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Should I stay or should I go?

Anti-Brexit demonstration (Photo: Wix)

I remember the UK joining the EEC in 1973 better than I remember the last time the UK took part in a European referendum on the 5th June 1975. During an Art lesson coinciding with our entry into the Common Market we were given the task of illustrating the event but though my family quite happily discussed issues that laid the foundation for my own political awakening, I didn’t recall how they voted in the 1975 plebiscite and had to ask my mother. Apparently, along with many on the Left, they expressed a desire to leave the EEC.

The first half of 1975 was relatively quiet for releases from major progressive rock acts. In March Hatfield and the North released The Rotters’ Club and Camel released Music Inspired by the Snow Goose the next month but it wasn’t until late summer into autumn that the floodgates opened and Caravan finally managed to get an album in the charts with Cunning Stunts; Gentle Giant released the accessible Free Hand; Quiet Sun put out the phenomenal, off-beat Mainstream; Pink Floyd returned from hiatus with Wish You Were Here; Jethro Tull released the under-rated Minstrel in the Gallery; Steve Hackett embarked on his first solo venture, albeit with help from a number of his band mates, Voyage of the Acolyte; Van der Graaf Generator announced their reformation with Godbluff; Chris Squire became the first of the Yes alumni to release a solo album during their break from band duties with Fish out of Water; and Vangelis, who had sparked our interest because of headlines linking him with Yes after the departure of Rick Wakeman in 1974, put out Heaven and Hell. Focus rounded off the year with Mother Focus, a departure from the symphonic prog of Hamburger Concerto veering into pop and funk territory, an album I and many others consider to be disappointingly sub-standard.

Excepting Wish You Were Here and Fish out of Water, I didn’t buy any of the albums listed above at the time of their release due to a combination of lack of funds and a lack of willingness to take a punt when I’d only heard excerpts on the radio. I’ve yet to commit to a copy of Cunning Stunts. When I did buy an LP it was catching up with a release from earlier in the progressive rock timeline including Yesterdays from February 1975, the first Yes compilation, no doubt issued to maintain interest in the group as they all took time off to explore solo ventures. I just thought it was a decent way of acquiring some of their early material, plus a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s America, for half the price of the first two studio albums in a much better Roger Dean sleeve. Another couple of albums that I did purchase when they first came out were Rubycon by Tangerine Dream and Rick Wakeman’s Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, from March and April 1975 respectively. I hadn’t got myself a copy of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, having been put off by the vocals but I thought the singing on Arthur was better and Wakeman’s song writing had improved, and as much as I approved of Jules Verne’s proto-science fiction, I was much more familiar with Arthurian legends. But I still thought the musical vignettes on the entirely instrumental The Six Wives of Henry VIII were of a much higher standard; Rubycon continued on from where Phaedra had left off and at the time I was very much in favour of keyboard-drenched sojourns into outer or inner space and the amorphous washes from Tangerine Dream, coupled with the sequencer pulses weaving in and out of the synthesizer, organ and Mellotron drones chimed with my interest in sonic exploration.

Though I’d heard of bands like Amon Düül, Can, Kraftwerk and Faust, the latter thanks to the marketing gurus at Virgin Records selling The Faust Tapes for 49p, I didn’t really like any German band other than Tangerine Dream until Triumvirat released Spartacus in the late summer. I heard the track March to the Eternal City on Alan Freeman’s Saturday radio show and promptly went out and bought the album. The whole album is stylistically analogous to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, primarily referencing Karn Evil 9, but March to the Eternal City reminded me of the live version of Aquatarkus and is what I’d regard as the best track on the album thanks to lyrics which sound as though they could be telling some future tale: “they carry missile and spear” comes across like a storyline from the comic strip The Trigan Empire while the song words on the rest of the album are a bit naive.

ProgBlog albums bought in 1975, not necessarily released in 1975

My interest in Italian prog dates back to early 1975 when a friend invested in Premiata Forneria Marconi’s Chocolate Kings and the live Cook, and though it would be some time before I appreciated how broad, varied and good progressivo italiano was, it was evident that the Europe-wide version of progressive rock was a movement that appeared to be very much rooted in the original ideals; this period of progressive rock coincided with the beginning of the transition to democracy following the death of Franco in Spain and the emergence of Greece as a modern democracy with the fall of its military junta in 1974.

