What is Music for Broken Britain?
Music for Broken Britain is music that resonates with how I feel about my country of birth right now. For me it is part of a grieving process. It is also an expression of feelings, a raising of awareness and a channel for wisdom. Some of this music might make hard listening, but I think it brings relief and hope too. It lets us know that we’re not alone.
Ben Drew (Plan B) described his music to Mistajam via The Guardian’s article Why Plan B’s Ill Manors is the greatest British protest song in years, as needing a ‘visceral energy’ and designed ‘to shock us into being aware of our actions’. Another way to sum up Music for Broken Britain too…
Time for Plan B
My intention was three artists, three songs, one post. Yet when I came to write about Plan B, there was so much to work with. His background was not a privileged one, seemingly having been on a downward spiral as a teenager, passed from one school to another and getting himself caught up in a gang for a while. He’s escaped from some of the greatest depths that this country has sunk to. Maybe music got him out, this art form that he describes as perhaps being the most powerful activity for breaking down social barriers (as in Time for a New Plan B: Puppets, Politics and Parenthood in The Guardian).
So, here I will mention three songs, as well as a video on puppets (yes, puppets…).
Playing with Fire featuring Labrinth
A ‘fiery’ mix of rap, rock and soul. The lyrics of Playing with Fire ft. Labrinth, from the album named Ill Manors, feature a boy living on a housing estate. He gets caught up in a gang, feeling big for a while in his world. The song highlights the satisfaction that might be felt before it all turns sour, with lines like “He’s just a kid, but he feels like a man today. Joined a gang today.’. Then emphasises the danger through the fire metaphor. Finally, we hear “He’s just another poster boy for David Cameron’s Broken Britain.”.
Whereas Playing with Fire is rich with its fusion of sounds, the title track Ill Manors is rich with its words. It’s hard to know where to start. There are multiple layers and messages, with reference to the effect of the Olympics on London’s poor, hugging a hoody and other political points. It is also peppered with references to other songs as in ‘another brick in the wall’. A dominant theme is the British class system and the notion that social isolation, stereotypes and behaviours are perpetuated initially via the media and other powers, but also sometimes by those who are socially isolated. Plan B communicates this resigned and self-destructive attitude in “Feed the fear, that’s what we’ve learnt. Fuel the Fire. Let it burn.”.
Plan B does not condone that those people feeling trapped in ‘concrete jungles’ fuel the fires. In fact, he suggests that they are playing into the hands of those that ridicule them. So here again, we find observations on Broken Britain and some wise messages.
In the Name of Man
Playing with Fire and Ill Manors were both released years before the EU referendum, but relevant to a lot that it stirred up. In the Name of Man was released afterwards and is especially relevant to Broken Britain’s current insularity and heartlessness. In Plan B’s interview with MistaJam on BBC Radio 1 he talks about the relevance of the issues covered; these being war and the plight of ‘illegal’ immigrants. Again in his Puppets, Politics and Parenthood interview, he discusses his issue with ‘leave’ voters who made their decision on the basis of immigration, and who ignore the suffering of these desperate people who attempt to cross dangerous seas. “Your heart will always tell you what’s right, and your head will start making excuses.” is one of his reflections here.
It is the video of In the Name of Man that is really special. As MistaJam says, Drew has conveyed a point in a piece of art. Faceless puppets made from recycled leather are manipulated to make subtle but highly expressive movements. They demonstrate how conflict is born, along with the horror and sorrow of war. The puppeteers are usually visible too, but when you get a glimpse of their faces this adds to the depth of feeling.
Also on BBC Radio 1, Plan B explains how when he raps he has a certain style, there’s lots of detail and he uses the medium to express his angst. In this work of art there is no rap. As Drew explains in In the Name of Man [The Making of], he has recently discovered “how powerful movement can be and how much emotion you can get just from seeing movement.”. He’s right – and the narrative is all to real.
Look out for next Friday’s post… It will be on an upbeat (at least upbeat sounding) tune about ‘porkie pies’, which the BBC had an aversion to playing… Even though covering the theme of our broken country, it might make you laugh.
In the meantime, do comment with your favourite Music for Broken Britain. Or just let me know what you think of Plan B…