Elvis Costello has defended his decision to perform a song celebrating the death of Baroness Thatcher by arguing that the “same bunch of slimes” are governing Britain once again.
Since Margaret Thatcher’s death in April, the singer has revived Tramp The Dirt Down, a vitriolic attack, first released in 1989, in which he anticipated the then Prime Minister’s death so that he can stamp on her grave.
Costello, 58, performed the controversial song at last month’s Glastonbury Festival, where it was broadcast as part of the BBC’s online coverage.
Thatcher supporters said Costello’s decision to revive the song, which he regularly aired during his recent Spectacular Spinning Songbook UK tour, was insensitive and in poor taste.
But Costello, who this week unveiled a hip-hop inspired album which revives his politically-charged songwriting, said his anger over the ideals Thatcher represented had not abated and he will continue to sing the song.
“The Thatcherite revolution is looked at historically as a great cleansing moment but it was not. A lot of things that belonged to us all communally were sold out from under us,” he told The Independent.
“They weren’t sold to private interests in England that enriched the country, they were sold to people in other countries. And it’s still the same bunch of slimes sitting there running it all.”
Costello, who now lives in Vancouver with his Canadian jazz singer wife Diana Krall and their children, continued: “I felt I wanted to revisit the song regardless of the offence it gives to people who deify her. We sing the song from our point of view and other people have another view. Nobody shot anybody because of it. I don’t feel vindicated. I didn’t personally kill her.”
Costello added that he took no pleasure from Thatcher’s struggle with dementia before her death, aged 87. His own father, musician Ross MacManus, suffered from the illness before his death in 2011. “ I genuinely don’t wish that on my worst enemy and that’s what I said every night when I introduced the song.”
He has revisited two of his most famous anti-Thatcher protest songs, Shipbuilding and Pills And Soap, on his new album, a collaboration with US hip-hop/funk group The Roots, called Wise Up Ghost.
Costello has written a South American response to Shipbuilding, his poignant ballad about the Falklands War, which reflected on the killing of young British solidiers as an unintended consequence of renewed work for struggling shipyards.
“I’ve written a similar human story from the other side of a conflict,” Costello said of the song Cinco Minutos Con Vos. “I wanted to write a story about a girl waiting for her father to arrive home in Montevideo. But he’s snatched off the street, put on a plane and pushed out of it in mid-air, down into the River Plate. People are being taken away to places in our name and we don’t know if they are guilty or innocent.”
Pills And Soap, a 1983 general election song describing the social impact of Thatcher’s policies, has been given a hip-hop undercarriage on the new track, Stick Out Your Tongue. “Some of the things I sung about have come true or they have a more disturbing significance now,” Costello said.
“Actions are being taken in our name. We used to be the people who did the things the good guys do, we’re the bad guys now. In Iraq and Afghanistan it’s disturbing to see the same mistakes being made as the (1989) US invasion of Panama.”
Social commentary has played a major role in the Liverpudlian artist’s songwriting since Oliver’s Army, his breakthrough hit, backed by the Attractions in 1979. “I still sing the songs that matter to me over 35 years,” said Costello, whose musical explorations have encompassed classical, jazz, country and bluegrass before his first foray into hip-hop. “There has to be a real reason to play everything, old and new.”
Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, leader of Grammy-winning band The Roots, described the album, which marks Costello’s return to politically-charged songwriting as “a moody, brooding affair with cathartic rhythms and dissonant lullabies.”
Elvis Costello's lyrics - then and now
Tramp The Dirt Down (Spike album, 1989)
When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam….
Because there’s one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savour
That's when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down
From Wise Up Ghost – Elvis Costello & The Roots:
Refuse To Be Saved
The Liberation Forces make movies of their own
Playing their Doors records and pretending to be stoned
Drowning out a broadcast that wasn't authorised
Incidentally the revolution will be televised
Cinco Minutos Con Vos
Now the sirens wail
There is a fever in the winding sheets
And the bullets hail
And they pull you right off the streets
Our chances are slim but the searchlights will dim in five minutes for you