David Bowie is not the first rock star to get embroiled in politics and he certainly won’t be the last, says Chris Bond.
IT perhaps says something about the debate over Scottish independence that it takes a throwaway comment from a 67- year-old Englishman to really get people talking.
When David Bowie used the Brit awards to say that he hopes Scotland will reject independence he probably didn’t expect quite the reaction his comments have had.
The veteran rock star ended his speech, via his spokeswoman for the night Kate Moss, with the words: “Scotland stay with us”, prompting a wave of reaction from politicians, campaigners and celebrities in both camps.
Billy Bragg welcomed Bowie’s intervention on Scottish independence, urging more people south of the border to enter the debate. The musician and activist said he hoped Bowie’s plea for Scotland to stay in the UK would encourage English people to engage with the issues.
Bragg is among several high-profile musicians - including The Proclaimers and Annie Lennox - who have voiced their support for a ‘Yes’ vote in September’s referendum.
“Bowie’s intervention encourages people in England to discuss the issues of the independence referendum, and I think English people should be discussing it, so I welcome his intervention. Obviously we don’t have a vote but we can have an opinion,” said Bragg.
The topic even reared its head during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood yesterday, with politicians slipping Bowie lyrics into the debate.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont began her questioning by asking First Minister Alex Salmond to “turn and face the strain”, from the song Changes. Not to be outdone, when responding to Team GB’s Scottish women curlers’ bronze medal success in the Winter Olympics, Mr Salmond said it was a “demonstration we all can be heroes just for one day”.
Not everyone was quite so enthusiastic, with comedian Frankie Boyle tweeting: “I completely respect Bowie’s right to express views on independence, just as I’d respect Iggy Pop’s opinions on the Cern particle accelerator.”
Most people were surprised by Bowie’s remarks even though music and politics have long been bedfellows, albeit not always comfortable ones.
Rock and pop stars certainly aren’t shy of sticking their oar in when it comes to politics. John Lennon, for instance, famously returned his MBE in 1969, four years after first accepting it.
In a note accompanying the gong, he wrote: “Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag.”
Arguably the most powerful example of rock and pop stars galvanising themselves as a political force came with Live Aid in 1985, which Bob Geldof organised to raise money for famine relief in Africa.
The world’s biggest rock festival captured people’s imagination and went on to raise a staggering £150m. Twenty years later Geldof, by now an honorary knight of the realm, organised Live 8 – a series of rock concerts around the world to raise awareness about global poverty and put pressure on the leaders of the G8 nations to tackle the problem.
Six days later the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland, agreed a $50bn aid package for Africa.
It’s proof that musicians can make a difference although it’s also fair to say that not all political forays by wealthy rock stars prove popular. There are many people who feel the likes of Sting and Bono should stay out of politics and for some there is nothing worse than the dreaded celebrity “with a cause”.
Even so, politicians have received support from the most unlikely of places over the years. Back in 2001, Britney Spears backed Labour in the general election - hot on the heels of former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s appearance in a Labour party election broadcast.
That was back in the days when Tony Blair could seemingly do no wrong, but just two years later he was being mocked in a George Michael video over the government’s foreign policy on the eve of the war in Iraq.
It was the Who guitarist Pete Townshend who once said: “No matter what happens in the future, rock and roll will save the world.”
This might be a bit of an exaggeration but, as David Bowie has proved this week, it does at least get people talking.