Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Riot’, New Online Single Tackling Austerity and Inequality

8.5.17

Listen to ‘Riot’ here!The photo is by Eric Hossinger (hozinja) on Flickr, and is reproduced via a Creative Commons agreement. It was taken on December 4, 2010 during a UK Uncut protest outside Topshop in Oxford Street about tax avoidance by the company's boss, Sir Philip Green.

Today my band The Four Fathers are releasing ‘Riot’, our third online single from our forthcoming album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ following the release of ‘Close Guantánamo’ (2017 mix)’ in February, and ‘Dreamers’ last month.

I initially wrote ‘Riot’ in 1986, while living in Brixton, as a punky reggae song that dealt with how parents and society mess up kids’ minds and emotions — themes of youthful alienation that didn’t survive when I revived the song for The Four Fathers at the end of 2015. We’ve been playing it live since then, and we recorded it last summer in the first session for our new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ which we hope to release on CD in September.

Musically, our version of my old tune is the closest we’ve come to date to echoing the minor key tunes and armagideon themes of classic late 70s roots reggae, which remains my favourite music, nearly 35 years after it first blew my mind at university in Oxford.

Listen to ‘Riot’ below:

Lyrically, I rewrote it as a commentary on some of the key themes of economic alienation in modern Britain, and the ever-growing chasm between the rich, whose enrichment continues to be the primary aim of government, and the poor, who are now punished for their poverty, even though it is not their fault. The trigger for this was the global economic crash of 2008, when criminally greedy investment bankers — facilitated by the western world’s political leaders — nearly destroyed the world economy. This was followed, in the UK, by the implementation of a cynically manufactured “age of austerity” by the Tory-led coalition government that took office in May 2010, ending Labour’s 13-year run.

A particular trigger for the song was the social unrest in August 2011, and the establishment’s punitive response to it — in the courts, as well as in Parliament. For a week, up and down the country, riots broke out after, in Tottenham, a local man, Mark Duggan, was shot dead by police. Buildings and vehicles were set on fire, there was widespread looting, and, afterwards, the police systematically hunted down everyone they could find that was involved — particularly through an analysis of CCTV records — and the courts duly delivered punitive sentences as a heavy-handed deterrent. I wrote about the riots at the time, in an article entitled, The UK “Riots” and Why the Vile and Disproportionate Response to It Made Me Ashamed to be British.

However, no effort was made to address the reasons why people were so ready to revolt, and comments like those made by David Cameron, who called the rioters “broken” and “sick,” and Ken Clarke, then the Justice Secretary, who called them “feral,” were unhelpful. In fact, as Reading the Riots, a collaboration between the Guardian and the LSE established, the key reasons for the unrest were “[w]idespread anger and frustration at people’s every day treatment at the hands of police,” including the “use of stop and search, which was felt to be unfairly targeted and often undertaken in an aggressive and discourteous manner”, and “perceived social and economic injustices,” including “the increase in tuition fees, … the closure of youth services and the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance.”

University tuition fees had been trebled at the end of 2010, in a move that had seen the first widespread acts of civil disobedience under the coalition government, and youth services across the country had largely been cut almost as soon as the government took office in May 2010. In addition, the government had scrapped the EMA, which had provided financial support to pupils from poor backgrounds. All were understandable grievances as a response to the clear attack on poorer members of society through the government’s austerity programme.

I wrote about these protests at the time in a series of articles — see, for example, 50,000 Students Revolt: A Sign of Much Greater Anger to Come in Neo-Con Britain, Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities and Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding.

The report into the 2011 riots also found that gang involvement had been overstated by the authorities, as had the use of social media, and that rioters’ “involvement in looting was simply down to opportunism.”

The response of the courts was so heavy-handed that, I believe, it has left a permanent recognition amongst the less privileged members of society that there are two rules in play — one for the rioters, who, in one case, received a six-month prison sentence for stealing £3.50-worth of mineral water from an already looted store, and another for the bankers, the self-styled “Masters of the Universe,” who were not punished at all for their crimes that led to the global crash of 2008.

