Big Issue Vendor

Paul McNamee: Turn Brexit down and face the music

I’m increasingly of the opinion that nobody knows a damn thing

Pretty much every week I listen to The Blue Nile’s Hats. There are few richer pleasures than driving at night through Glasgow listening to this record. If it’s raining, it’s a balm like few other things.

It’s a record that has carried me through a lot. I think it made me want to marry a Scottish woman. If Scottish women can break a boy’s heart and make him write songs like that, I thought of Paul Buchanan, Blue Nile’s creative force, then they must be quite something. They are, of course.

I mention this partly because the album is 30 years old next week, so I was set on a train of thought. Thirty years. Time bends, as Arthur Miller said. And we look back and look forward, and compare things to what we know now to how we viewed time back then.

But also because great music, when it arrives, can transport and soothe like no other art.

Inevitably, I’m going to mention Brexit.

No matter how often you hear it, that music has the power to knock you sideways and make you alter where you are

Like you, I follow the waves and signals of Brexit intently. I try to discern what will happen, like it’s a newly uncovered language we’re learning as we go. What will be right, what will be gained, what will be lost, what does each new iteration of change mean? And I’m increasingly of the opinion that nobody knows a damn thing.

Boris Johnson’s hokey cokey, in/out, double border, single market/not customs union was the moment the realisation gripped. His plan was welcomed by so many in his party, yet when I asked what exactly it meant, nobody was really sure.


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This felt like it had felt with the WTO rules push, but more so. Nobody, really, understood what trading under WTO rules meant. Even after it was explained. Also, nobody really talks about WTO rules any more. Because there is something new to say that they’re getting behind, even if they can’t understand it.

At the moment of clarity, I decided to switch off the morning radio news for a moment. Just a moment. Instead, I retuned and landed on Classic FM and they were playing Allegri’s Miserere. This was not a surprise. They play it a lot. It’s canon.

But still, no matter how often you hear it, that music has the power to knock you sideways and make you alter where you are. It’s a glorious, remarkable piece. Hearing it is like catching the opening snare on Like a Rolling Stone, or that opening two-chord move on Kind Of Blue, or the clarinet in Rhapsody in Blue, or Paul McCartney starting Hey Jude, or the shift into Waterloo Sunset or the bassoon on The Rite of Spring. I could go on. These are moments that can come, unbidden sometimes, but moments that make us, as the great poet Heaney said, vulnerable to delight.

I’m more certain than ever that when people ask how we are going to get through Brexit, the answer is music.

Granted, this sounds facile, but try it. Brexit is making so many feel they are standing in a closed smoky room. It’s uncomfortable, and cloudy.

Open the window. Let your tune in.

Nick Cave has a new record out, incidentally. It is a hell of a thing.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue