With football the latest battleground in the culture wars, is it possible to unite the country behind a new English anthem for Euro 2020? That’s the task for rappers Krept and Konan…
“They’re done out here, man. Man ain’t rocking with that no more.” About halfway through Krept and Konan: We Are England (BBC iPlayer), the rappers Krept and Konan sit down to watch a 1996 sketch from David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s BBC show Fantasy Football League. Baddiel is in blackface, wearing dreadlocks and impersonating a Black footballer called Jason Lee. Skinner is drinking from a pineapple on top of Baddiel’s head (Baddiel has since apologised for the sketch).
The same year the sketch was aired, Baddiel and Skinner released ‘Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’ as the official song of Euro 96. In a 2016 documentary about the tournament, Baddiel and Skinner recall the moment they knew they’d made something special. England had just beaten Scotland 2-0 (thanks to that Gazza goal). “The DJ put the song on,” recalled Baddiel, “and suddenly – we didn’t know everyone knew it – everyone started singing. Honestly, it’s an unbelievable thing.”
Twenty five years on, Krept and Konan: We Are England follows two Black Mobo-winning rappers – Messrs Krept and Konan – on their journey to create England’s anthem for Euro 2020 (which starts tomorrow). Thankfully, it’s in a country that has changed for the better since 1996, the last time the Euros were hosted in England: it’s impossible to countenance that Baddiel and Skinner sketch being shown on the BBC today.
But if you follow English football – or, well, English life – you’ll know that racism has by no means gone away. Twice the England team has taken the knee in support of Black Lives Matter in the past week. Twice their own fans have booed them. And that’s what makes Krept and Konan’s task, to write a song that will unite a divided country in national pride, all the more powerful.
About 15 minutes into the documentary, Krept and Konan are asked by fellow musician Big Zuu if they feel any pressure writing the song as two Black rappers in a febrile national environment. Krept’s reply hits the nail on the head: “Man’s gotta be true to man,” he says. “You’ve got to accept that it’s new times now. If they don’t like it, they’re kids, bro.” Konan adds: “It can’t be their time forever.”
Twenty-five years on from Euro 96, football is coming home again. But, as Krept and Konan suggest, home is very different now. England’s 2020 squad is considerably more diverse than it used to be. Just one Black player (Paul Ince) played regularly for England in Euro 96. There isn’t much chance of a repeat of that this year. And the music landscape has changed, too. The nominees for British Album of the Year in the 1996 Brit Awards were Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Radiohead, and Paul Weller. This year they were Arlo Parks, Celeste, Dua Lipa, J Hus, and Jessie Ware.
‘Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’ is a great anthem, and it will remain so: it captures something special about the misty-eyed hope of being an England fan. But it’s about time we add a new anthem to the terraces, the pubs, the streets, and our homes – one which represents the England we all live in today.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Feel Good (Netflix)
Question of the year: why on earth did Channel 4 let go of Feel Good? The semi-autobiographical brainchild of comedian and protagonist Mae Martin, Feel Good is a show about trauma, healing, addiction, love and survival. It’s also one of the funniest shows on TV. Now in its second (and supposedly final) season, and now on Netflix, Feel Good finds the private grey in a public world that unfailingly sees things in black and white. That’s to say, it depicts humans and how they feel towards each other in all their complexity. At its heart it’s a love story, but it’s also, if I need to say it again, one of the funniest shows on TV.
Bo Burnham: Inside (Netflix)
The horror of the celeb-infested cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ back in March 2020 was taken by some as an omen that we were in for a year of bad, bad art. In truth, there’ve been highs and lows. But thankfully Bo Burnham: Inside is an apex: it’s a pandemic masterpiece. Made alone in Bo Burnham’s home throughout 2020, the hour-long musical special is the creative output of the comic genius’s year of isolation, ennui and anxiety; a disintegrating self-portrait which has a good chance of breaking you apart, too. That all sounds a bit morbid, but the world is really lucky to have someone who can so deftly (and catchily) capture all the absurdities, irritations, claustrophobia and self-righteousness of the past year on this tiny, frazzled planet… including, yes, that terrible cover of ‘Imagine’.
World of Wong Kar Wai (Blu-ray)
What is the world of Wong Kar-wai? In a literal sense, it’s this set of seven of his films, most of them newly restored, that has just been released by the fine cinephiles at Criterion. In the truer, more important sense, it’s the filmic realm that the director has created over the past three decades, from As Tears Go By (1988), through Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood for Love (2000) and beyond: a place of extreme beauty, where even the quiet glances between characters seem to be of cosmic import. Ahead of this release, there was chatter in the danker corners of the internet (where I hang out), that Wong had spoilt his own territory by reworking the colours of many of the films – and it’s true; they do look different. But they are still utterly beguiling. Peter Hoskin, Tortoise editor
…and thank you to two Tortoise members for their recommendations.
