Kaiser Chiefs and Bill Nighy write modern day anti-war poem for the World War One centenary


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

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 Publishing

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent