Europe is Lost
First, an apology.
You’ve come here for music, escape, a recommendation of something to listen to as you make your morning commute. And I’m coming at you with the EU Referendum.
But before that, let’s talk Kate Tempest. Before the moments that made her so important to me, she was, in my eyes, little more than a poet whose name rang a bell. I saw her perform at Manchester Literature Festival. I was impressed. She memorised a 37-page poem and performed it with vigour, energy, and humour. But poetry is not an art form that I cling to, and she soon faded from memory.
Then I met fellow Picky Bastard, Nick Parker. We bonded over music. While we matched on loves of Radiohead, Elbow, and Portishead, we parted ways when it came to my love of hip-hop. Nick was just making his way into the genre. When I spoke of hip-hop, all he had was Kendrick Lamar and Kate Tempest.
Kate Tempest wasn’t hip-hop.
Out of loyalty to a new friend I listened to her debut album, Everybody Down. Once. I put it aside. It wasn’t bad, not by any means, but when my mind gets set on something it tends to stick. And in my mind, Kate was a poet.
Meanwhile, the referendum rolled towards us.
I, a half-Indian and half-English man who had experienced barely any racism since moving from the countryside to the bright lights of Manchester, was starting to notice things. The woman on the bus. The one who, when I politely asked her husband to be careful with his backpack after hitting nearly every other passenger with it as he passed, stopped in the aisle and stared at me. Snarled. Opened her mouth and let these words come out: ‘fuck you, you fucking Paki. Go back to whatever shithole you came from.’
I shrugged. Laughed. Muttered something under my breath while other passengers looked at the ground, only meeting my eyes when the woman was off the bus but still shouting abuse my way through the window.
I remembered the kids who hadn’t spoken to me at school, the ones who stole my hat every day and threw it over the same wall again and again, the ones who would only let me play with them if I let them call me ‘Poppadom.’
And still Nick went on.
‘Have you heard her new single yet? Just listen to it mate; I promise you’ll love it.’
Fine. I’ll listen to Kate fucking Tempest.
I put my headphones in as I walked towards the bus stop. A few weeks had passed since the incident and, while it wasn’t constant for me anymore, it would still flash into my mind as I waited for that blue double decker to arrive. And other things had happened. People who called themselves MPs were appearing on TV talking about who was and who wasn’t welcome in ‘their’ country, taking out advertising campaigns in which people with skin like mine were represented as a threat to our national security. My girlfriend had to defend herself at a comedy club. She had taken umbrage to a racist joke, only for a guy who was chatting her up to tell her that her reaction was ‘PC gone mad.’ When she said she was upset, particularly given that her boyfriend was half-Indian, he said she was ‘just another cunt wrapped in a turban.’ It was as if our leaders saying whatever they wanted was starting to seep.
Who’d have guessed?
I scrolled through Spotify. Europe is Lost.
Europe is lost, America lost, London lost/Still we are clamouring victory/All that is meaningless rules/We have learned nothing from history.
I got that feeling. Goosebumps. That moment when a song connects to your very being; and not just the music, not just the words. The feeling. The sense that someone is speaking straight to you.
I walked on, the woman on the bus briefly forgotten.
That line, ‘We have learned nothing from history’, spoke so clearly to my thoughts of what I’d been witnessing. And the connections kept coming.
All of the blood that was bled for these cities to grow/All of the bodies that fell/The roots that were dug from the earth/So these games could be played.
Because that’s what it felt like to me. After years of feeling like everything was improving, that my slight difference had become less and less of a negative, more and more of a positive, suddenly these politicians were using me and others like me as pawns in the shittest game of chess of all time. We were unimportant. Invisible. Something to be fed to the lions to feed a cause more important than us.
And here was a song. A single, four-minute piece of music, that recognised it.
I listened to it again and again and, while Kate felt ‘No trace of love in the hunt for the bigger buck/Here in the land where nobody gives a fuck’ at the song’s conclusion, I felt, for the first time in a while, that people did give a fuck. That if this song showed that to me, it must have also done the same to others.
Don’t Fall In
Europe is Lost was a constant companion to me in the coming months. As I waited. First to see what decision the country would come to, and then for Kate to offer some hope in the form of second album ‘Let Them Eat Chaos.’
But hope was hard to come by.
The referendum came and went and the hate crimes rose, the smugness of the victors on every paper and TV channel, their refusal to acknowledge that these things could be linked. As if there was another reason that, one day in the multicultural area of Manchester I was living in at the time, a white van pulled up as if its driver was wanting to ask for directions.
But it wasn’t directions they wanted.
Instead, what they were after was an opportunity to let me, a mixed-race man, and Kirsten, my white girlfriend, know that we were diluting the white race. ‘Do you care?’ they asked. ‘Care about what?’ I replied, looking at Kirsten, too shocked to take in the meaning in the first few seconds. They looked from me to Kirsten. They sneered. Their meaning became clear and my first reaction was to try and come back at them with something witty and intelligent.
But that wasn’t the way ‘my’ country did things anymore.
So I walked away.
Clinging hard to Kirsten’s hand and making sure that I was the one of us closest to the van and it’s threatening inhabitants.
Music has long been a distraction for me when things are hard and 2016 was, luckily, a stellar year. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Nick Cave’s grief-soaked Skeleton Tree.
But nothing comforted me that year as much as October’s Let Them Eat Chaos and, particularly, the three songs discussed here.
Come to remind you you’re not an island/Life is much broader than borders/But who can afford to think over the walls of this fortress?/Of course, it’s important to provide roof and floorboards/For you and yours and be secure in your fortunes/But you’re more than the three or four you go to war for/
That last line still hits me like a truck even now. I wanted to scream it at people in the streets, at relatives and friends who had voted alongside those who thought that their vote meant people who looked like me would start to disappear from ‘their’ streets. I wanted to play this album to all of them. I wanted to ask how they could continue to allow these views to be legitimised.
Kate had the answer for me again. Tunnel Vision. A nation so blinded by the media and the politicians, that they had wilfully taken on a set of scapegoats to blame for everything that was wrong with their lives.
But Kate also offered a way to pull myself out of my malaise.
And I’m screaming at my loved ones to wake up and love more/I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more
Love more. And find a way to make others do the same.
So that’s what I did.
I tried to put the anger at those people who had abused me away, and instead tried to understand them. Talk to them. Put my views forward and hope it made some sort of difference.
And I made changes in my personal life, too.
I’m not giving full credit to Kate for this, but I’d be lying if I said that some of her words didn’t play a part when I moved from working in marketing to taking a role in a more caring profession and working with some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Music played a role, helped me through hard times. Again.
Music made the difference.
Words by Fran Slater.