and woman on the street are being brought to their knees by an un-elected group of bureaucrats who rob their money. Meanwhile, the banksters snatch their own slice from the pie, whilst the remainder of the population are forced to endure  “austerity measures” that include cuts in public services and the stripping of benefits from the most vulnerable in society… but, the singers still ain‘t singing.

There are voices of dissent in the distance, though…

The decline of guitar-based music in Britain in recent years has coincided with the rise in popularity of Urban/Dance, a genre that incorporates a number of styles including Grime and Hip Hop, both of which have between them delivered material that, on occasion, is packed with social / political comment. In the wake of 2011’s London riots for example, a number of the UK’s best known rappers including Professor Green, and Lethal Bizzle spoke out about the unrest, stating that it was a cry of desperation by a generation of under-privileged, disaffected, frustrated, angry youths shunned by government, and trapped inside a hidden section of society where drug-taking, drug-dealing, theft, and murder is the norm. Within days of the riots, lesser recognisable Urban artists were releasing tracks in response.
Unfortunately, these rebellious voices of reason are constantly drowned out by the over-powering noise of the Music Industrial Complex and it’s endless procession of inane, trivial stars and starlets who’re all dancing and singing to the same tired old tune. There is music available that tackles themes of social injustice, war, and the ever-growing presence of the New World Order, but, you have to go look for it, because it won’t come to you courtesy of the mainstream.

Margaret Thatcher has drawn her last breath, but the defiant, angry spirit she inadvertently ignited in the voices of countless musicians and performers during the 1980s is still desperately holding on for dear life… somewhere.

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FROM THOSE WHO WERE THERE…
A number of music artists who were actively recording and performing during the Thatcher era found time over the last week to share their views on her death, her legacy, and her policies…

Morrisey:
One of Margaret Thatcher’s harshest critics, his controversial views have brought him into direct contact with the authorities. Following the release of his 1988 album, ‘Viva Hate,‘ he was investigated by police for a song featured on it titled, ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ which described the death of the then Prime Minister as a “wonderful dream.”  morrissey

In an official statement posted on the website ‘True to You’ on April 9th 2013, he remarked:

“The difficulty with giving a comment on Margaret Thatcher’s death to the British tabloids is that, no matter how calmly and measuredly you speak, the comment must be reported as an “outburst” or an “explosive attack” if your view is not pro-establishment. If you reference ‘the Malvinas,’ it will be switched to ‘the Falklands,’ and your ‘Thatcher’ will be softened to a ‘Maggie.’ This is generally how things are structured in a non-democratic society. Thatcher’s name must be protected not because of all the wrong that she had done, but because the people around her allowed her to do it, and therefore any criticism of Thatcher throws a dangerously absurd light on the entire machinery of British politics. Thatcher was not a strong or formidable leader. She simply did not give a shit about people, and this coarseness has been neatly transformed into bravery by the British press who are attempting to re-write history in order to protect patriotism. As a result, any opposing view is stifled or ridiculed, whereas we must all endure the obligatory praise for Thatcher from David Cameron without any suggestion from the BBC that his praise just might be an outburst of pro-Thatcher extremism from someone whose praise might possibly protect his own current interests. The fact that Thatcher ignited the British public into street-riots, violent demonstrations and a social disorder previously unseen in British history is completely ignored by David Cameron in 2013. In truth, of course, no British politician has ever been more despised by the British people than Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday will be heavily policed for fear that the British tax-payer will want to finally express their view of Thatcher. They are certain to be tear-gassed out of sight by the police.
United Kingdom? Syria? China? What’s the difference?”

Johnny Marr (Ex-Smiths):

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“My thoughts are that if you see the word ‘Thatcherism,’ it’s not a word that stands for something good. I don’t think there’s any getting around that.

I thought that the British government’s statement that she made Britain great again was false and really arrogant because everybody knows, left or right, that Margaret Thatcher didn’t make Britain great. If that was the case then why isn’t it? I felt like that was very, very disrespectful to generations of families who have never recovered from her legacy.”

