After Grenfell, Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release New Single, ‘London’, A Savage Portrait of the UK Capital Hollowed Out By Greed

23.6.17

The cover of The Four Fathers' new single 'London', released on June 23, 2017.In the wake of last week’s entirely preventable inferno at Grenfell Tower in west London, in which, officially, 79 people died (although the real total may well be over 300), the horrendous loss of life — and the fact that it was entirely preventable — has forced London’s housing crisis to the top of the political agenda, although to be honest, that is where it should have been for the whole of the 21st century.

The latest online single released by my band The Four Fathers (also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), ‘London’ deals largely with the housing crisis, as part of a love song to the city going back to the 1980s. I moved to Brixton in 1985, and in the song I provide my personal take on how the wild and chaotic capital of the 1980s and 1990s has been overtaken by a focus on greed and the dull, soul-sapping, materialistic values of “gentrification,” and how, in this dysfunctional new world, the vibrant dissent of the 80s and 90s has largely been silenced, and those in charge of housing — endlessly putting profit before the needs of people — have razed neighbourhoods to the ground and given the capital city a lobotomy.

Listen to the single below — and buy it as a download if you wish:

In the first verse, in which London, in the 80s, was “like a lover to me, drunk and disorderly, and full of honesty”, I sing about “the wild pubs and squats,” where we “broke all of the rules,” and in the second verse, about the early 90s (up to the time of Tony Blair), I sing about how rave culture and protest movements like Reclaim the Streets gleefully continued the spirit of dissent.

The reference to the M11 refers to the M11 Link Road that was ploughed through swathes of housing in East London — and resisted by a formidable protest movement — and the CJA, for those who were not around at the time, refers to the Criminal Justice Act, the Tories’ heavy-handed response to the rave culture that saw millions of people dancing and taking drugs every weekend in huge unlicensed raves, and that, in its cross-over with the free festival culture of the 1980s (which was supposed to have been crushed at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985), created a huge free festival at Castlemorton Common in Gloucestershire on the May Bank Holiday in 1992, when all the tribes and sub-cultures came together in a glorious celebration of dissent — but one that prompted the government to introduce legislation that, as well as severely curtailing the right to gather freely, also allowed the police to shut down events featuring music that was “characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

London, they tried to stop you being free
By selling off your culture and through the death of industry
But you came bouncing back with your pills and your all-night raves
In those glimpses of giddy utopia when millions misbehaved
And you were like the earth mother on drugs from the M11 to Reclaim the Streets
Though they hit us with the CJA and that ban on repetitive beats

After the heady enthusiasm of the early to mid-90s, the most recent dark change came, ironically, with the election of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour in 1997, when, as strategist Peter Mandelson explained, the Labour Party was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” He added, as has often been forgotten, “as long as they pay their taxes”, but the former is the point about wealth that sunk in, and changed Britain for the worse.

In almost no time at all, a housing bubble began that, by the early years of the 21st century, was already out of control, as house values were increasing at such a rate that people’s houses were making more money than they were in their jobs. As a result of this bubble, endlessly sustained through low interest rates, and a refusal by government to find and publicise any other way for people to invest their money, a fair society is now nothing more than a memory. There was brief puncture to the bubble after the bankers’ (and politicians’) self-inflicted global economic crash of 2008, but then it came back with a vengeance under the Tories, who took power in 2010 (aided by the hapless Liberal Democrats), and, with the assistance of the colossally corrupt Boris Johnson as Mayor of London from 2008-2016, aggressively tried to turn the whole of London into a giant building site for global speculators, while depriving everyone else of the ability to even live with any kind of security.

As I explain in the third verse, focusing on the destruction of London by developers and politicians:

London, you were my impetuous wife
Always out and out of it with a voracious appetite
But oh my darling, the end came with the men in suits
Whose enthusiasm for the super-rich meant they sold you like a prostitute
And when you still weren’t silenced and laughed at their dull complacency
They razed your neighbourhoods to the ground and gave you a lobotomy

And bringing the story up to date in the final verse, with reference to the plague of luxury developments rising up all over London:

London, you’re on a life support machine
In the basement of one of those hundreds of towers being built for a foreign elite
And oh my baby, I hope that you rise again
And throw off these rich parasites like you have every now and then
And I’ll keep fighting against the dying of the light
But without some kind of revolution the future doesn’t look too bright to me

The focus on housing is, I believe, entirely appropriate, because, even before the Grenfell disaster, housing had become one of the two big themes of the 21st century in London, the other being a cynical “war on terror,” launched after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which seeks to fulfil the West’s geo-political aims, making huge amounts of money for those profiting from war, and also allowing western governments to clamp down on civil liberties in their own countries — convenient when we look back on the dissent of the 80s and 90s, and its continuation in the massive anti-globalisation movement that 9/11 was used to curtail.

Alongside the “age of fear” promoted by our governments’ cynical counter-terrorism policies, housing stands at the heart of a refocusing of the economy, especially since 2010 — at the top end, a bubble sustained by foreign investors as cities like London have, through assiduous marketing, become seen as safe, tax-free havens for the global super-rich, but a result of this, as noted above, is that hard-working people have been priced out of the market, even those earning more than the national average wage. The housing bubble has also created an accompanying boom in the price of rents in the private sector, as ordinary people encouraged by the endless message of greed and self-interest pumped out by what passes for our culture, resort to the one-on-one exploitation of others.

With private renters free to be as ruthless as they want, due to a chronic and deliberate lack of regulation, unsafe and hideously overpriced slums are everywhere, sometimes housing desperate immigrant workers in crowded conditions, but also housing hard-working families who would once have been on the housing ladder by this stage in their lives.

