On Gorilla Radio, Chris Cook Plays ‘Warriors’, and We Discuss Julian Assange, Guantánamo, Genocide in Gaza and George Galloway

The cover of ‘Warriors’ by The Four Fathers, and the poster showing the 16 men approved for release from Guantánamo who are still held.

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Thanks to Chris Cook for having me on his Gorilla Radio show in Victoria, in western Canada on Wednesday to talk about a number of topics. The one-hour show is available here, on Chris’s Substack account, and my interview took part in the first half.

Chris began by asking me about the recent by-election victory, here in the UK, of George Galloway, the former Labour MP, who destroyed both Labour and the Tories on a platform opposing their unconditional support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, which, of course, is also opposed by a majority of the population. As he stated in a tweet after his victory, “Gaza is the moral centre of the world right now.”

Chris asked me about the government’s hysterical response, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a special address to the nation to complain about the threat posed by a democratically-elected MP, but with, of course, a darker undercurrent of groundless suggestions that British democracy is under threat from “Islamist extremists” — all part of the desperate, flailing efforts of the British establishment to criminalize all criticism of Israel’s actions as anti-semitic.

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The Four Fathers Release New Song, ‘Warriors’, About Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, To Coincide With Julian’s Last UK Appeal Against Extradition to the US

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Yesterday, The Four Fathers released ‘Warriors’, my song about Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, which we released to coincide with the first of two days of hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, marking Julian’s last UK appeal against his extradition to the US. If extradited, he will face espionage charges relating to the classified US files, leaked by the US whistleblower Chelsea Manning, which were released in 2010 and 2011, in conjunction with some of the world’s most prominent newspapers.

It’s available below via Bandcamp, where you can listen to it for free, and buy it as a download if you like it.

I worked with Julian and WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011, which were hugely important, as they revealed the shocking extent to which the US’s so-called “intelligence” was based on statements made by profoundly unreliable witnesses — prisoners subjected to torture and other forms of abuse, or bribed with better living conditions.

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Photos and Report: WOMAD 2023 – Amazing World Music, and Two Elephants in the Room

Khushee the elephant in the children’s area at WOMAD on July 28, 2023 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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From July 27 to 30, WOMAD, the world’s biggest world music festival, once more occupied part of the 4,500 acres of land belonging to Charlton Park in Wiltshire, the ancestral home of the Earls of Suffolk since the late 16th Century, whose Grade I listed mansion stands a safe distance away from the annual invasion of around 40,000 people in search of extraordinary music from around the world.

This year, 41 years since the festival began, there were two elephants in the room. The first, designed by my wife Dot, was a delightful cartoon elephant, Khushee (meaning happiness in Hindi), a representation of a young female Indian elephant who sat in the backstage catering area, charming the artists, when she wasn’t being promenaded around the children’s area, delighting children and adults alike.

Khushee was accompanied by Oke, a cute little puppet mouse, also designed by Dot, who made his first appearance last year, when, after years of doing children’s workshops, Dot came up with the idea to, instead, create a large animal figure to draw the attention of WOMAD’s children by processing through the children’s field on a daily basis. Last year, marking WOMAD’s 40th anniversary, that creature was a lion, Zaki, based on the lion in the festival’s logo, and it was so successful that this year it was Khushee’s turn.

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The Triumphant Return of the WOMAD Global Music Festival on its 40th Anniversary and Reflections on its History

The WOMAD 40th anniversary lion, designed by Dot Young, leading the children’s procession at the WOMAD festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire on July 31, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Check out my photos from this year’s WOMAD on Flickr here.

It’s hard to believe now, when hundreds of festivals take place every summer in the UK, but back in 1982, when Peter Gabriel set up the first WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) in Shepton Mallet, only a handful of festivals took place on a regular basis; primarily, Reading Festival, which had evolved from a jazz festival first established in the 1960s, and which was, by the early ‘80s, dominated by heavy rock, Glastonbury Festival, revived in 1979 after its hippie origins in 1970 and ’71, and the Stonehenge Free Festival, which had been taking place since 1974, and which was growing larger every year — eventually prompting the Thatcher government to suppress it with unprecedented violence in 1985 at The Battle of the Beanfield.

Promoting music from around the world was a bold move back in 1982. Although Bob Marley had firmly put reggae and Jamaica on the map through his extraordinary global success in the 1970s, few other performers from Jamaica or elsewhere had crossed over prominently into the western mainstream.