*’Rolling Stone’ magazine, April 13th 2013

Annie Lennox (Ex-Eurythmics):
“Margaret Thatcher’s death has provoked an outpouring of polarised responses, clearly reflecting how people felt, and still feel about her, right up to the present day.
As a political leader, her style was strident (some would say strong), inflexible (some would say firm), authoritarian (some would say powerful ), tough (some would say resolute), arrogant (some would say assured), snobbish (some would say she had a sense of values), and faintly ridiculous, (some would say patriotic). She was the headmistress and we were the renegade schoolchildren. She was the leader and we were the ardent followers…all depending on which side you happened to be on. Despite the evidence of her gender, she could never be described as a Feminist. She was more of a singular woman in the old boys club than a defender of women’s rights. annie-lennox
Although she was the daughter of a humble grocer shop owner, her aspirations far outreached her roots.. which is tremendous but… she failed to have any real understanding or connection with ordinary people, riding rough shod over their lives, leaving them to deal with the aftermath of a decimated industrial era. Entire communities disintegrated with generations being left to cope for decades down the line.
I admire dedication, strength of purpose and vision, these are all fine qualities but when political policies are so brutally hard line, that they affect people’s entire existence at a pen stroke (whilst being told to pull themselves up by their boot straps), you can be sure that the spirit of dictatorship has arisen. From my own perspective I keep recalling the heavy sense of oppression that saturated every aspect of the 70s, and I can’t say I have any sense of fond nostalgia.”

*’FaceBook’ posting, April 10th 2013

Billy Bragg:
Perhaps British music’s best known, most outspoken activist, his career was somewhat defined during the 1980s by his unflinching, criticism of Thatcher and her policies.

billybragg2012

“This is not a time for celebration. The death of Margaret Thatcher is nothing more than a salient reminder of how Britain got into the mess that we are in today. Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes; of why tax-payers are forced to top up wages; of why a spiteful government seeks to penalise the poor for having an extra bedroom; of why Rupert Murdoch became so powerful; of why cynicism and greed became the hallmarks of our society.

Raising a glass to the death of an infirm old lady changes none of this. The only real antidote to cynicism is activism. Don’t celebrate – organise!”

*’FaceBook’ posting, April 8th 2013.

John Lydon (formerly, Johnny Rotten; The Sex Pistols):

john_lydon_london_201201_website_image_gchk_standardSpeaking to journalists after arriving in Sydney for a live date with his band, PiL, he said, “I was her enemy in her life but I will not be her enemy in her death.” Furthermore, “her politics were really dreadful and derisive and caused a great many issues for me when I was young, for all of us trying to go through that. But that don’t mean I am gonna dance on her grave, as they say. I’m not that kind of person. I was her enemy in her life but I will not be her enemy in her death. I am not a coward.” He added, “my entire life, socially, was all around the Maggie era. That was the great challenge as a Sex Pistol was how to deal with Margaret Thatcher. I think we did rather good.”

Dave Wakeling:
The guitarist and vocalist of 2 Tone band, The Beat who recorded a song titled ‘Stand Down Margaret’ in 1980. l_589f88eb212c2a9142aea1216f5e65d7

“The American perspective of Margaret Thatcher, certainly from a foreign policy point of view, was that she was a trusted ally – of Ronald Reagan’s in particular – and did a pretty good job at it. And there’s an argument there. But what most Americans didn’t see was the complete dismantling of towns and villages, of people’s lives being cut short and then cutting their own lives short because they thought, like the Sex Pistols said, that there was no future. That time signalled a breaking of the English spirit, where people who used to have each other’s back, and used to talk to strangers – Thatcher turned neighbours into competitors.
People misunderstand the socialism of the English after World War II. Soldiers like my father got back to England and there was nothing left – there were no hospitals, land had been decimated, and that carried through our childhood. So everybody built stuff together and looked after each other. It was like, when push came to shove, although we had differences of opinion, we had each others’ backs. Mrs. Thatcher’s introduction of trickle-down economics, and we’re still waiting for it to work, broke that mold. She broke the unions. She sold shares of companies that the people already owned, all of which flopped in value. A generation saw their parents give up on life as they saw their own opportunities stunted. They saw the town where they’d grown up dismantled. She was very divisive.
It was obviously a very transformative time – similar in some ways to what Americans have gone through in the last few years. A recession closing on depression, a sense of nihilism – but it reached epic proportions in England where the scapegoats were anybody who seemed to be different …  ‘Your skin colour is different? It must be your fault.’ To divide people against each other, make them forget in their pain and common suffering, and conquer. Simple. Historic. It’s been done so many times, I don’t even know how it works anymore. People go for the bait and get desperate, and if you can reach out with a bit of national pride, you can pump things up with a good war. Then there was pretence. Something that I think the film Iron Lady missed was, not only how Mrs. Thatcher’s accent was terribly affected – she had a slightly D.H. Lawrence accent from Nottingham East Midlands, or Robin Hood country, and adopted a very proper Oxford English accent – but her real voice would break out sometimes when she’d get angry. Because most everything about Mrs. Thatcher was pretend – it was a way for the privileged to secure themselves at the expense of everybody else, which continues to this day. 
The song ‘Stand Down Margaret’ was as much about, ‘get off your soapbox!’ as standing down in a political sense. It was: stop showing off to everybody; humble yourself a bit; stop pretending you’re posh – we know you’re from Nottingham.
In England, there’s a notion called ‘kippers and curtains,’ where somebody buys expensive net curtains to hide the fact that they don’t have any furniture at all and they’re really inside eating smoked fish twice a day off an old packing case.
It’s a front. Acting posh and hoping that rich people would love her. Sure, she ended up as Lady Thatcher, but grew up as a grocer’s daughter. Some say that’s terrific – she broke the glass ceiling for women, but she didn’t. Pretending to be an aristocratic man that liked to bully people is not any essence of feminine power. It was just aping the worst of male power. That’s not to say that change wasn’t required. We understood England was in a pickle and needed to modernize, but we really didn’t need to become a floating aircraft carrier for America and at the same time give up our own traditions. Every country and every decade has to deal with change, but it was done with cruelty and arrogantly. Because of that, it created more enemies than friends. Still, we wanted to poke fun at it. We wanted the song to be happy. We were sick of her making people miserable and we were sick, frankly, of so many miserable sentiments and songs and attitudes in opposition to her. So we wanted a protest song that was full of life and word play. We didn’t want it to be insulting. We even asked please [the lyric: “Stand down Margaret / Stand down please”]. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to say thank you. I disagree with Mrs. Thatcher absolutely and entirely. And I still feel sad and heartbroken at what she did to England. But beyond all that, we send comfort and solace to her family, because it’s always a sad and reflective time when a mom dies.
At the end of the day, the worst thing about Margaret Thatcher is not that she said in 1987, ‘There’s no such thing as society – there are individual men and women and there are families,’ or that she was an ardent supporter of the Apartheid movement in South Africa who once called Nelson Mandela a ‘grubby little terrorist.’ The worst thing is, she bloody won and we let her get away with.”

*’The Hollywood Reporter’ 2013

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REFERENCE LINKS:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/11/thatcher-and-the-arts

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/12/primal-scream-lead-singer-says-thatcher-is-dead-but-her-policies-live-on-in-cameron-government/

https://conspiromedia.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/the-cowell-connection-part-1-the-factor/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/aug/12/rap-riots-professor-green-lethal-bizzle-wiley

https://conspiromedia.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/two-weeks-on-from-the-nmes-apology-to-morrissey-over-racism-allegations-conspiro-media-reports-on-the-fall-out-and-reviews-the-singers-controversial-30-year-career/

http://true-to-you.net/morrissey_news_130409_01

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/johnny-marr-speaks-out-about-margaret-thatcher-20130413

https://www.facebook.com/annielennox?fref=ts

http://www.facebook.com/billybraggofficial/posts/10151324426542471

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2307183/Margaret-Thatcher-dead-Sex-Pistol-Johnny-Rotten-says-hate-mobs-loathsome–calls-respect.html

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/stand-down-margaret-english-beats-435073

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