A Cure For Nationalism- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: A Cure For Nationalism
Date: 27 February, 2000
Journal: Sunday Herald (Scotland)
Author: Bill Drummond
Type of resource: Articles
Status: text
No. views: 2103
Description: Drummond's long piece on the Scottish psyche, going to the World Cup in Paris, fatherhood, and football records. Seems to be identical to the version published in '45'.

A Cure For Nationalism

By Bill Drummond (27 February, 2000, Sunday Herald (Scotland))

I DON'T hate the Germans. I don't hate the French, I don't hate the Argentinians. I don't hate the Irish or the Australians. I don't even hate the Americans and I certainly don't hate the Brazilians. All my hatred is stored and nurtured and kept in readiness for one people alone.

A couple of years ago Dave Balfe and I were having an alcohol- fuelled debate: why are men willing to go to war?

"I mean, is there any country you'd be willing to go to war against, Bill?"

"England," came the instant reply. A flippant answer maybe, but it was connected to something far deeper, some immovable, illogical, unknowable lump at the heart of my being. I have lived in England all my adult life. My mother is English. The mothers of my children are English. Most of my friends are English. So is my tough talk just the phony patriotism of the expat? This feeling is not toward any one English person in particular, or even a whole load of English, but that indefinable thing that the word England has come to symbolise for me.

If blame is to be laid, it should be at the feet of a handful of aged and godly spinsters and widows who taught me through my primary education. From them, I learnt one history: William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, the glory of Bannockburn, the tragedy of Flodden, the Union of the Crowns, John Knox, the Covenanters, 1707, the foolishness of the '45, the cruelty of the clearances and the Scottish renaissance of the nineteenth century that provided the world with all the great inventions for the twentieth century. In music lessons we learnt to weep as we sang The Flowers of the Forest and feel pride while singing Scotland The Brave. We learnt that the world recognised Robert Burns as the greatest poet ever, and the poet that resonated the longest and deepest with us was Scots Wha Hae.

We wee lads didn't stand a chance. In this one poem, Robert the Bruce's imaginary address to his troops on the eve of Bannockburn, Burns ensured that for ever more young lads coming through a Scottish education would know who the enemy was.

The very word England has somehow come, subconsciously or not, to symbolise everything from the playground bully to the overbearing wife, from the lack of career opportunities to oppressive political and religious power from above, as opposed to the power of the common people. The date 1314 rings down the centuries as a symbol of the eternal hope of rising above the forces of oppression, of self- determination and yes, of that ridiculous word, freedom. But a word to "let us do or die" for all the same.

I'm focusing on these thoughts as I'm sitting on the shuttle, heading for Paris. I'm with my son James. Tonight Scotland face Brazil in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup. James and I are on our way. It's his birthday present from me. I didn't even bother trying to get tickets. I've no interest in sitting in a giant, antiseptic stadium stuffed with 40,000 journalists, 30,000 Frenchmen and only 10,000 with any real interest in the game either way. On my reckoning, the best place to watch the match is in some Parisian bar crammed with fellow ticketless Scots screaming at a TV in the corner.

James and I head down to the shuttle's bar for refreshments. On the way back we bump into Tony Crean and Andy McDonald. Andy McDonald created the label Go!Discs. He sold it a couple of years ago and has now got a set-up called Independiente. Tony Crean works with him on the marketing side of things. Although Andy MacDonald has an English accent, there is no doubt about his roots or why he is on the train.

But Tony Crean is an Evertonian scouser of Irish extraction. He is wearing a long-sleeved yellow T-shirt with four numbers in red emblazoned across it: 1314, the only date in history that counts. I introduce James; they seem to be impressed and flattered that the bought the first Travis single (the first record released on the Independiente label).

Conversation drifts towards the current rash of World Cup records. This is done in all innocence as far as Tony Crean is concerned, but I am desperately trying to ignore that such things exist. Not because of a mere dislike of the genre - the reason is far more complex and petty than that.

Late last year I was contacted by a character named Rick Blasky, a man who puts promotional music projects together for big business. He had also overseen the Three Lions project for Euro '96. Three Lions was the greatest football record ever made, a record that actually tapped into the emotional heart of the English game without patronising the fans or the footballers. Rick Blasky is an ambitious man. His current ambition was to co-ordinate the exploitation of all music connected with the World Cup. He wanted to bring together on one album all the music used in TV adverts by the official sponsors, music used as the soundtrack to the slow-mo rerun shots and all the official national team singles. It would be simultaneously released and promoted worldwide and sell millions of copies, thus making a lot of money for all concerned.

Blasky wanted me to write and record the Scottish track. He had already struck a deal with the Scottish Football Association. I told him I needed a couple of days to think about it. I had vowed to myself never ever again to attempt the hit-making process, but here I was being offered the chance to write and record the official song for Scotland. A chance to tap into all the things that I've already described, but in the context of modern culture. Something that all Scots could feel proud of. Something that wasn't like those embarrassing official Scotland football records. Something that could be as good as sodding Three Lions.

I had the whole thing worked out in my head - the tune, the words, the video storyboard, even the Top of the Pops performance choreographed. All my experience in pop music had a reason after all. Everything I had gone through was leading to this point, to write this song, to make this record.

The opening shot of the video clip would be a blue sky, diagonally crossed by the white vapour-trails of long-gone jets. The only sound that of the curlew and skylark. The camera angle would lower to reveal the grandeur of a wide and lonely glen, maybe a stag, maybe some Highland cattle. The only building in the vast emptiness a one- room, 19th century Clachan-style school. We begin to hear the strains of a melody played on an old upright piano. The tune is in three/ four time, not dissimilar to Flower of Scotland. We hear the opening line of the song, sung by children's voices - "From Stranraer to Lerwick/From Stornoway to Dunbar" - before the film footage cuts to inside the classroom. A middle-aged teacher behind the piano, 23 children of mixed age up to about 12 years old. At the front stands a small lad with a side drum and a lass with a full-sized set of bagpipes. The lad brings in the second couplet with a roll on his side drum: "From Oban to Wishaw/From Elgin to Dalkieth." By now the lass with the pipes has joined in and so has a small, ragged but proud platoon of the famous Tartan Army, marching through a small Scots town on their way to the green fields of France.

In comes the first sustained power chord, from a lone guitarist standing atop one of Glasgow's tallest high-rise blocks. The whole of the industrial heartland of the central lowlands is stretched out below him. "From Govan to Pollock/From Bearsden to Largs" ... With each line the sound is growing, getting bigger as more and more people are joining in. Mothers standing at an inner-city school gate, men in a shipyard (if there is one still working), a street full of shoppers all singing as one, like an advert for a building society. "From Ardrossan to Airdrie/From Carnoustie to Banff." So here we go and it's into the first chorus:

So come on Scotland We can hold our heads high So come on Scotland It's time to do or die As well as the chorus featuring footage of packed singing and swaying bars in Govan and Leith there will be slow motion clips: Sean Connery in Highlander, Mel Gibson in Braveheart and Ewan McGregor running down the streets in Trainspotting. We are talking about milking everything but the White Heather Club. By the end of the first chorus, every ounce of national pride will have been harnessed. Every Scot around the world will be greetin', either with emotion or at the cynical crassness of it all. And then. And then. A 16 bar instrumental refrain featuring at least a hundred guitarists, each playing the same melody in unison! Every Scottish guitarist that ever made it into the UK Top 40 would be invited, from the lads out of the Bay City Rollers to Primal Scream; from Nazareth, Big Country, Orange Juice, The Alex Harvey Band, Josef K to The Humblebums.

The second verse. Time to feature all those embarrassing singers that Scotland has produced, from Kenneth McKellar to Marti Pellow, from Lulu to Moira Anderson, from Frankie Miller to Craig and Charlie Reid. Each taking a line, the verse would list people:

For William Wallace And Robert the Bruce For Archie Gemmell And Denis Law For Billy Bremner And Big Jim Baxter For Jock Stein And ...

For the video clip each of the singers would be filmed seperately while doing their shopping, making a cup of tea, walking the dog, sitting in a bar. Kicking a ball with their son. Cut into this would be black-and-white footage of the 4-3 defeat of the English '66 World Cup Squad and other epic matches over the decades.

Second chorus bigger than the first. Then the whole track breaks down to a lone piper on the other side of the glen playing the melody. But he is joined by the full pipe band, marching around the headland like in Mull of Kintyre, then it's back to building the sound with all the guitarists again. This would grow over 32 bars, by which time there would be 1812 Overture-style orchestration going on, before the whole lot crashed into a double-length chorus bigger than Ben Nevis and Loch Lomond put together, the Tartan Army 10,000 strong marching on Paris, up the Champs-Elysees, under the Arc de Triomphe, saltires flying, kilts a-swirling, drummers drumming and pipers piping and grown men crying with pride. By the end, the Scottish lion would be truly rampant and those three other skinny lions wouldn't stand a chance. We can do it this time. We can get to the second round.

THE next morning the vision wasn't so clear. I started remembering about the reality of the long-drawn out process it would be. The compromises I would have to make along the way. I decided not make any firm decision either way for a fortnight. I made a trip to Edinburgh to visit a couple of friends to talk to them about my ideas. One was Kenny McDonald, who has a music management company. He looks after the affairs of The Proclaimers amongst others. He is a long-term Hibs supporter and a travelling member of the Tartan Army. He also makes records and was already working on his own idea for a Scottish World Cup record. He was aiming for a light and airy samba feel, with a breathy girl singer. I also met up with the actor Tam Dean Burn, who had just started rehearsing for a new Irvine Welsh play. We sat in a bar just off the Royal Mile and sorted Scotland out. On my return I phoned Rick Blasky and told him I would be unable to make the record, but Kenny McDonald had a good song. He said he was going to approach Del Amitri.

A COUPLE of months after that, I heard a programme on Radio Four late one night. They were talking about the up-and-coming football records for the World Cup. They played a snippet from the Echo and the Bunnymen/Spice Girls one, a bit from Three Lions, then a chunk from Vindaloo by Fat Les. The presenter explained that Fat Les was, amongst others, the comedian Keith Allen. My emotions were thrown into confusion.

Back in 1976 when I was designing and building stage sets at the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun, there was this bloke called Keith who I used to get on with. He was loud and opinionated and a laugh. We would drink mugs of tea together. The first day that I met Keith was also the first day I met this other youth - he was only 17, a spotty little Jewish kid, but he had a white Telecaster and everybody said he was a brilliant guitarist. A few months later, this lad joined Big In Japan as our lead guitarist. Much later, he had a band of his own called The Lightning Seeds and wrote a song called Three Lions. He was called Ian Broudie. It was at the same table in the tea shop where I first got talking to Ian Broudie and this Keith bloke that I met Ian McCulloch, who was later in a band called Echo and The Bunnymen. My life became intertwined with Broudie's and McCulloch's, me managing The Bunnymen and Broudie producing some of their better records.

In 1986 I went to the Glastonbury festival with Jimmy Cauty. He had some acid with him, and I took half a tab. The Bunnymen were on stage. Things had got complicated. My mind was a strange place. The Bunnymen had a laser light as part of their show. The acid was telling me that if I jumped high enough I would be able to catch the beams of laser light in the rain and put them in my pocket. Save them for a rainy day. I couldn't jump high enough, so I took refuge in a marquee, lying on my back on a wooden bench. My eyes were tightly closed. Then I started to hear this voice.

"Bill Drummond, I know who you are. Bill Drummond, I know who you are. Bill Drummond, I know who you are." The voice was getting louder and louder. I opened my eyes. Six inches away from them was another pair of eyes, a wild, staring, demonic pair of eyes. I recognised the face but I didn't know where from. I shut my eyes and went back to thinking I was dead. After a while, the voice went away. But over the weks, months, years that followed, the memory of that voice and those mad staring eyes haunted me.

In 1990 New Order made a football record for Italia '90. It was considered to be the first good football record ever made. World In Motion went to Number One and Gazza cried and the English nation fell in love with him and I saw the video for the New Order record. Along with the lads and lass in the band and the friendly face of John Barnes, there was this other face. The face with the eyes and the "Bill Drummond I know who you are" voice. It was that Keith bloke I had met 14 years earlier.

Then some time in late 1995, I got a letter from a theatrical agency telling me that one of their clients was interested in buying the ashes of The K Foundation's million quid. The ashes weren't for sale, but I wanted to know who the interested party was. I made some enquiries and found out that it was Keith Allen.

That night after I heard the three English World Cup football records I fell asleep and had a dream. Ian Broudie, Ian McCulloch, Keith Allen and myself were sitting around that table in the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. "Why didn't you make your record, Bill? You know you were supposed to make it. It was agreed a long tome ago. We made our records, why didn't you make yours?"

Back in the here and now. The shuttle is on the outskirts of Paris. We pull into the Gare du Nord. We say our farewells and James and I set out to walk to our hotel to check in before finding somewhere to watch the match.

Now's the day, and now's the hour.

11 June 1998 Less than 24 hours later, James and I are back on the shuttle. The match is history. We had a great time. We watched the game on a big screen set up in a square by the Hotel de Ville. The square was packed with about 2000 of the Tartan Army. When Collins hit his penalty home it was like Scotland had won the World Cup. But this isn't about football. It's about the celebration of 1000 years of shared history.

I was present at the births of all five of my children; not once did I well up with the mystery and wonder of it all, but just the notion of Scotland is enough to make me weep. This morning I sit silent on the train. I feel totally empty. Not because Scotland lost. Even if they had won I'd feel the same. It's investing all that emotional energy into something that you have no control over. At least Bruce's men were willing to give their lives to defend Scotland's sovereign statehood. What do I or any of the Tartan Army ever actually do for Scotland? For the good of its appalling nutritional standards, its chronic abuse of alcohol, its stagnant economy, its highest rates of cancer in Europe? "Let us do or die" - what a lie. we do nothing but die. Forget fantasy football, this is fantasy nationalism. None of us really gives a sh*t about Scotland, even those that vote SNP. We are all just running away from our pathetic little lives. Running away from our wives, children and meaningless jobs. Wrapping ourselves in a flag, wallowing in 1314 and all that, bonding in our hatred of the common enemy, England. The only real history is what we create in our own lives; the only date is now; the only real enemy is ourselves. The only saving grace of all this tartan-bonnet-with-ginger-nylon-hair-attached nationalism is we all know it's silly. It is a send-up - nationalism as a postmodern jape. Thank God we are not about to do or die like some former Yugoslavian state. We have never had an empire, never wanted one. Thank God we do not suffer from a crippled national psyche that makes us go around kicking Johnny Foriegner and smashing up continental bars and thinking we are doing it because we and our pompous has- been country deserve respect.

Right, I feel cured of the phony nationalism and am ready to get on with the duties of being a modern father and citizen of the world. Well, that's until the next time I hear the pipes calling across the glen


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