The poems of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves vividly depicted the horrors of World War One.
Now the actor Bill Nighy and Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs have collaborated to create a 21st century “war poem” which aims to deliver a similarly poignant reflection on modern-day conflicts.
Inspired by the First World War centenary, Wilson, the Kaiser Chiefs singer and coach on BBC talent show The Voice, penned The Occupation, an allusive poem which references the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Upon reading the poem, which describes “the occupation of Damnation Eternal”, that “came at costs that would beggar belief” and includes Orwellian descriptions of factories pumping out weapons “into purpose built lead-lined white vans”, Nighy asked to record a narration of the verses.
The Occupation will feature as a stand-alone poetry track on the new Kaiser Chiefs album, Education, Education, Education & War – its title a reference to Tony Blair’s famous 1997 election pledge – released this month.
The poem is backed by an ambient soundtrack of battlefield noises, calls to prayer and a parliamentary hubbub. Nighy adopts a Blair-type politician’s verse for one verse.
The Occupation speaks of infidels dropping to their knees, pipelines which will “run the place dry” and “a plan to abandon the planet. One V.I.P at a time.”
Nighy, a Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan fan, said: “I was intrigued by the concept and I admired the poem. And I dig those crazy rhythms.”
The band, famed for their hit I Predict A Riot, admit that inserting a two-minute slice of war poetry into a rock album is a risk.
Wilson told The Independent: “When I was writing the lyrics for the record, the whole World War One centenary thing was flying around. So if you’re writing honestly, it’s going to leak in there.
“I wrote the poem as an exercise originally. The original story was an imaginary assault by a superpower – not necessarily the USA, trying to take over Hell. They are invading Hell, wiping out Hell. Then going ‘now what do we do, where do we go next?’”
The band’s artwork director Cally Callomon first showed the poem to Nighy. Wilson said: “I don’t think any of us could have recorded it. Bill’s voice is perfect, it has a lysergic quality.
“We got him to read it in lots of different ways – bored, excited, angry, smarmy. He switched round a couple of the lines. Cally edited it together as a mood poem.”
Wilson said the poem could be about “World War One, or Afghanistan or space travel. When you study poetry at school, you’re told what it’s about by your revision aid and you go ‘that’s not what I got out of it at all’. I want people to get out of it what they get out of it.”
Bassist Simon Rix added: “We wondered if we were allowed to do this on an album. We don’t know if people are going to turn off. But it’s powerful and it makes the album more than just a collection of songs.” Wilson said: “We’re in a rock band, we’re allowed to break the rules.”
The band hope to introduce a dose of politics back to the charts. They refused to share a Green Room with Ukip leader Nigel Farage, when they appeared on the BBC1 Andrew Marr show last Sunday.
Wilson said: “We weren’t going to drop a sheep on him. It’s not worth it. All we wanted to do was not to meet him and not to look him in the eye. But we don’t want to be politicians, we want to be rock stars.”
Rix said: “It’s good for us to make a statement. I wore a Rock Against Racism T-shirt after the Marr show and tweeted it. I don’t know if Farage is a racist, that’s for others to decide. We’re not just talking about drunken nights out in Leeds any more. We’re more worldly.”
The album’s lyrics mock the new Labour era, decrying leaders who “toast themselves with the blood of us all, Smashing regimes between courses, chanting ‘education, education, education & war.’”
Wilson said: “We’re talking about the same kind of things Russell Brand raised in that Paxman interview. It’s more about the futility of it all. We’re entitled to a feeling of unease with power.
“It might seem political but its more social observation really, what’s around us. That’s what bands that don’t write love songs do. We’ve shied away from it since our first two albums.”
The occupation of Damnation Eternal
Decreed by Commander in Chief
Won by the infantry, led by the Colonel
Came at costs that would beggar belief
As they marched upon the inferno
And the inﬁdels dropped to their knees
Millions of civilians crammed in pavilions
Came to watch it on big screen TVs
The population of Damnation Eternal
Went from millions to thousands to one
The survivor then wrote in his journal
"Why on Earth did it take them so long?"
Within weeks we constructed a pipeline
Within years we'll have run the place dry
It'll just about last us our lifetime
So it's hip hip hoorays and high ﬁves
On the factory ﬂoor there's a whisper
We built cannons before it began
But the engines still pumping its piston
And the turbine still whirring its fan
The assembly line spits out the surplus
Into purpose built lead lined white vans
Rockets stockpile as ministry workers
Fill their pockets with all that they can
Secret meetings are held in the senate
What to do with this excess supply
There's a plan to abandon the planet
One V.I.P at a time
So we get up each day and have breakfast
Read the news and the weather forecast
As we sit and we open our letters
And we pray that it won't be our last.
Words by Ricky Wilson, narration by Bill Nighy, production by Cally, published by Imagem Music PublishingReuse content