Gabriel, however, as he explained ten years ago, on WOMAD’s 30th anniversary, became fascinated by world music after the murder of the black activist Steve Biko in apartheid South Africa in 1977. As he explained to the Guardian, he “was thinking of writing a song about Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist who died in police custody in 1977, when he came across a Dutch radio station playing African music”, and “was sufficiently entranced to explore further and work these influences” into his subsequent record, ’Biko’, released in 1980, a ”graceful, haunting” song that “became one of the first songs about apartheid by a major western artist.”

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Keeping Live Music and Performance Alive in a Covid Lockdown Culture

The Four Fathers’ gig on October 31, 2020, successfully completed before the second Covid lockdown starts on November 5.

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I was preparing to play a gig — yes, an actual gig! — on Saturday evening, with my band The Four Fathers, when news of a second lockdown in England was finally confirmed by the government. It wasn’t surprising, because infection rates had been steadily rising, but the government — as indecisive as ever — had missed the opportunity to impose a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to coincide with half-term, as recommended by medical experts, and was now, belatedly, announcing a four-week lockdown instead, starting on Thursday, November 5, and lasting until December 2.

Unlike the first time around, though, the government announced that schools and universities were to stay open, even though what are regarded as “non-essential” shops and businesses will be required to shut, imperilling the future of countless small businesses, who had just begun to find their feet, and who must now be facing, in numerous cases, a fatal loss of business in the run-up to Christmas. Even if they are allowed to reopen on December 3, it seems pretty certain that Amazon and a host of other online retailers — many in the “fast fashion” business, and many with dodgy employment practices — will be making a fortune while nailing shut the coffins of high streets across the land.

To impose this kind of sweeping lockdown for an entire month while leaving schools and universities open is exactly the kind of muddled thinking on the government’s part that — even putting aside for a moment their cronyism, corruption, and obsession with incompetent, overpaid corporate service providers to do jobs that should be provided by health professionals — will enrage and alienate people, whilst also failing to actually tackle the problems of rising infection rates.

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Covid Lockdown: Video of My Band The Four Fathers Playing at a Small Party in a London Park That Would Now Be Illegal

A screenshot of The Four Fathers playing in a park in south London on August 29, 2020.

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On the August Bank Holiday weekend, my band The Four Fathers played a largely acoustic set — and then joined other musicians in a jam session — as part of a little party in our local park in south London, parts of which were filmed by our bassist’s daughter, and which now constitute a record of what London looked like five months after the government first declared a lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The party normally takes place in a friend’s house, but this year, because of Covid-19, everyone concerned recognised that even a well-behaved house party wasn’t acceptable at the time, and so the proposal to move it to our local park was suggested instead.

In the earliest days of lockdown, London’s parks were patrolled by the police and local officials to make sure that no one stopped or mingled during their allotted one hour of exercise a day, but, as the peak of the panic passed, parks then became the focal point of human interaction, and while there were some obvious examples of slightly reckless behaviour — parties of young people drinking late into the night, provoking the wrath of the curtain-twitching brigade — for the most part people were aware of social distancing, and were simply trying to balance the need to avoid spreading the virus with an equally important need to socialise.

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Check Out The Four Fathers’ Video Trilogy from Our Pre-Covid Charlie Hart Sessions

A screenshot from The Four Fathers’ YouTube channel.

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Since the coronavirus hit, my band The Four Fathers have, like most musicians, been unable to do much at all. Initially isolated from each other — and with our bassist Paul having moved to San Francisco — we didn’t get together until June, when we played a few songs for my friend Neil Goodwin’s Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival, available on YouTube here.

Paul then returned from San Francisco, which was good news for us, and we’ve rehearsed a few times since, but, unsurprisingly, we haven’t played any gigs, although we did manage to release three new studio recordings, which we recorded in December with the great Charlie Hart, who, in a 50-year career, has played in Kilburn and the High Roads with Ian Dury, and in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, has produced music for the legendary Congolese singer Samba Mapangala, and currently plays in a revived Slim Chance and in his own band The Equators, an extraordinary world-jazz-blues group of extremely talented musicians.

The recordings were of three new songs that I wrote in 2018/19, all available on Bandcamp, where they can be purchased as downloads: The Wheel of Life, a meditation on mortality and living in the moment, This Time We Win, an eco-anthem inspired by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, on which Charlie plays Wurlitzer piano, and Affordable, a punky blast of rock and roll about lying politicians and the housing crisis.

