500 Days Since the Grenfell Tower Fire, The Four Fathers Release New Single ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died, and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The cover of 'Grenfell' by The Four Fathers, featuring a photo taken in North Kensington on December 14, 2017 on one of the Silent Walks that take place on the 14th of every month (Photo: Andy Worthington).Listen to the single here on Bandcamp, and please buy it as a download. All takings will be donated to Grenfell charities. The recording was produced by acclaimed musician and producer Charlie Hart, who also plays accordion on it.

Exactly 500 days ago, Britain changed in a way that has haunted me ever since, as 71 people died in an inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower, a tower block in west London (one other survivor died in January this year, taking the death toll to 72).

This was a disaster that should never have happened, and that only occurred because those responsible for the structural integrity of the tower, and the safety of its residents, had decided that cost-cutting and profiteering was more important than people’s lives.

Those responsible include the Tory government, which failed to enforce recommendations after the Lakanal tower fire in Peckham in 2009, and actively worked to cut “red tape” when it came to housing regulations, Kensington and Chelsea Council, which abdicated responsibility for its tenants, handing their safety over to Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), an organisation that, although responsible for all of the borough’s social housing (consisting of more than 10,000 homes) repeatedly ignored explicit warnings by tenants’ representatives that they were living in a potential deathtrap.

As I explained in an article I published just after the fire, drawing on the exemplary work of the Grenfell Action Group, run by concerned residents:

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

Those responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower also include the many players in the building industry and the ‘regeneration’ industry who accepted that there was any kind of rational explanation for highly flammable cladding to be applied to tower blocks, and whose actions, combined with those of all the other bodies above, conspired to turn a building with structural integrity into an inferno over the course of a few short and deadly hours in the middle of the night on June 14, 2017.

The Grenfell Tower fire changed my life. As a social housing resident, I had seen my existence devalued over the last 20 years, as almost the entire British political establishment prioritised homeowners over those who would rather live in a country that prioritises genuinely low-cost, safe and secure rented accommodation for all who want it. However, it wasn’t until Grenfell that the awful truth dawned: that those in charge of our safety have such contempt for us that our very lives are disposable.

I wrote ‘Grenfell’ last summer, and we have been playing it live on a regular basis ever since, its mournful reggae lament an insistent cry for those whose lives were so “needlessly lost” not to be forgotten, and for “those who only count the profit not the human cost” to be held accountable.

YOU CAN LISTEN TO IT, AND/OR BUY IT BELOW:

A video of three members of the band playing the song with beatboxer The Wiz-RD was made by a visiting German TV crew a year ago, which has been viewed several thousand times, and another video of us playing it at a Summer Solstice party in the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford that I’ve been fighting to save with other campaigners, (and occupying since August to prevent its destruction) is here.

The Grenfell disaster led to me becoming the narrator of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, a documentary film about the destruction of council estates, and residents’ resistance to the destruction of their homes, and also to becoming more prominent as a housing activist — hence my involvement in the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign mentioned above.

For the survivors of the Grenfell disaster, however, justice remains elusive. Although an official inquiry is underway, few, if any, expect it to hold anyone accountable, and the ongoing contempt for those in social housing — and, I should add, for anyone but those making money out of housing developments — is such that flammable cladding is still in place on almost all the buildings clad in similar material. As The Construction Index website reports today, “Sixteen months after the Grenfell Tower fire, just 39 of the 457 high-rise buildings around England with similar flammable cladding systems have been made safe.”

The article further explains that, “Of the 457 flammable towers, 157 are social sector residential buildings, managed by local authorities or housing associations; and 291 are private sector buildings – of which 201 are private residential, 28 are hotels, and 62 are student accommodation. Nine are publicly-owned buildings, comprising hospitals and schools.” However, “urgent remediation work has been completed on just 8.5%.”

In addition, many survivors are still waiting to be re-housed. Just three weeks ago, the Independent reported that, although “[n]early £30m has been spent on hotel rooms for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire,” in “59 bed and breakfasts and hostels”, and that a further £4.9m has been spent on temporary housing, “more than 150 households” of survivors “are still waiting to move into a permanent home.”

The North Kensington Law Centre, which has been helping a number of former Grenfell residents, told the Independent that “council officers were pressuring traumatised residents to accept housing that overlooked” the burnt-out tower, adding that one particular woman “was coerced into accepting a property that did not have any flooring”, and “was told she had to accept the offer by 10am the next morning or she would be classified as intentionally homeless.”

