Radiohead's Thom Yorke might not like David Cameron. But if music is art, and art is for all, then the singer is demeaning his own work

Plus: politicians embracing culture, and a wonderful Manet exhibition

David Lister
Friday 25 January 2013 16:42
Thom Yorke of Radiohead during the band's legendary Glastonbury performance in 1997
Thom Yorke of Radiohead during the band's legendary Glastonbury performance in 1997

We don’t know much about the next election campaign, but one thing we now do know. It’s a pretty safe bet that David Cameron won’t be using any music by Radiohead as a backing track to his appearances. Rallies there may be, but he and Samantha won’t come on stage to the sound of The Bends or “Paranoid Android” (pity, that one could have led to some nice headlines).

Thom Yorke, the band’s frontman, has warned the PM in forthright rock-star style that, if he used any of the band’s music during the campaign, “I’d sue the living shit out of him.” In an interview in the current Dazed & Confused, Yorke says: “I can’t say I love the idea of a banker liking our music, or David Cameron. I can’t believe he’d like [Radiohead’s last album] King of Limbs very much. But I also equally think, who cares? As long as he doesn’t use it for his election campaigns, I don’t care. I’d sue the living shit out of him if he did.”

It pains me to say it, as a Radiohead fan through and through, but Yorke is wrong, and not just wrong but demeaning to his own art. His remark about bankers reminds me of the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie once telling a complaining reader he was “banned from buying the paper”. Bankers, it seems, are banned from buying Radiohead albums.

I take the view that music, particularly Radiohead’s music, is an art, and art is for everybody, not just occupations or even mindsets that the artist approves of. Great art, indeed, can change a mindset. I feel queasy about artists saying who they do and do not want to partake of their work. George Orwell, thankfully, did not decree who could and could not read Animal Farm and 1984, which happily has meant that people of differing political persuasions have been claiming him ever since. Let Radiohead be claimed by all, bankers, social workers, left, right, the determinedly apolitical and the downright apathetic.

As for election campaigns, even there the same democratic principles should apply. In the unlikely event that Cameron were to use Radiohead – and I’m not quite convinced they are sufficiently rousing and uplifting for campaign music – then Thom Yorke should have a private, wry smile and feel artistically flattered. He may not be a Conservative, he may dislike the Government’s policies intensely, but it will mean that he has produced art that all people, of all political persuasions, can relate to and be inspired by. I think that should be seen as a triumph, Thom. You disagree? Sue me.

The Cabinet in the first-night closet

I have been harping on for some considerable time on the need for politicians to be seen to embrace culture by going to arts events. So it was good to see that Liz Forgan, the outgoing chair of the Arts Council, took up this theme in her farewell speech, deploring the non-appearance of most of the Cabinet at theatre, opera, dance and exhibitions. First nights just don’t appear to be in their diaries. It is not, of course, that they never go. It is more that they keep it quiet, as if the arts are a vote-loser.

It’s also true that it’s not just the Tories who like to keep such outings secret. Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, would take his family to the theatre, but certainly on one occasion asked the National Theatre not to publicise his visit – not a request he ever made about film premieres or sporting fixtures. Perhaps the answer is for our big institutions, the National Theatre, Royal Opera House, Tate, RSC etc to invite the PM to season-openers and other landmark shows, and make those invitations public. It might be an offer he can’t refuse.

It’s big, Claude, but don’t call it a blockbuster

The wonderful Manet exhibition that opens on Saturday at the Royal Academy can be described in many ways. But one description, I discover, is verboten. The show’s curator, MaryAnne Stevens, tells me that the leading art galleries no longer use the word “blockbuster” to describe their big exhibitions. Apparently the concept has, over the years, led to too much razzamatazz at the expense of scholarship. Indeed, it seems there has even been an international conference to discuss the adverse effects of the blockbuster syndrome. So, do go to this marvellous Manet show; do enjoy it; but, as Basil Fawlty almost said: “Don’t mention the blockbuster.”

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