Regular readers may know that a friend of mine, the singer/songwriter Sarah Gillespie, has long taken an interest in tackling injustice, and regularly regales her audiences with the story of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay. This is a bold and commendable move in a world more generally characterized by the refusal of musicians either to engage with politics at all, or only to do so in a general “let’s make poverty history” kind of a way, which, although it may be worthwhile, is also uncontentious.
Championing an alleged “terror suspect” in Guantánamo is, however, a much more challenging stance, and one to be supported — and if any other musicians are reading this, who would like to be involved in campaigning to get Guantánamo closed, then please get in touch with me, as I am currently soliciting support for a video campaign to demand the closure of Guantánamo in January 2013, when the next President of the United States is inaugurated.
As I explained in an article last June, Sarah’s last album, “In the Current Climate,” specifically featured a song inspired by Shaker Aamer, entitled, “How the West Was Won,” and Sarah has now taken her interest in current and contentious politics one step further with a beautiful, powerful, four-part, 15-minute anti-war song, “The War on Trevor,” which also deals with the post-9/11 hysteria regarding terrorism. Featuring variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn, “The War on Trevor” is available from Amazon here, and also on video below, in an excellent film made by Tali Atzmon — which is, by turns, and as required by the songs, fractured, poignant, and darkly funny.
Featuring Sarah on guitar and vocals, “The War on Trevor” also features Sarah’s regular collaborators, Gilad Atzmon on clarinets, saxophones and accordion, Enzo Zirrili on drums, and Ben Bastin on double bass and cello. No stranger to controversy, Gilad Atzmon is also the author of the best-selling book on Jewish identity politics, The Wandering Who?
This is how Sarah described “The War on Trevor” in a press release:
Set in London, “The War on Trevor,” depicts the plights of an ordinary Londoner who suddenly finds himself accused of various wrong-doings, ranging from public indecency and infidelity to terrorism. Gillespie never draws us into Trevor’s guilt or innocence. Instead she sketches a sinister, Kafka-esque world in which guilt and innocence have become irrelevant. Reflecting on the recent tragedy of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was killed by police when he was misidentified as a bomber, and Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned for terrorism without charge, mere suspicion itself is all it takes for Trevor to be reduced to a blank slate on which various people project their phobias, fears and revenge.
Musically and lyrically, Gillespie mixes black humour and pathos in 4 song sections delivered in the first person: by the copper that arrests Trevor (“The Miranda Warning”), the girlfriend who dumps him (“Signal Failure”) and finally the Intelligence officer who interrogates him (“The Shami Chakrabarti Blues”). The first 3 sections are characterised by jovial horns and cockney colloquialisms: ‘Do I look like I sailed down the Thames on a spoon?’ and pithy allusions to Trevor’s ‘meat and two veg’, the ‘Twitterati’ and human relationships that rely entirely on decent phone signals.
The final section, however [“The Banks of the Arghandab”], unfolds into Trevor’s despair as ‘executioners chew gum’ and ‘physiatrists wet the bed.’ Transforming Haydn’s famous melody into an epic war march that laments the carnage taking place along Afghanistan’s main river and beyond, Trevor asks meekly, ‘would you mind terribly if I cry on the banks of the Arghandab’?
“The War on Trevor” is a contemporary anti-war song. Its protagonist personifies a culture that, without realising it, is terrorised because of the hell it inflicts on others.
Sarah and her band are touring “The War on Trevor” over the next few months, in the UK and the US. For further details, see here.
May 27th – Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny
June 1st – The Barton Arms, Birmingham
June 3rd – Strawberry Hill Jazz Festival, Richmond
June 11th – The Astor Cafe, Minneapolis USA
June 15th – Washington DC, USA
June 23rd – Dentdale Music & Beer Festival, Yorkshire
July 14th – Marlborough Jazz Festival
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
this is BEAUTIFUL…Reminds me a little of early Judy Collins…
Ahmad Belal wrote:
I guess I’m forcing you to read. (Tweeted as well)
Thanks, Ahmad. Good to hear from you. Thanks also to everyone else who has shared and liked this. Do check out the band as well if you’re ever anywhere near where they’re playing. Well worth it.
Sarah Gillespie wrote:
It was the least I could do, Sarah. Great project!
Gilad Atzmon wrote:
nice indeed !!! Andy is great
Salwa Haddad wrote:
From Andy Worthington’s poignantly perceptive review:
“‘The War on Trevor’ is a contemporary anti-war song. Its protagonist personifies a culture that, without realising it, is terrorised because of the hell it inflicts on others.”
Indeed is that not the condition of our times. Nations that pillage and destroy would like us to believe that they in fact are the victims. It was obvious that “Trevor” was the lament of our times where an ordinary individual, carrying on ordinary activities, is swept up beyond his control into a terminal situation. And now, Mr. Worthingon points to acts of national megalomania & psychoses foisted on the world as acts of political & human redemption.
I thank Sarah and all those involved in this work, Gilad, Tali and all the others, for forging into territory where many fear to tread, as Mr. Worthington has pointed out in his excellent review.
Sarah Gillespie wrote:
Thanks so much Salwa. I will pass on your thoughtful words to Trevor 😉
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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