This news was followed by further shocking news – that, as the Guardian described it, “Toxins that may have long-term health implications for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, and thousands of people who live and work nearby, have been identified in the preliminary findings of a study led by one of the world’s leading toxicology experts”, Professor Anna Stec, whose findings “prompted her to privately urge Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health, the police and Kensington and Chelsea Council to organise a range of tests to ensure any potential health risks can be properly assessed.” In briefings to senior health agency staff, Prof. Stec “said she had found ‘huge concentrations’ of potential carcinogens in the dust and soil around the tower in west London, and in burned debris that had fallen from the tower.”

As the long quest for justice continues, I hope you find that the song has some resonance for you, and that you’ll buy it as a download, and share it if you do.

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. Since August 2018 he has been part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

‘No Social Cleansing in London’: Campaign Launch and Fundraising Gig for the Tidemill Campaign in Deptford at the DIY Space in Peckham, Fri. Oct. 12

An image for the launch of 'No Social Cleansing in London' - and a fundraiser for the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign - on Friday October 12 at the DIY Space for London in Peckham.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

If you’re in London and concerned about the unprecedented scale of London’s housing crisis, I hope you’ll come along this Friday to the launch of ‘No Social Cleansing in London’, a new campaign group that I’m setting up to provide a focal point for struggles against the destruction of social housing, via “regeneration” projects, involving the destruction of council estates, that are designed to socially cleanse poorer residents, and to provide largely unscrutinised profits for builders and developers, and an unfettered private rental market that, for the first time in London’s modern history, is pricing all manner of people out of the capital.

The launch is taking place at the DIY Space for London, a volunteer-run social space at 96-108 Ormside Street, Peckham London SE15 1TF, on an industrial estate just off Ildeston Road, and close to the Old Kent Road, where evangelical churches, traditional industries and young creative types cluster in the shadow of the monstrous Old Kent Road re-development plans of Southwark Council, whose mania for unwanted and unnecessary high-rise housing developments betrays a complete lack of understanding about the nature of employment in 21st century London, and the tens of thousands of workers who can only survive in their businesses on an around the Old Kent Road because they are not exposed to the full greed of the corporate market.

Friday’s event is intended to, in the first instance, provide an opportunity for housing campaigners to come together from across London’s 32 boroughs to meet and mingle and to come up with strategies of resistance. In the weeks to come, I’ll be setting up Facebook and Twitter pages for the campaign — and, hopefully, a website — so if anyone wants to be involved, please do get in touch. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The WOMAD World Music Festival 2018 – Global Joy and Creativity, Threatened by Brexit

Photos by Andy Worthington from the WOMAD world music festival 2018.See my photos on Flickr here!

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Since 2002, the end of July every year has been defined for me by my participation in WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance), the world music festival founded in 1982, which I attend with family and friends, working at the children’s workshops. These involve hundreds of children making all manner of wonderful creations, and they culminate in a childrens’ procession on Sunday evening through the whole of the festival site.

I’ve taken photos of the festival every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, from 2015 here, from 2016 here and from 2017 here.

This year everyone expected that the heatwave that began at the end of May would continue throughout the festival, but although Friday, the first day of the festival (and the two days before when we were setting up) were deliriously hot, the weather turned on the Saturday, although the festival-goers’ spirits were generally undimmed.

I had a wonderful time this year, thanks to the great company, in particular, as well as — of course — great music as always from around the world. I also particularly enjoyed helping to facilitate the children’s creativity during the workshops, and also enjoyed playing with Richard from The Four Fathers at the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar (where my son Tyler joined us beatboxing) and also watching Tyler perform with his friends Caleb and Haroun, and, on Sunday evening, taking part in a wonderfully successful workshop with two other members of the BAC Beatbox Academy, Conrad and Nate, who came from London to give a WOMAD audience an exhilarating masterclass in the art of beatboxing. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Holiday Time: Off to WOMAD and the West Country, Back in August

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Dear friends,

Every year, at this time, I attend the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire with my family and friends. I’m slightly astonished to work out that this will be our 17th WOMAD, as we’ve been going since 2002, when we spent a boozy, hard-working time there between our wedding in Edinburgh, and a post-wedding party in London. The drinking has tailed off or come to an end since that time, but we still do children’s workshops, and WOMAD continues to be the perfect festival, with amazing music from around the world, and a very peaceful vibe. Every year, I discover music that I love, but that I had no knowledge of beforehand, like last year’s Thursday night entertainment (before the festival proper began) —Bixiga 70, enthusiastic and talented Afrobeat players from Brazil, whose music has moved me all year.

