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The Blue Aeroplanes (and Wagner)
Some bands never grow old, even if their audiences do
As I bounced around the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town last Friday evening to the frenzied sound of The Blue Aeroplanes (believe me, they’re the best band you’ve never heard of) I looked around at the other 50 and 60-somethings behaving as if they were still 19, and wondered if I was the only person present who had also attended the Royal Opera’s sumptuous new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Covent Garden, three nights earlier. I concluded that I probably was, which rather saddened me, because both shows were utterly brilliant.
Wagner is not to everyone’s taste, though I believe there are objective grounds for including him in a top five list of the most influential classical composers. And his impact on the world of opera remains unrivalled, 140 years after his death. Even his politics weren’t (always) as bad as people think. Yes, he was a dreadful anti-Semite who, having achieved fame and success, chose to re-publish a hideously anti-Jewish rant from his younger days for no other reason than to attract attention. Like Hitler, he had an acute, irrational and pathological hatred of Jewish people which cannot be excused by the widespread anti-Semitism of the time.
While this is more than enough to condemn him for his politics, the fact that he was forced to flee his native Germany for his part in the 1849 May Uprising in Dresden, along with the large cast of strong, wise female characters he wrote into his operas, does make him a more intriguing character than most 19th century anti-Semites. And his musical genius is not in doubt.
Das Rheingold is the first of the four operas in his celebrated Ring cycle, and contains some of loveliest music he wrote. It packs a powerful political message about human greed and the lust for power possessed of too many people, err… men. This new production offers flawless singing throughout, and a stirringly pacey interpretation of the score from Sir Antonio Pappano. And how refreshing it was to see the entire orchestra join him on stage for the curtain call. Special mention must go to the actress Rose Knox-Peebles who was on stage the entire two and a half hours and carried off an immensely difficult performance with remarkable grace and fortitude.
Three nights later there was another non-singing, non-playing cast member on stage at the Blue Aeroplanes’ first London gig in six years, in the shape of the remarkable Wojtek Dmochowski. Along with brothers Gerard (vocals) and John (drums) Langley, Dmochowski is a survivor of the original line up of the band that formed in Bristol back in 1981. In years gone by, they supported R.E.M. and Siouxsie and the Banshees on tour, and played Glastonbury as recently as 2019. Although the gigs have grown fewer, Dmochowski has been ever present. Not singing or playing, but interpreting the band’s songs through the most energetic and original dancing you’re ever likely to witness. The stamina of the man at 66 is incredible. He danced continuously for the entire hour and forty minutes they were on stage, and like the rest of this exceptionally talented band, was clearly having the time of his life.
The Blue Aeroplanes are a guitar band with a neat line in vocal harmonies. Heavier live than on record, their music is impossible not to dance too. If you want a comparison, Television isn’t a bad place to start; indeed they concluded their set with a glorious cover of Tom Verlaine’s fabulous Breaking in my Heart.
While I’m looking forward immensely to seeing the other three instalments of Barrie Kosky’s Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House over the next three years, I’m not sure when I’ll see the Blue Aeroplanes again. Their regular Christmas gig is scheduled for 1st December at The Fleece in Bristol. I’m tempted to make the trip along the M4, as who knows when they’ll return to London.
Is it possible, or even wise, to attempt a comparison between these two vastly contrasting creative talents? Probably not, except to say that watching and listening to them both makes me glad to be alive. Doubtless Wagner will still be filling opera houses a century for now, though I’m not sure if the Blue Aeroplanes repertoire will feature in the set lists of whatever kind of alternative rock bands are playing the Electric Ballroom in the 22nd century.
But of one thing I am sure: when it comes to politics, the Blue Aeroplanes win hands down. Here are the lyrics to Hips like Cigarettes, from their fabulous new album Culture Gun:
When Goering heard the word culture he reached for his gun When I hear the word politics I reach for my culture gun If I carried a flag what would be on it? A sense of history? The white horse on the downs Sculpted from the chalk of the hills Lets sing: 'Democracy, what's it for If you can't vote on going to war? Well, you can't unring a bell Not even the public school Oxbridge revolving door Or the conservative axis, their war on the poor It's fucking Dickensian, man Bedroom tax, health benefit cuts Disability tests, food banks It's fucking Dickensian, man Hips like cigarettes Love like cancelled debts I went to sleep in a Galilean world Woke up on a flat earth Going ninety-nine miles an hour down a dead end street Called the rue de protest vote Hips like cigarettes Love like cancelled debts When she goes appleing We are in love If I carried a flag What would be on it? Hips like cigarettes Love like cancelled debts The Beatles split in 1970 And so did the 1960s Now here we are with the spirit-of-2016 Cameron, Farage, Gove, Duncan-Smith Four false prophets of the apocalypse C F G & D-S Or four David Crosbys, without the talent Or the humanising effect of drug abuse But with a lot of houses No bedroom tax though, it's fucking Dickensian, man Hips like cigarettes Love like cancelled debts When she goes appleing We are in love Hips like cigarettes And an ankle like the Avebury stones When Goering heard the word culture he reached for his gun When I hear the word politics I reach for my culture gun Now there's a presentiment, an augury In this brave new world of post-Diana celebrity-led Sentiment, so sugary and bad for you Unlike the fifties where Larkin and his domed head Led to the real Osborne and his spluttering fury In the glory days of the libraries When a working class intellectual was something to be Unfortunately, the next revolution will be limited-edition Hand-crafted by professionals And only available to a select few The next revolution will not be televised It will streamed, pay-per-view, and it won't work properly Lyrics © Gerard Langley 2022