Also under threat, as Grenfell showed in such a horrific manner, are those living in social housing, which was once provided almost entirely by councils. Unfortunately, a great sell-off of social housing started under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and many surviving social properties have since been transferred to housing associations and arms’ length managements organisations (ALMOs). Some are very good (like the housing association that manages my home), and committed to renting out properties at genuinely affordable rates compared to the tsunami of greed in the private sector, but others, like Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the ALMO that runs the 10,000 or so social properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, are definitely not.

Note: The photos are from my ongoing photo project, ‘The State of London‘, which I began over five years ago, and which involves me cycling around London on a daily basis taking photos in all of the city’s 120 postcodes, as well as in some of the outer boroughs.

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.

24 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article promoting ‘London’, the new single by my band The Four Fathers, telling the story of the capital from the 80s, when I first moved here, to now, lamenting the loss of its wild spirit as greed has taken over, with the pubs, squats and protest movements of the 80s and 90s giving way to an artificially sustained housing bubble that, for the first time ever, is pricing out ordinary workers, and, as the Grenfell disaster showed, eroding protections for social tenants to such an extent that their very lives are sacrificed in the search for profit. As I explain, addressing London in the song:
    ‘Oh my darling, the end came with the men in suits
    Whose enthusiasm for the super-rich meant they sold you like a prostitute
    And when you still weren’t silenced and laughed at their dull complacency
    They razed your neighbourhoods to the ground and gave you a lobotomy’

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Johan van der Merwe wrote:

    Andy Worthington is a UK FB friend of mine whose very informative posts on the notorious Guantanamo prison I have often shared here. Andy is also a member of a band which has just recorded a special song. Give it a listen.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Johan. Much appreciated!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Emma Byrne wrote:

    Unite and be heard. Excellent job X

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Emma! Great to hear from you!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil McKenna wrote:

    Ace!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Neil. Thanks!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    That’s cool! Thank you!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Aleksey! Great to hear from you!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Colin Crilly wrote:

    Well done Andy and band. Another great track.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Colin. So glad you like the song!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    great song, am sharing, we all feel the same, our city raped and filleted by the rich, we all forced to leave, hateful capitalism, uncaring and evil, destroying the soul of my town, property is theft, no question..thank you

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your comments, Pam. Spot-on. Thanks for the support.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Sean Horstead wrote:

    Great tune, nailed rhythms, excellent message: more power to you four fellas!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sean. Great to hear from you. See you soon, I hope!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Forthcoming gigs:

    Friday July 7, 7pm, £3: New Cross Inn, 155 New Cross Rd, London SE14 5DJ
    With Norell & the Dub Factory, Operation Offbeat and the Skamonics
    https://www.facebook.com/events/120817638487791/

    Saturday July 8, 12.50pm, free: Lewisham People’s Day, Stage Bus, Mountsfield Park, London SE6 1AN
    https://www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/events/peoples-day/Pages/Red-area.aspx

    Wednesday July 12, evening, details tbc; The Five Bells, London SE14
    https://www.facebook.com/fivebellsnx/

    Saturday July 22, 4pm, free: Arts Cafe, Manor Park, London SE13 5QZ
    https://www.facebook.com/LewishamArtsCafe/

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Stone wrote:

    What a great song London is. Wonderful lyrics. Definitely worth a listen.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Chris. Very pleased you like it!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Stone wrote:

    It’s great Andy. Been singing it all morning.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    🙂 Chris!

  21. Tom says...

    Nice job. Doing what I can to spread your work around and fight with actual facts online.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. That’s very much appreciated!

  23. damo says...

    i hate to say it andy ,but that london of our youth is……gone…that loose vibrant friendly mixed radical affordable london seems over as ive said before that london were you could live in the cracks i went to soho recently which for my generation and countless others was the place in the 90s exiteing ,vibrant,fun ….dressing up and goin down the disco…….wonderfull ..everytime i go a little part of the old soho and west end is gone…walked down berick st madam jojo,s demolished all the characters gone ..yes it was allways seedy…so what…its now becomeing a tourist destination and a realy ….naff …one at that with theam shops and chains,your right london is being hollowed out ,gentrified and hollowed out to death and it will end up dull and dreary like newyork and paris disneyfied full of the same bland generic rich people who contribute nothing to any where and give nothing to nobody ….and we know how they think go watch the lbc vid were the host shelia is talking to donna ..wealthy eurotrash..if there ever was ……my hasband and i work very very hard to live and own …..property..in that block we pay £15.000 a year service charges each year to youse those facilities ……those…people are getting it for free..ect,ect,blah blah…..those people whom donna refers to will be liveing in the social houseing part not luxury …..appartments…as peddled by the sun and the daily mail …and there you have it andy..this is what people are faceing …..a toxic tisunami of….donnas….sweeping away all before them aided by the likes of the ….disgusting…boris…and the vile tories….people have to start fighting back now otherwise everyone who is not super rich well we are all gonna be dumped outside london….damo xx

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that London has definitely gone, Damo. I was out for a night ride last night – around midnight until 2am, from Brockley down to New Cross, then on to Peckham and back – and it was like being back in the 1950s. I know it was a Sunday night, and people have to work, but hardly anyone was out anywhere, there was no noise, and as I passed through the quiet streets and saw all the terraced houses – so many of them done up by their owners – it was like I was seeing the triumph of materialism over human interaction, the triumph of form over content. Inward-looking homeowners, pouring themselves into their properties – perhaps as part of that pathetic human desire for status, perhaps seeking security in these fear-filled times in which no one truly has faith in the future.
    As I passed through silent London, I was wondering what it was like elsewhere in the world, in places where everyone isn’t so alienated, so insecure, so desperate for material comfort, and I was wondering if people would be out on the streets somewhere, masking some noise on a warm night like last night, remembering what it’s like to be alive, rather than living everyday as though true living is some sort of threat.

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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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