On Monday, we’re heading down to Cornwall, to stay for a few days with friends near Mevagissey, and then we’re heading back east, but only as far as Dorset where we’re staying for a few days in a very special place on Chesil Beach that we’ve visited before. We leave there on August 8, and travel to Bristol, where I have a radio interview that day, and a screening of ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, the film abut resistance to the destruction of council estates, which I narrate, and which I posted an article about yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

New Videos by The Four Fathers: ‘Rebel Soldier’, ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Grenfell’ Recorded Live

Screenshot from the video of The Four Fathers playing 'Masters of War' at a street party in June 2018.It’s been some time since I’ve posted an update about the activities of my band The Four Fathers, so I’m hoping to amend that by posting some recent videos — of ‘Rebel Soldier’ and ’Masters of War’, recorded at a street party in Brockley, in south east London, of ‘Grenfell’, recorded at a summer solstice party in the Old Tidemill Garden in Deptford, and of another song from that party, ‘Kicking the Poor’, used as a housing campaign song in Lewisham, where I live.

Rebel Soldier’, a driving reggae number, is an old folk song, which I gave a new tune and a reggae groove more years ago than I care to remember, while living in Brixton after I left university. It’s been a live favourite since The Four Fathers first started four years ago, and we generally open our set with it. The studio recording, from our first album, ‘Love and War’, is here, and the live video is also on Facebook here.

Masters of War’ was written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963, and, sadly, its sentiments remain just as relevant today as they were back then. It’s another live favourite, and another song we’ve been playing regularly since we first got together in 2014. The studio recording isn’t available online, but it is on the CD of ‘Love and War’, which you can buy here. Our second album, How Much Is A Life Worth? is also available on CD or to download, and you can also individually download any of our songs. Prices start at just 60p. Read the rest of this entry »

2,000 Views of The Four Fathers’ Video ‘Grenfell’, Remembering Those Who Died and Calling for Those Responsible to be Held Accountable

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Today is 350 days since the defining UK-based horror story of 2017 — the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, in west London, on June 14, 2017, killing 71 people, and leading to the death of a 72nd person this January. You can find profiles of all 72 victims here.

Last summer, I wrote a song about the fire for my band The Four Fathers, lamenting those whose lives were so “needlessly lost”, and calling for those responsible — “those who only count the profit not the human cost” — to be held accountable. We first played it live, at a benefit gig for a housing campaign in Tottenham, in September, recorded it with a German TV crew at the end of October, and released the video in December, and we have continued to play it live across the capital and elsewhere, making a small contribution to the effort to refuse to allow those responsible for the disaster to move on without a serious change in the culture that allowed it to happen. 

That culture — cost-cutting in the search for profits, rather than ensuring the safety of tenants and leaseholders — came from central government, from Kensington and Chelsea Council, from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which had taken over the management of all the borough’s social housing, and from the various contractors involved in the lethal refurbishment of the tower, when its structural integrity was fatally undermined. Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Music Now: My Interview with London Student Magazine Artefact as Lead Singer of The Four Fathers

Mark Quiney, Andy Worthington and Richard Clare of The Four Fathers playing at a protest against the DSEI arms fair in London's Docklands in September 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

A few months ago, I was delighted to be approached by Pavel Troughton, a student at London College of Communication (LCC), part of the University of the Arts London (UAL), who was writing an article about protest music for the student magazine Artefact. I promoted it at the time via social media, but I never got round to commenting on it here, so I thought now would be a good time, as my band The Four Fathers continue to play protest music, and to try to gauge what interest there is, or isn’t, in music that challenges the political realities of modern life, via the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ gigs I’ve been organising, our appearances with bands like the Commie Faggots, who play theatrical singalong protest music, and our recordings, available via Bandcamp.

I met Pavel Troughton at a cafe near my home in Brockley, south east London, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about the role of protest music today, which is of great interest to me, as I grew up at a significant time for protest music, as a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, not only following punk bands, post-punk bands and the Two-Tone movement, but also drawing on protest music from the 60s and early 70s as well. 

In Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, and with the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s so comparatively recent, it was difficult not to be politicised at that time. Some of the punks pretended to be apolitical, but really that was an affectation. Of course, many musicians only pretended to be political to get laid or get rich (or both), as had also been true in the 60s and early 70s (does anyone really think the colossally materialistic hornbag Mick Jagger genuinely had any interest in being a ‘Street Fighting Man’, for example?), but political engagement and counter-cultural impulses were genuine in this period, and elements of that effortlessly survived into the 90s, when, after Margaret Thatcher’s eventual fall from grace, John Major struggled to maintain control of a country in which dissent was widespread, via the iconoclastic hedonism of the rave scene and the extraordinary pagan and anarchic energy of the road protest movement. For more on the above, feel free to check out my books Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, which have chapters on this period in modern British history. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Media Milestone: 3,000 Articles Published (Including 2,200 on Guantánamo) Since I Began Writing Online as an Independent Journalist and Activist in 2007

Andy Worthington singing 'Song for Shaker Aamer' in Washington, D.C. in January 2016 (Photo: Justin Norman).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Dear friends, supporters, and any stray passers-by,

My most recent article, WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Salem Gherebi’s Letter Explaining Why He Voluntarily Returned to Libya from Senegal Despite the Danger in Doing So, was something of a milestone for me — my 3,000th article published here on my website since I first began publishing articles here, on an almost daily basis, nearly eleven years ago. 

Almost 2,200 of those articles have been about the prison at Guantánamo Bay and the men held there, the main focus of my work as a writer and a campaigner since the spring of 2006, when I began working on the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, which I completed in May 2007, and which was published that September.

If you’ve been with me all that time — as some of you, perhaps, have been — you’ll know that I started publishing articles here after the fourth prisoner at Guantánamo died, a man named Abdul Rahman al-Amri, allegedly by committing suicide. After spending 14 months researching and writing about the prisoners, based on a forensic analysis of the many thousands of pages of information about them that the Pentagon had been obliged to release after they lost a Freedom of Information lawsuit, I think it’s fair to say that I knew more than anyone in the world about the prisoners at that point, but although I pitched a proposal to the Guardian, I was told that they’d pick up on the Associated Press’s wire, and so I published it myself, as I already had a website up and running (technically, a WordPress blog), and hoped people would notice. Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Music: Forthcoming Gigs by Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers, April to June 2018

The Four Fathers playing at a protest in Walthamstow against the proposed redevelopment of the town square (Photo: Emilie Makin).It’s been some time since I last posted about the activities of my band The Four Fathers, so here’s an update following our most recent appearances — at a protest against the proposed redevelopment of Walthamstow’s main square, on February 24, and as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival, with our friends the Commie Faggots, on March 16, a wonderful and very well attended protest music double bill.

Since I last wrote about the band, people have, we’re glad to note, continued to listen to us on Bandcamp (and we’ve even sold a few CDs!), and our video of ‘Grenfell’, the song I wrote after last June’s entirely preventable fire in west London, in which over 70 people died, has now had nearly 1,650 views on YouTube and Facebook.

We’re planning to record it soon, along with our anti-Brexit anthem, ‘I Want My Country Back (From the People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, and we’ve also been working on new material — new songs about the history of the counter-culture, and about so-called “affordable” housing, and a positive anthem about solidarity and resistance — and some covers, with Aswad’s ‘Not Satisfied’ inching closer to a public outing. I was also recently interviewed for an article about protest music in Artefact Magazine, produced by students at London College of Communications, following up on another protest music interview, for the Icelandic website, Shouts! Read the rest of this entry »

You’ve Never Heard Anything Like This Before: BAC Beatbox Academy’s Exhilarating ‘Frankenstein’ Show at Battersea Arts Centre

BAC Beatbox Academy performing their song 'Hideous' as part of their show 'Frankenstein' at Battersea Arts Centre on March 22, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐– Andy’s review

At Battersea Arts Centre in south west London, an extraordinary performance is taking place over the next two weeks, which I urge you to go and see if you’re in London. The show is ‘Frankenstein’ (aka ‘Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster’), and it’s performed by the BAC Beatbox Academy, a collective of beatboxers, singers and rappers who have produced a genuinely unique and completely exhilarating show. As I suggest in the headline of this article, I can guarantee that you have never heard anything like it before.

Perhaps you think beatboxing is a little one-dimensional — men with big lungs making massive, meaty dance beats through a microphone. Impressive, but essentially a novelty, and not something you could spend much time listening to.

If that’s what you think, then ‘Frankenstein’ will blow away those preconceptions, as the BAC Beatbox Academy, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year, is expert at confounding expectations. The group first came to my attention back in 2015, when a friend suggested that my son Tyler, then 15, should audition to take part in it. Tyler had always been a sonically interested child, and had been impressed by seeing the beatboxer Shlomo at WOMAD, which eventually led to him coming up with his own beats and compositions, but it wasn’t until he went to the Beatbox Academy audition that, as he put it, he realised that he had found his people, that there were other people like him. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Love and War by The Four Fathers

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The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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