Over on my other blog I did a post about going to see the hybrid reunion-tribute band From The Jam.
In digging around to find old gig tickets from the 80s with which to illustrate it, I found this old listings flyer from 1985.
I love the way bands are expensive in proportion to how long they've been going, and almost in inverse proportion to how good they are.
The cheapest gig on the list and the only one I went to was REM (with the possible exception of The Alarm, saw them a couple of times, can't remember if that Royal Court gig was one). REM's listed support act, as with a ton of gigs at the Royal Court around that time, was the Faith Brothers.
As Sly and Robbie told Michael Franti, reggae isn't a nationality, its a rhythm and it belongs to everyone. In the same way, soul is what you play and what you are, not where you're from.
The Faith Brothers were, like Immaculate Fools, a band who got a mid-80s Big Push from their record company (Virgin, using their Siren imprint) with a double-pack single, Country of The Blind.
They packed a political punch in bright bouncy soul and, despite the universality of musical styles, there was nonetheless something a little arch and polished, just a smidgen of The Commitments in them.
Still, coming out in the year of the miners strike as Thatcher's talons dug into the fabric of society, anything that proclaimed compassion with passion was welcome.
Tucked away on that extra single, Easter Parade is a world apart from the mainstay of their brass-augmented soul kick. Clearly written for just one acoustic guitar, it's propelled by Billy Franks' driven sincerity and - quite an achievement for the mid-80s - is given a subtle and haunting production job, doing justice to its subject, the six week long Falklands War of 1982.
It tells the story from the perspective of a soldier and, unusually for lefties of the time, it has sympathy not only with his injuries but also with him being there in the first place.
Dressed to kill one cool spring morning
Got on board the first from Portsmouth
On the crest of a rising wave
Of hate for strangers of our own kind
But the headlines, cheering crowds and flags
I must admit stirred something in me
That faded as we pulled away
And turned out to be only fear disguised
The bulldogs bayed
The pious prayed
I think it rained
On the Easter Parade
Down south the old and desperate men
Sacrifice the young and ready
On the altar of their crumbling gods
Mourning for a long-lost glory
For nineteen years you chart my life
With your morals and your incentives
In six weeks pull it all apart
For horror's real and you are far away
My mind ingrained
I came home maimed
So was kept away
From the Easter Parade
Hooked on a kind of freedom
I still need to hurt somebody
Too estranged to talk about it
Or get close to anyone
The mother of the nation cries 'Rejoice!'
And I can hardly shuffle
Struck down by what the mean can do
For political ambition
And now the truth begins to surface
Like a spectre from dark water
Rising up to bring them down
I can't take heart, only wonder why
Is our conscience lame
Is a fall to shame
All to be gained
From the Easter Parade
= = =
'The headlines, cheering crowds and flags I must admit stirred something in me'
As the ships sailed from Portsmouth for the Falklands there were vast crowds of union jack waving crowds. In these times of the ongoing unpopular wars of occupation, it's hard for people to realise how much we were still in thrall to jingoistic flag-waving bullshit back then. These days, saved for occasions like the football, it's lost much of its arrogant imperialist overtones.
It's surprising how the atmosphere has changed in a relatively short time. 1982 was only five years since the queen's silver jubilee, an occasion marked by public holidays and everything. I know of people who grew up in fervent Welsh nationalist households who still had a street party with red whit and blue bunting.
Yet look how underwhelming the celebrations for the golden jubilee were in 2002. Anyone over the age of five in 1977 remembers the silver jubilee, yet none of us can remember anything about the golden jubilee without looking it up.
As Thatcher talked to the press when the Argentinian forces had surrendered, you can hear the crowd in the background singing Rule Brittania.
That refrain 'rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves, Britons never never never shall be slaves' has a much more sinister meaning than first appears. Written in 1740 as the slave trade was peaking, with Britain the foremost slave-trading nation, it is not a song about our liberation. It is a song that declares our superiority over all others and that we shall never suffer the kind of slavery that we inflict.
'The mother of the nation cries 'rejoice!' and I can hardly shuffle'
On 26 April 1982 Thatcher stood outside 10 Downing Street as the Defence Secretary announced the recapture of South Georgia. Afterwards, she refused to answer questions, telling the press to just 'rejoice at that news'.
'I came home maimed so was kept away from the Easter Parade'
The jaw-dropping cynicism of Thatcher's victory parade still angers me today. It was to be an overtly jingoistic celebration. Troops who had fought were to march along with their bayonets fixed and buttons gleaming. Except the ones who'd come home with unsightly injuries. They - the ones who'd given the most for the cause - weren't invited in case they spoilt the jubilation with the horror of truth. After a media furore, some were belatedly asked along.
There are still resonances now. Even though we no longer have so much patriotic poppycock about our wars, we are manipulated. The American government makes sure their electorate don't get too riled by what happens to their troops. Just as Thatcher barred maimed Falklands veterans, there are no pictures allowed of American coffins and bodybags coming home from Iraq. Around a third of American troops in Iraq aren't American at all, they're foreigners who will get fast-tracked for American citizenship if they come back alive, thus reducing the pressure on American public opinion.
Timed for the autumn before a general election, the Falklands victory parade pushed Thatcher's popularity higher. It was calculated to do so - she took the salute of the troops, a job normally reserved for royalty.
The Labour party had just split (four senior members setting up the Social Democratic Party, which eventually merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats), and with it the Labour vote was divided. Thus a prime minister who came to power on a ticket of law and order and lowering unemployment yet presided over the worst rioting in living memory and a trebling of the number of jobless managed to get re-elected with the biggest landslide in 40 years.
Labour's bold manifesto - unilateral nuclear disarmament, nationalise the banks, abolish the House of Lords - and the fact that, in Michael Foot, they had the most untelegenic leader imaginable was blamed for their defeat, rather than the war and the fucking SDP.
A dashing charismatic young Labour candidate who entered parliament on that manifesto would sweep to power in 1997 on a pro-Trident pro-privatisation ticket. His successor entered parliament at that same election, and whilst he's done a little nationalising of banks under duress, he's still yet to make good on the promised House of Lords reform.
The musical lift into the bridge of the song ('hooked on a kind of freedom...') still catches the pit of my stomach every time like a rollercoaster, which is fitting for the words that allude to the personal disconnection, to what was then only just starting to have a name as post-traumatic stress disorder.
'And now the truth begins to surface like a spectre from dark water'
On 2nd May 1982 the Argentine ship Belgrano was sunk, killing over 300 men, around a third of the total killed in the war. The ship was outside the 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falklands and was sailing away at the time. In July 1984 a senior civil servant leaked documents proving the government knew this, and the ship had been spotted a day earlier than claimed.
The civil servant, Clive Ponting, was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. His defence was that it was in the public interest to know the truth. The judged begged to differ, telling the jury 'the public interest is what the government of the day says it is'. Despite this the jury - being the public rather than the establishment - acquitted him. It was in this atmosphere that Faith Brothers frontman Billy Franks wrote Easter Parade.
Sadly, it was not the start of a flood of leaks on government lies, and Thatcher responded with a new Official Secrets Act that doesn't have a 'public interest' defence.
Truths still come out occasionally, though. In 2003 the government finally admitted that nuclear weapons had been on warships in the Falklands.
Clive Ponting resigned from the civil service and became an academic and a history author, writing a number of books including a critical biography of Winston Churchill and the classic Green History of The World, recently revised and expanded as A New Green History of the World. Check out this excerpt, The Lessons of Easter Island.
Billy Franks has continued songwriting, seemingly as committed and passionate as ever.
download Easter Parade (5MB MP3)