ICH BIN EIN EUROPEAN: Bill Drummond Stands With A Romanian Gypsy Band
, June 30th, 2016 10:12
A week after Britain voted to leave the EU and the national mood darkened with racism, Bill Drummond has sent us this communiqué and short film of an action undertaken in Birmingham with a Romanian gypsy band. Text by Bill Drummond, photography by Tracey Moberly
YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW
Yesterday, I cast my vote and then got the train up to Birmingham. I was to be working with some music students at that conservatoire.
Between London and Birmingham the land was green and pleasant.
From New Street station I walked up into Birmingham's city centre. I have a love hate relationship with this city. Today I am hating it. Then I see something that I cannot stop myself from getting involved with. Two security officers are stopping a band of Romanian Gypsy buskers doing what they do. The musicians could not look swarthier and their instruments more battered and bruised. The security officer could not look more uniformed and efficient.
I asked one of the officers what was going on. He smiled and explained: the City Council had brought in a new ruling that only solo buskers were allowed to perform in Birmingham and each busker could not perform any closer than 300 metres from the next busker. He told me that these buskers were welcome to perform as long as they were more than 300 metres apart. I did not ask him if he had a tape measure. Meanwhile, his fellow security officer was checking the Romanian Gypsy's ID cards.
I found the one musician who could speak some English and asked him what was going on. He smiled and explained that it was because they were Gypsies. He then added that they always got asked to move on by the 'police' even though the people love their music.
I asked the security officer where the perimeter of the 'one busker at a time' zone was. He did not know. I commented that this was a bit odd. He then phoned up those that knew. And then he told me that the buskers could perform as an ensemble at the Five Ways Roundabout at the far end of Broad Street. This was about a mile from where we were standing in the centre of the city.
It is now that I have to add that my intervention here was not being done purely or even vaguely for the rights of man or even the gaiety of nations. I was doing this because I have an Alan Lomax fantasy of recording street musicians in each city I am working in between now and the end of my world tour in 2025.
I convinced the security guards that I would lead this band of gypsies to the Five Ways Roundabout. I then did a deal with the musicians - £10 per man. And then we headed en masse up Broad Street. There was an underpass underneath the roundabout. The echo was good. The musicians set up and started to play. And it was good. Very good. And there were passers by who put coins in their hat. And I felt good. But the recording was rubbish. I am not Alan Lomax. But I paid them their money.
The last thing I did was exchange names and mobile numbers with the one Romanian Gypsy who could speak some English. His name was Romica.
Today I woke early to find my country had chosen to leave Europe. My love or hate for Birmingham was as nothing compared to the anger I felt for everything and anything. Then the anger swung into the depths of heartbreak, and after wallowing there for some time soared back into anger. I wanted to smash windows, rip up paving slabs, kick in doors. And I wanted to cry and cry and cry. But I knew the time for protesting was over. The time for me getting a can of my Drummond's International Grey and daubing a UKIP poster was more pointless now than it had ever been.
And running away was not an option.
Then I remembered… Andy Ingamells, the lecturer who had invited me to work with the students at the Birmingham Conservatoire, had told me how he was planning to record a group of England football supporters singing 'Ode To Joy'. And if you had forgotten already 'Ode To Joy' is not only the anthem for the European Union and the closing triumphal section of Beethoven's Ninth, it is, and far more importantly for me, part of the soundtrack to the film A Clockwork Orange.
I went straight on You Tube to re-watch Alex and his Droogs get up to some ultraviolence accompanied by Wendy Carlos's electronic version of 'Ode To Joy'. Back in 1971 this was my introduction to not only Beethoven's Ninth and the possibilities of electronic music, it was my introduction of the beauty of brutalist architecture in the form of the underpass.
By general consensus, Romanian Gypsies have to be the lowest order of Europeans. All European pecking orders end with Romanian Gypsies at the bottom. We can all make a list of what there is to not like about them, be it the way their men folk make their women folk stand at traffic lights attempting to wash your windscreens, or sell the Big Issue on our high streets, when they are not even proper homeless. The way they do not send their children to school. And if they did, you would rather they didn't. And then there is the way they look. The way they… Even the Irish Travelers despise them.
But all of this seems to be fueling something in me. This might be a new dawn for Farage et al. But it is also a new dawn for me. For all of us. The politics of protest was never going to change anything. The Labour party a lost cause of their own making. We will get the Prime Minister we deserve. But that sun is rising and I want to be there to greet it.
Today I am going to reclaim my European-ness. Today I am going to make a new start. And like all new starts in this day and age, it begins with picking up the mobile phone and…
And I text Romica the leader of the band. And then I text Andy Ingamells about recording them. And then I text my colleague Tracey Moberly about filming them.
Tomorrow – well not actually tomorrow, as tomorrow is Saturday and I have some family responsibilities to attend to. As I do on Sunday. But on Monday, I will get back on that train to Birmingham with Tracey. I will hurtle through our green and pleasant land – the elderflowers in full blossom.
Once in Birmingham, I will meet up with The Band Of Romanian Gypsies and Andy Ingamells and head over to my favourite picnic spot under Spaghetti Junction and record The Band Of Romanian Gypsies performing 'Ode To Joy'.
Then I will get the train back down to my north London bubble, with our Lithuanian cleaners, Turkish barbers, and Iranian Uber drivers and where exactly is Montenegro? And yes our coffee shops – plenty of coffee shops.
That night, as in Monday night, I hope to have a film of this band of Romanian Gypsies performing 'Ode To Joy' under the glorious brutalist architecture of Spaghetti Junction at the very epicentre of England, up on the internet. I am not too sure what it is that I am attempting to proclaim by doing this. But for me it will mark the beginning of something. It will be my personal rallying cry for something bigger and better in the full knowledge that in all probability in two years from now there will be no chance of recording a Band Of Romanian Gypsies underneath Spaghetti Junction. Or anywhere else on this island.