As I put it in ‘Riot’:

The establishment want us to believe everything is fine
But they’re brutal and intolerant if they think we step out of line
In 2011 when there was unrest in the streets
They hunted down those who stole a bottle of water while the bankers all walked free
They stole billions, they crashed the system and lost money for millions
But they never paid nothing and it’s the stench of this hypocrisy
That means that there must be a
Riot Riot Riot
Till you treat us all with decency

The second and third verses deal with other aspects of the “age of austerity” that has been plaguing us since 2009 — the Tories’ aim of destroying the state provision of almost all services, while maintaining an eye-watering amount of corporate subsidies; the exploitation of young workers, the programme of finding physically and mentally disabled people for for work, when they are not, in order to cut their financial support, which has led to numerous deaths, and the artificially stimulated and sustained housing bubble that, except for a brief dip after the 2008 crash, has been making housing unaffordable for all but the rich throughout the whole of the 21st century, since the Blair-backed bubble first grew beyond the reach of ordinary workers, and which, in addition, guarantees huge profits for those who, having got on the housing ladder in the 20th century, choose to exploit tenants for rent, or to cash in for their retirement by selling their assets for insane multiples of what they paid in the first place.

These are all recurring themes that — familiar to some listeners from my songs ‘Fighting Injustice’ and ‘Tory Bullshit Blues’ — and I hope you like the song.

Insurrection of various kinds has long fascinated me, as is evident from my exploration of Britain’s counter-culture — from the 1950s to the early 21st century — in my books, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, which looked at the clashes between the establishment and various pagans, anarchists, free festival goers, travellers and environmental activists, particularly during the time of the Stonehenge Free Festival, from 1974 to 1984, and the subsequent protest movements of the 90s and into the early 20th century — the rave scene, the road protest movement, including Reclaim the Streets, and the anti-globalization movement that partly grew out of these examples of British insurrection.

In addition, there were, throughout this time, other examples of oppression leading to violence — most noticeably, in the 1981 riots, in Brixton, Birmingham, Chapeltown in Leeds and Toxteth in Liverpool, which were a response to police racism and economic deprivation, in the Brixton and Broadwater Farm riots of 1985, and in the resistance to Margaret Thatcher’s stunningly unfair Poll Tax, which led to a largely police-provoked riot in central London in March 1990.

Police brutality — and a general clampdown on civil liberties in the opportunistic “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks, plus, I believe, a general conservatism as a result of the materialism that dominates the current culture to an unhealthy degree — mean that, with the exception of the odd eruption like the student protests and the August 2011 unrest, the notion of dissent that can threaten the status quo — however heavy-handed and corrupt that status quo may be — currently seems unimaginable, but my song remains a warning, especially after a recent poll of 18- to 34-year-olds in a number of EU countries (including Wales, but not England) were asked the question,” Would you actively participate in large-scale uprising against the generation in power if it happened in the next days or months?” when more than half said yes.

I hope you enjoy the song, and will share it — and even, perhaps, buy it as a download — if you do.

Note: Please also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, and send us an email if you want to be added to our mailing list. And if you have any gigs for us, we’d be delighted to hear from you!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

 

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting the release of ‘Riot’, the new online roots reggae single by my band The Four Fathers, which provides a warning about what happens if the poor and the young are persistently treated with contempt and cruelty by the government, as has clearly been happening since the Tories began their cynical “age of austerity” in 2010. In the article I also run through examples of insurrection in modern British history, and my fascination with the topic, especially though my studies of the counter-culture in my books about Stonehenge and the Battle of the Beanfield. Hope you enjoy it!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    We’ll release another song in a couple of weeks. Probably ‘London’, my love song for my adopted city, and a lament for the greed that has been eating away at it for most of the last 20 years through the disgraceful housing bubble that is now beginning to drive out all manner of decent, hard-working, talented people. The plan is to bring out an actual artefact – the CD ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ featuring ten original songs, eight by me, two by Richard Clare – probably in September.

  3. Tom says...

    Sounds great. Cool runnings to you and yours.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. And Bunny Wailer’s ‘Cool Runnings’ is one of my favourite songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=598e3xVLcJc

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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