Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees, Death Grips opening for Bjork, Radiohead opening for Alanis Morissette… pop music is no stranger to peculiar gig pairings. Even so, when we heard that author and left-wing political commentator Owen Jones will be opening for Paloma Faith at a couple of upcoming shows, the news came as a definite bolt from the blue – or should that be red?
Paloma – who has identified as a socialist in interviews, even claiming: ‘I wouldn’t allow David Cameron to one of my gigs’ – has asked The Guardian columnist to speak before her upcoming shows in London and Brighton, apparently motivated by a specific fear that her fans may be planning to vote UKIP in the forthcoming election.
Whatever the logic, it’s an intriguing new platform for the 30 year-old anti-austerity campaigner and author of ‘Chavs’ and ‘The Establishment’ to find himself on. He tells Michael Curle about the dangers of coming across as a ‘preachy pre-pubescent Macaulay Culkin lookalike’.
How did you get involved with Paloma?
‘She got in touch, basically. We went for coffee, and she was really nice. She’s politically engaged, politically interested. I guess she has fears about the rise of UKIP, and she’s worried some of her fans are turning to UKIP and she’s kind of interested in the old tradition, that used to be more commonplace in the ’70s and ’80s, of music and politics linking up. I’m trying to get across ideas, beliefs and causes that are otherwise ignored, and reach as many people as possible through things like music, comedy and drama.
What subjects will you cover onstage?
‘Stuff outside the mainstream news agenda – which tends to blame immigrants, unemployed people, public sector workers – rather than scrutinising the people at the top. For me, it’s about the politics of hope. I reject the idea that we can’t have a Living Wage. The wealth of the top 1,000 people has doubled in the last few years. Meanwhile we’ve gone through the greatest fall in people’s pay packets since Queen Victoria was sitting on the throne in the nineteenth century. I reject the idea we can’t do better on social housing waiting lists. Or that people at the top should get away with not paying their taxes.’
And what are you looking to achieve by talking to Paloma’s fans?
‘I want the audience to leave with more hope than they entered. I want it to be upbeat. Nothing worse than if people were like “Oh blimey, some preachy pre-pubescent Macaulay Culkin lookalike is ranting at me about politics – this isn’t what I signed up for”. I’m not going to patronise people.’
Do you think that’s a particular weakness of the Left?
‘I think the Left is pretty rubbish at getting its ideas across. Most people don’t think in terms of left or right, they think in terms of issues and how those issues relate to their own experiences. And they want to be communicated to in a language they understand. I always think to myself: “You need to get across these ideas as simply as you can”, because there aren’t people of my political leaning in the mainstream. At all.’
Did music play any part in your political awakening?
‘I was always a bit of an indie kid. I lived in Manchester, so I was kind of obsessed with Oasis. But the Manics were my favourite band. I also liked Rage Against the Machine – as you’d expect!’
What’s your take on the state of working-class representation in music – and the whole James Blunt and Chris Bryant spat?
‘Well James Blunt’s reactions were just daft. He took something personally, which wasn’t actually intended to be personal at all. Only seven percent of people go to private school: those people are over-represented in music now, as they are in lots of other areas of society. It’s a shame because I think music is a good way of getting stories across about working class lives. You don’t get that much anymore. You end up with music that’s a bit hollow, a bit lacking in meaning, a bit… Coldplay. That’s probably a bit unfair!’
Finally, what’s the biggest issue facing Londoners today?
‘Housing is just a joke. You get Russian oligarchs buying up new build properties in Central London and leaving them empty while one in four kids grow up in an overcrowded home, which has a massive impact on their health and education. The reason you don’t hear more about it is because people who write newspapers don’t tend to suffer from the consequences of the housing crisis. But lots of people do – especially young Londoners. We end up in a situation where one in four Londoners claim housing benefit and that’s lining the pockets of landlords charging rip-off rents. It’s a scandal.’
‘The Establishment’ by Owen Jones is available as a paperback from this week. Paloma Faith plays The O2 on Wednesday March 25.