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Ol’ Red Eyes is back : TFI Friday

Jon Bounds looks at TV — the new opiate of the masses — from a Marxist perspective. This month the anniversary TFI show, for a bit at least…

Chris Evans is red, but it’s a front. He makes a big thing about being ginger, but as he’ll reveal with a twitch of the stage curtain it’s now dyed.

The TFI Friday revival show featured Tory voters and supporters Allsopp, Clarkson, UKIP nonsense spouting Roger Daltrey, and the air of excess all harked back to an era of strong Columbian coffee, union jacks and celebration. An era where we didn’t realise that some of our heroes would turn out to be right-wing, because the leaders of the left were right-wing as well.

These days it seems more obvious. What once looked like a party we could all stumble into now looks like nothing so much as the Soho members club it always was.

Notoriety — not even fame — is the benchmark for entrance here, Evans trips across a list of names of those we’re about to be lucky to see, and then rolls them again, and again for good measure. But they don’t get any more exciting; society’s pain in giving Nick Grimshaw barely a minute to be interviewed is that he outstays his cultural worth and interest by more than 30 seconds.

In the nineties appearing on TFI Friday was simply part of the creative industry’s “relations of production”, as Marx and Engels described the sum of social relationships that people must enter into in order to survive and to produce. That’s no longer the case, the show itself — spinoff albums to shill during the commercials — is content creator rather than gatekeeper.

The status quo is not challenged however, and Status Quo - if they were promoting something probably would be on the show. They’re not. But Blur are. On the face of it Blur have an overlapping Venn section with the rest of the programme: Tory-smug friend of Clarkson, Oliver and Cameron, Alex James. But they have a balancing Labour member in drummer Dave Rowntree (albeit one that backs Kendall rather than Corbyn for leader). And they are the best band the world has ever seen. So let’s talk about them instead.

Before going to see Blur at Hyde Park last Saturday I marched against austerity, and against the Tories. Add having seen TFI Friday last weekend, and forgetting a few gray hairs, it could have been the nineties all over again. The march was subdued but defiant, the various factions beaten down by six years of Tory rule alongside Labour apathy to resistance, and the support bands at the gig were too. The music of Metronomy slides off the ears without penetrating, surplus product of the music industry, hardly the laying of the ground for a triumph. My companions were sniffy about Blur’s performance — citing gigs in the same place in 2009 and 2012 which were larger and more celebratory — and it’s true that this was much more a performance than a communing.

But if “society […] expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand,” even when they’re not on top form Blur can do nothing but offer a lesson in pop, rock and emotional honesty: and play a huge amount of fantastic songs.
They are the best band in the world, and they have been the best band in the world for 20 years.

When they throw away Tender early on, it underlines just how many epic songs they have — not that the crowd will let it die, in each and every space (retuning, and yes, ice cream distribution) the swell comes up from the cheap seats “Oh my baby, oh my baby”.

A list of what they didn’t play would be a list of songs better than any of their contemporaries could produce. A list of the huge hits they overlooked here, songs that by and large don’t fit in with what the band today are showing — today they’re angry, “a fervoured image of another world” without Popscene — or even with the greatness of their art, would fill a greatest hits LP. Or even a best of the decade. And the decade before.

A startling feature was the attempted rehabilitation of ‘emptiness of capitalist success’ LP The Great Escape — which outside The Universal hasn’t had much of an airing in recent years. The Great Escape of course being the album that featured future Mayor of London ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone on vocals. He wasn’t present, but he would have approved by the reaffirmed co-operative ownership of the group: Graham’s proper return to the creative side provides added fission and added angles. The Magic Whip is a move towards true socialism and we only get flashes from Think Tank the band’s transitory state phase.

And the songs they do play hold the crowd together, more together than a thousand speeches. They show a better world is possible, that we should holding for tomorrow. Blur, for peace and socialism. Love is the greatest thing.

And TFI Friday may return, but it no longer has control of it’s own means of production.

Photos CC by: Nathan Wind & Stephan

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