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Steve Mason
Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time Ash O'Keeffe , March 20th, 2013 10:06

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In the depths of television history lurks Citizen Smith, a hopeless if impassioned revolutionary in Thatcher’s Britain. He dreamed of Utopia and “power to the people” but, sadly, he turned out to be nothing more than a petty criminal with delusions of socialist grandeur.

This is how popular culture has treated idealistic lefties ever since: with a jab in the ribs and a pinch of salt. From old ‘Wolfie’ Smith to The Young Ones to, er, Spider from Coronation Street, socialists and social equality have never quite been taken seriously by The Man or his minions.

Of course, wider events in recent history have certainly forced us to reconsider our fluffy notions of people power. And here – fuelled by the fervour of the Arab Spring abroad, our home-grown nation of disenfranchised youth and 2011's summer of rioting – former Beta Band supremo Steve Mason takes his own stand with a politically-charged offering that pulls no punches.

Those who have followed Mason’s career so far won’t be surprised by his manifesto. In countless onstage declamations and enraged tweets, he's outlined an internationalist, socialist, anti-war, anti-corporate, generally anti-establishment and passionately anti-monarchist world view. Really, it’s a wonder he didn’t make Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time sooner. True, his single ‘C I Am 15’ under his King Biscuit Time alias and ‘Life’ by the Betas gave expression to anti-Bush/Blair and anti-Iraq War sentiments, but until now Mason's lyrics have tended to be more metaphorical than militant.

If Mason’s last album Boys Outside was a window on his struggles with mental ill-health, Monkey Minds… moves from micro to macro as he harnesses his strong sense of social justice, while continuing to hone the crisp electronics that so perfectly soundtrack his ghostly, exhortatory vocals. Adding to the continuity with Boys Outside is the air of wistfulness that defines both ‘A Lot Of Love’ and the gospel-powered, Spiritualized-esque ‘Lonely’. But as opening track 'The Old Problem' bleeds into 'Lie Awake', it's clear that this album's spirit will be one of unease rather than melancholy, as Mason croons: “At 15 years old I had to know/ What makes you fail and what makes you grow.”

‘The Last Of Heroes’ taps Mason’s love of dub, as bass and beats soundtrack the Brazilian-Portuguese commentary of a Formula 1 race between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. It seems an odd allusion, until you remember that the privileged Senna, before his fatal crash, had intended to start a charitable organisation – and that, when it was established, posthumously, it would generate millions for social programmes.

In ‘More Money, More Fire’, guest rapper MC Mystro delivers a brutal indictment of the police treatment of Mark Duggan that flared a summer of discontent up and down the country, a conflagration not seen since the race riots of the 1980s. It’s later complemented by Mason’s trademark coarse whisper on ‘Fire!’, where he declares: “Where do we go from here/ It’s clear, FIRE!”

Does Mason want a revolution? No doubt. With the increasingly parasitic financial system, welfare cuts, and the general sense of impending doom that has loomed over all our heads for the past few years, his album is a timely demand for action. His vision is made explicit during ‘Fight Them Back’, in which he commands: “Get up and fight them back/ A fist, a boot and a baseball bat.” Insurrectionary spirit is certainly fired in the listener at the tail end of the track, when a soundbite from Tony Blair filters through: “The thing about Libya is that potentially it’s a goldmine of a country.”

It’s clear to Mason that the friendly, sanitised version of socialist rhetoric that we’ve been spoon-fed no longer has a place in civilised society. Monkey Minds… is both a figurative and literal call to arms. Whether such abrasive action is actually the answer of course remains debatable, but one thing's clear: here and now, power to the people is no joke.

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Mar 20, 2013 5:11pm

“Get up and fight them back/ A fist, a boot and a baseball bat.”

Is this mere poetic licence? Here's what Steve said in an earlier interview withe the Quitus, spot the difference:

But how far would you personally be willing to go in terms of this civil unrest?

SM: I personally came to a conclusion probably about six or seven months ago that protesting and rioting are both a waste of time, because you are confronting them on their terms. And all it provides is television footage for the evening, for the media to be able to deliver the government's line on what is happening. So with that in mind, I'm totally opposed. Not only can the press swing those images any way they want but the press actively have instigators within the protest causing problems and kicking things off and what have you. And with the whole kettling thing that the police have begun, this Orwellian tactic, it's very disturbing. The image of a typical protestor - a young man, possibly a disaffected student who would smash up McDonalds in a heartbeat - is bollocks and it will [bear even less resemblance to reality] as [the coalition] increasingly attack the middle class. I was on the protest against the war in Iraq and there were families on that protest, and middle England were on that protest. So, yeah, I've come to a decision that protesting is in fact playing into their hands.

So, what’s your alternative?

SM: I think, I’ve achieved far more with a five minute conversation that with an hour of violence. We all have very similar problems whether you are on the dole, or [a] working middle class person who's about to have their tax break taken away. Everyone has similar basic problems. Conversations need to take place between people that wouldn’t normally take place.

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