It’s All Over Now?

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MPs have long been seen as being out of touch but Aidan Burley’s misunderstood tweet decrying the praised-to-the-rooftops 2012 Olympic opening ceremony as “leftie multicultural crap” shows not only a misunderstanding of the country he lives in and constituency he represents, it also illustrates someone who doesn’t know their pop history. Opinion polling about the taxpayer funded £9 billion pound games used to indicate suspicion from the public however even the most hardened cynic would have melted at the spectacular display staged by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle. The eyes of the world were on all makes Britain great today like multiculturalism and the NHS.

Both that and the tremendous goodwill displayed at the torch relay ceremonies up and down the country have turned attitudes around.

The offending tweet urged “Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!” Oops. I guess nobody ever told him that rhythm and blues, the root of the Rolling Stones sound, is intrinsically multicultural, having emerged from black America. As Philip Norman describes music was their escape route from suburbia (Dartford, Kent) before they adopted their now familiar stage personas:

“Mike [sic] Jagger listened to Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, giants of the urban blues with heart-shivering voices, calling and answering their virtuoso guitars, that could change the view beyond the lace curtains from Kentish suburbia to the dark and windy canyons along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.”

When Rick Astley’s music was first picked up he was confused for being a black soul singer before it turned out he was a teenager from Warrington. It’s the oldest rock and roll trick in the book dating back to Elvis, appropriating black music and giving it renewed cultural significance. At the Olympics closing ceremony early 80s Two Tone ska from the midlands will be celebrated with an appearance from the Specials. The music emerging from contemporary British suburbia continues to be moulded by multi-ethnicity: like dubstep from Croydon or grime from East London.

The fact that pop music – the Arctic Monkeys no less – assumed such central significance at the lavish eve of games festivities shows that this art form too has become a given. Pop is defined by flexibility and openness and is now on the bill at various establishment events. The other day I caught Apache Indian at Ealing council’s global festival. The Birmingham-based chart act of yesteryear belted out his hits including “Arranged Marriage” and “Boom Shack-a-Lack”. But it was what happened in between songs that was more unexpected than the actual content, as often happens at conferences regarding ratio of useful of the presentations to networking. As well as delivering his customary mixture of reggae and bhangra we were treated to an impassioned defence of multiculturalism. Angela Merkel and David Cameron may have attacked the doctrine but its advocates are everywhere as ethnic minorities become normalised into the fabric of British society and the boundary between “them” and “us” dissolves.

Remember when Robin Cook declared that chicken tikka masala had overtaken fish and chips are our true national dish? Or when indie band Cornershop, who also sprung from the midlands, hit number one in the charts with Brimful of Asha – the first Asians in the top spot? At the last election even Parliament got more inclusive thanks to Labour’s attempt to get more diversity onto candidate selection shortlists and the Tory A-list policy. The Olympic Opening Ceremony represented a highpoint of this thinking – after all the games were won with the “world in one city” pitch. Trust an idiotic MP to be a spoilsport.

In the 1970s the pressure group Rock Against Racism, began in reaction to an onstage racist outburst of Eric Clapton in support of Enoch Powell at a gig. The organisation pointed out Clapton’s lack of logic. As one of the founders put it in a letter to the NME referring to one of his biggest hits at the time: “Who Shot the Sherrif? It sure as hell wasn’t you Eric”. This time round the best thing to do in response to Aidan Burley is to pledge some cash to LabourList’s campaign to boot out Burley.

As Billy Bragg once put it on a powerful anti-racist track called “The Few”:

the wars they think they’re fighting
Were all over long ago
What do they know of England who only England know?

Rupa Huq has a forthcoming book out on suburbia and popular culture. She can be followed on twitter @RupaHuq

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