And Paul Atherton attended a screening for Bank Job. He writes: “Blend the Big Short with a dollop of Morgan Spurlock’s living documentary style and just a dab of Ridley Scott’s action direction, and you have a taste of Daniel Edelstyn’s latest documentary, Bank Job. It tells the true story of a Wandsworth initiative that blew up £1 million of local debt and expunged it for good.”
Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons – John Paul Brammer (Simon & Schuster)
When John Paul Brammer, a queer Latino from Oklahoma, started his advice column ¡Hola Papi!, he thought it was going to be a satire. Instead, he’s created one of the most tender, thoughtful, and funny places on the Internet. The column sees Brammer tackling questions which range from “How do I mourn my ‘almost’?” (“Two gay ships pass in the night, and for one brief, exhilarating moment, an ocean of possibilities fills the gap between them… They die as they live – seductive mirages, glittering on the surface of the water.”) to “Is space gay?” (“My answer? Yeah, space is gay.”).
In a nod to ¡Hola Papi!, Brammer’s first book is structured as a series of advice columns, but it’s really a memoir of the author’s own life told through his responses. Sentences turn on a dime, but you always feel safe in Brammer’s special world.
A Stinging Delight: A Memoir – David Storey (Faber & Faber)
David Storey died four years ago, aged 83. For many who are familiar with him, though, he will always be the young man shown on the cover of his posthumous memoirs, A Stinging Delight: the novelist, playwright and screenwriter who grew up in pre-war north England, and emerged ferociously with books like This Sporting Life (made into a film by Lindsay Anderson in 1963) to help shape the country’s post-war culture. That was his time, the time of the Angry Young Men. Or was it? The brilliance of these memoirs is in the simple fact that they cover a whole life: it turns out that the older, less celebrated Storey was just as perceptive and intriguing a figure. Peter Hoskin, Tortoise editor
…also, thank you to Tortoise member, Jelena Sofronijevic (@jelsofron), for this recommendation:
Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped A Nation – James Marriott & Terry Macalister (Pluto Press)
“Eternally, this field remains”: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s ‘Stanlow’ is (probably) Britain’s only pop song named after an oil installation, its bassline borrowed from a field recording of a pump at the titular Chester refinery. Armed with a playlist of petro-pop culture, James Marriott and Terry Macalister travel through Britain’s pipelines, showing how this black lifeblood has shaped the nation. Candid interviews and diary entries reveal the revolving doors between cabinet offices and oil fields – and perhaps how New Labour’s dual monarchy was really Blair-Browne (BP’s CEO). It’s a crude awakening for places left behind by privatisation and deindustrialisation, exposing how economic short-termism breeds long-term environmental exploitation.
Since I Left You (20th Anniversary Edition) – The Avalanches
The Avalanches’ epochal debut sounds just as good twenty years since its release. The album, made by two unassuming Australians, arrived like a bolt from the blue. It’s composed of more than 3,500 samples ranging from golf instructional videos to ship horns, but it doesn’t have a cacophonous bone in its body. The anniversary edition comes with a host of remixes and demos, including a remarkable turn from the late MF Doom. But the highlight is the Cornelius remix of ‘Since I Left You’, which for two decades has been the ultimate song for sunnier climes.
Changephobia – Rostam
The biggest criticism of Rostam (the superstar producer of albums by Vampire Weekend, Clairo and Haim) is that his solo work can be too complicated. There’s no such problem on Changephobia, which is low-key, quietly captivating and full of baritone sax. The central message – don’t be afraid of change – could feel trite if it wasn’t communicated so beautifully. ‘Bio18’ should be mentioned for its piano, which might send fans of Ethiopian jazz back to Mulatu Astatke’s masterpiece ‘Tezeta (Nostalgia)’. But the best track is ‘Unfold You’: one big, lovely exhale.
‘Lost cause’ – Billie Eilish
The 19-year-old sensation, who seems incapable of making a bad song, has done it again. The Internet has lasered in on the slumber party music video – the vintage Brown University baseball cap which Eilish wears in the video has, naturally, sold out – but the song is great in its own right. The message is simple: I used to want this person, but now I think about it they were awful. We’ve all experienced that. The writing is on point, but it’s the smooth bassline that carries the song.
‘Damaged Goods’ – La Roux, Gang of Four
La Roux obviously had a moment. Of a piece with the best of MGMT and Empire of the Sun, ‘In For The Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’ and other synthpop wonders took late 00s car stereos by storm. But don’t mistake the quieter reception to her subsequent releases with a drop in quality. She continues to make gloriously catchy music and ‘Damaged Goods’ (a cover of the 1978 Gang of Four song) is no exception. The cover is part of a tribute album to Gang of Four’s late guitarist Andy Gill, and La Roux, in her own inimitable way, does the original justice.
That’s all for now. Please do send your own recommendations to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs Andy Hall/BBC, PA Images/ Alamy, Netflix, Jet Tone Productions/Paradis Films