We also followed up the release of the new recordings with experimental videos using found footage that were made by our drummer Bren Horstead.

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The Four Fathers Release New Existential Song ‘The Wheel of Life’, As Bandcamp Waives Its Revenue Share to Help Musicians

The cover of ‘The Wheel of Life’ by The Four Fathers, designed by drummer Bren Horstead.

My band The Four Fathers have just released the last of three songs we recorded before the coronavirus hit, with the multi-talented musician and producer Charlie Hart, whose illustrious career involves playing with Ian Dury in Kilburn and the High Roads, many years with Ronnie Lane, after he left the Faces, in Slim Chance, and several occasions spent working with the wonderful Congolese singer Samba Mapangala.

The release is ‘The Wheel of Life’, a meditation on aging, and on the importance of living in the moment, which I hope has some resonance right now, as we all try to cope with the impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which brought our thoughtlessly excessive lifestyles to an abrupt halt three months ago, but which has also precipitated a forthcoming recession of possibly terrifying proportions, as well as silencing all forms of culture that involves live interaction at close quarters.

Live music is just one the casualties of this strange new world, and while we try to work out how to resume entertaining one another in a live context, creative people are suffering. In an attempt to help, Bandcamp, the US online music service, which we use in preference to streaming companies, has been waiving its fees on specific days throughout the coronavirus lockdowns, starting on March 20, when music fans spent “$4.3 million on music and merch — 15x the amount of a normal Friday — helping artists cover rents, mortgages, groceries, medications, and so much more”, and followed by May 1, when fans paid artists $7.1 million, and June 5, when fans paid artists $4.8 million.

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The Four Fathers Release New Eco-Anthem, ‘This Time We Win’, Recorded with Charlie Hart

The cover for ‘This Time We Win‘, the new single by The Four Fathers. Designed by Brendan Horstead.

On Earth Day (April 22), The Four Fathers released ‘This Time We Win’, a new online single on Bandcamp, produced by Charlie Hart, who also plays Wurlitzer piano on it.

This Time We Win’ is an eco-anthem that I wrote last year in response to the unfolding, man-made, global environmental catastrophe that we all face, and the powerful efforts to highlight it that have been made by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and her Fridays For Future movement of striking schoolchildren, and the campaigning group Extinction Rebellion, who occupied central London a year ago.

We were planning to release it this spring, to coincide with what we anticipated would be renewed environmental activism, but what we couldn’t have foreseen was the arrival of the highly infectious novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and the complete shutdown of all significant gatherings of people, including political protests, to try and stop its spread.

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The Four Fathers Release New Song ‘Affordable’, Marking the Anniversary of the Destruction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden’s Trees

The cover of the Four Fathers’ new online single, ‘Affordable’, released on March 3, 2020.

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Last Thursday, February 27, marked a sad anniversary for environmental activists and housing campaigners, as it was the first anniversary of the destruction of the 74 mature and semi-mature trees that made up the magical tree cover of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, in south east London, which provided an autonomous green space in a built-up urban area, and also mitigated the worst effects of pollution generated by traffic on nearby Deptford Church Street, where particulate levels have been measured at six times the safety levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to save the trees, which had been ongoing since 2012, largely took place before environmental activism went mainstream, via the actions of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, although this was not just an environmental issue. The destruction of the garden was also part of a proposal by Lewisham Council and housing developers to build a new housing development on the site, one that desperate, dissembling councillors sought to sell to the public as providing much-needed new social homes, when the reality, as with almost all current housing developments, is that a significant number of the new homes are for private sale, existing council housing is to be destroyed, and its replacement will be homes that are described as “affordable”, when they are no such thing.

Instead, the allegedly “affordable” component of the development is a mixture of properties at ‘London Affordable Rent’, which, in Lewisham, is 63% higher for a two-bedroom flat than traditional social rents, and ‘shared ownership’, a notorious scam, whereby, in exchange for a hefty upfront payment, occupants are made to believe that they own a share of the property (typically 25%), whereas, in reality, they are only assured tenants unless they find a way to own the property outright, and, along the way, have to pay rent on the share of the property that they don’t, even nominally, own, and are also often subjected to massive — and unregulated — service charges.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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