April 10, 2014

What Prog-Rock albums should politician listen to?

Gavin Estler, prog-rock fanatic, on which albums he would make Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and others listen to

Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler has travelled the globe interviewing politicians and cultural icons. He's also a big fan of progressive rock. "I had a Jethro Tull album under my arm – and, I'm afraid, wore flares," he confesses of his past. We asked him to recommend the prog-rock albums that various political figures might appreciate.

Bill Clinton
Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the first album I ever heard and it was just so different. I think they might similarly guide Bill Clinton, although it would have to be Dark Side of the Moon for Bill. He can light up a room like a shining orb in the sky, but he has another side. In the White House press corps we talked of "Sunday-morning Bill", a contrite, Christian southern guy, and "Saturday-night Bill", who got up to various things with Monica Lewinsky. I never discussed music with him, but he had Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Wynton Marsalis at his inauguration and he once had Kid Creole and the Coconuts playing on the White House lawn. He seemed very interested in the Coconuts.

Tony Blair
He was a rock'n'roll prime minister who cheered people up, but his reputation changed after the Iraq war. Jethro Tull's 1968 debut This Wasis a reflective album about change. I was 13 when my parents allowed me to go and see Tull and I think they thought they were harmless folkies. But what I like about prog is that it's never one category – sometimes Tull are jazz, folk or fairly head-on rock of the kind Blair likes. I think he would relate to the wonderful [frontman] Ian Anderson as an amazing survivor rather than a man in a codpiece playing flute on one leg.

Angela Merkel
The German chancellor is into German opera but Wagner could almost fit into a prog category, so she might like Van Der Graaf Generator's ALT album. It's German for "OLD" and has a track called Colossus. Like Blair, Clinton and Thatcher, she's head and shoulders above everyone else in politics. She speaks perfect English but has interview questions translated for her into German. I asked her why and she chuckled: "Those extra two seconds give me time to think."

Nick Clegg
Clegg's a fully paid-up member of the human race with a family and regular pursuits, but I can't quite imagine him listening to King Crimson. Their early stuff is pretty eccentric and berserk, but 21st Century Schizoid Man from the album In the Court of the Crimson King sums up his situation perfectly. For the next election he's got to be loyal to the coalition agreement while distancing himself from the Conservatives. Maybe all politicians are a bit Schizoid Man now, because compared with the cold war days, solutions to problems such as Syria aren't as clear as they once were.

Margaret Thatcher
I'm not sure Mrs. Thatcher really liked music apart from the odd showtune and Strauss. Peter Hammill can be quite dark, formidable listening, but she might have understood the point of his 2012 album Consequences
because everything she did had consequences. The Falklands war gave her a huge majority, which empowered her to make big changes to British society, which led to the poll tax, which cost her job. I was interviewing her once when a Sky reporter was pinned in the room, so he crawled out behind Thatcher but below the camera. She said, "What I fear about the world economy is … do get up you stupid boy!"

Gavin Esler presents the second annual Progressive Rock Awards at Kew Gardens on 3 September. His new book, Lessons From The Top, is published by Profile.

No comments:

Post a Comment