Fast forward to 2016 and Europe seems to be doing its best to tear itself apart. Southern states have been most badly affected by austerity and though it’s been easy for those in power to deflect the blame from the banks that caused the financial crisis in 2008, it has resulted in an abandonment of belief in political systems. Those on the Right blame immigration for their economic outlook while those on the Left decry unrepentant neoliberals for imposing austerity on their citizens. So far, the far Right have been kept from power but the frightening prospect of Golden Dawn in Greece, a violent party that took third place in Greek elections in 2015 or Marine Le Pen in France or even more recently, of Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party who was narrowly defeated by the socialist Alexander Van der Bellen in this year’s Austrian Presidential election being elected to run a country is a serious cause for concern. An insular point of view coated in populist nationalism is a breeding ground for hatred and violence that threatens genuine democracy through clamping down on freedom of speech. Our very own UKIP trades under the guise of respectability but a series of interventions by party officials shows how nasty they really are, trading on fear, lies and the politics of hatred. Wars in Africa and the Middle East have created a massive migrant crisis as refugees risk their lives in the flight from their own countries towards what they believe to be the safety of the West, landing in Italy and Greece, creating perfect conditions for the rise of anti-immigrant sympathies.

It seems to me that the UK referendum on our membership of the EU, a political gamble by David Cameron that was always destined to fail, has been reduced to the level of a playground brawl with each side calling each other names where, despite those who wish to remain talking up doom scenarios and those who wish to leave having no idea of how the country will fare outside of the EU, the seeds have been sown for a referendum on immigration. Those in favour of leaving imagine they are going to take control of our borders. What exactly does that mean? If you think desperate refugees attempting to cross to the UK from France are a problem, I’d like to remind you just how many Syrian refugees the UK has taken in up to the end of March this year: 1,602 - a pathetic response to a humanitarian crisis.

According to UKIP's Nigel Farage, controlling immigration means restricting the movement of Europeans into the UK. He complains of the stress placed upon housing, jobs and the NHS though he’d allow an undisclosed number of Commonwealth citizens to come to the UK, so I suspect the real issue is his dislike for the EU itself despite him taking every advantage of the allowances that come with being an MEP. Another point of contention is the notion that the EU is aiming to become a super-state and how the UK needs to take back its sovereignty, which is something that very few Britons had been concerned with prior to the announcement of the referendum. Farage has tapped into a fear of loss of identity, primarily exhibited in older generations and residents in areas where Thatcherism destroyed communities when local industries were closed down in the 80s, creating a false narrative nostalgia. What the Brexiteers really want to do is to scrap sensible regulations designed to protect workers’ rights, environmental standards and health and safety laws, all of which the UK had signed up to, so that a tiny minority can be enriched by unleashing rampant capitalism in a race to the bottom as standards are discarded. The millionaire mainstream media proprietors and their friends could stand to gain financially from ‘taking back control’ when the pay and conditions of workers declines, so it’s hardly surprising that the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Star, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph promote the idea that Brexit is a good thing.

Pro-Brexit newspaper front pages (Photo: The Daily Mail and The Sun)

It would be nice if someone amplified the message that it’s not immigrants who put a strain on public services, but ideological austerity and the deliberate dogmatic shrinking of the State. No one has said there’s not enough room in the country. The reason there aren’t enough hospital beds, teachers and affordable houses or public transport is because a succession of governments has pursued policies of enriching the few and penalising those on low and middle incomes, welcoming foreign investment in luxury developments but leaving blocks of flats under-occupied or empty and pushing house prices beyond the means of most of the population, slashing the salaries of healthcare workers and teachers through public-sector pay freezes and pension changes and forcing low paid private sector employees into zero hour contracts. Please don’t think that education, health, housing, jobs and transport will get better if we leave the EU – those in positions of influence advocating leave are equally responsible for the state of the country with their private healthcare directorships and money secreted away in tax havens and it’s only these few who stand to benefit from a break with the EU.

Progressive rock espoused the benefits of external influences and embraced the nascent green movement. I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with the EU but the UK will not be able to face up to global challenges like climate change on its own. This means we must abandon austerity, offer more, better targeted training and reject xenophobia. Let’s do it from within the EU with the help of our partners.

This blog was originally posted under the title 'Referendum'

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