I was invited to speak at an event called 'The Convention', held in a large building opposite Westminster Abbey on Friday I2"' May 2017. People from both sides of the Brexit debate were invited to express their ideas. Others speaking included... Gina Miller Akala, Ian McEwan, Nick Clegg, Caroline Criado-Perez, Michael Gove, Sindhu Vee and Raoul Martinez.

The idea was to instigate a discussion that wasn't happening at all within British Politics. The June 2017 election was less than 4 weeks away.


Good afternoon. There are many people more qualified than me to comment on the politics of this current situation here today, so I'd like to talk about a few events from my own life that have occurred in the past couple of weeks that I think may be relevant.

Some of you may know that I have a radio show on BBC 6 Music called Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service. [1]

I played a song by Bill Callahan the other week: a cover version of the Mickey Newberry song Heaven Help the Child. During the course of the song one particular line in the lyrics kept leaping out at me: We're all building walls/they should be bridges... [2]

I'd like you to bear that phrase in mind over the next 10 minutes.

We have a feature on the radio show called On This Day where we look at what occurred on a particular date in years gone by. Whilst I was researching the show to be broadcast on the to 30th April I came upon an event that took place in 1517 called The Evil May Day.

Let me read you some of the Wikipedia entry - and yes, I have 'fact-checked' this through other information sources.

  • Evil May Day or III May Day is the name of a riot which took place in 1517 as a protest against foreigners living in London. Apprentices attacked foreign residents.

  • A mob of more than a thousand men congregated on Cheapside and moved through the City looting and destroying all property they suspected to belong to foreigners.

  • This riot was aimed mainly at French immigrants, but Jews, Dutch and other groups seen as an economic threat were also targeted.

  • Some of the rioters were later hanged although King Henry VIII granted a pardon for the remainder following public pleadings from his wife, Catherine of Aragon.

So, in 1517 at least, race hatred was seen as unacceptable behaviour.

Some of you may also know that I divide my time between London and Paris. I was in Paris just before the election last Sunday [3] and got to see the televised debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen: Two hours on prime-time television, for the public to see and hear the two candidates make their case.

No spin, no script - just two people in a room, face to face, slogging it out. A chance to really judge just exactly where the two of them were coming from. It's a real pity I don't speak French... But seriously - I’m told there is no chance of that happening in the run-up to this UK election on the 8th June - why is that?

We're all building walls / they should be bridges.

A few random images :

1 - I just finished a tour of a show called Room 29 that I devised along with a Canadian pianist, a German theatre company and a French film archive about an American hotel. None of those details seemed significant.

2 - My son goes to a French state school where he has eight hours of lessons in English a week.

3 - European Union or European Community seems a better term to use than Common Marker to me - this isn't just about selling things to each other - it's about living together as neighbours without killing each other.

Slightly more important, I'd say.

4 - The morning after the referendum, I travelled to Glastonbury to DJ at the festival along with my band-mate Steve Mackey. During our set, I paraded around the stage with a banner bearing the web-address of an online petition calling for a second referendum if the margin of victory for either side was less than 20%.

4 million people signed it in less than a week. Net result: complete silence.

We're all building walls / they should be bridges.

5 - I contributed a video to a pro-Europe march in July last year. [4] In it, I pointed at a map and repeated the phrase... Britain is a part of Europe.

Some people poked holes in this nuanced political argument by pointing out the existence of the English Channel.

Ok, I guess you could argue with that statement slightly geography-wise, if you wanted to be picky - but Scotland is not part of the UK? I'm sorry - the map is not letting me down on this one. [5]

We're all building walls / they should be bridges.

6 - Before I divided my time between London and Paris I used to spend all my time in Sheffield - a post-industrial city in the North of England. I was up there to see my family a few days ago. Sheffield voted narrowly in favour of Brexit and as you can imagine, this upset me.

In the aftermath of the referendum I've seen it said that the reason places like Sheffield and Sunderland voted the way they did is because people 'up there' are not as well as educated as 'down here’ - as if everything would have been alright if only we'd all been to University. I know that to be untrue - there are many forms of intelligence other than those that can be measured academically. I grew up and was nurtured among them and I know that tuition fees introduced in 1998 have essentially cut off the route to higher education for people from my background. Especially for people studying 'airy-fairy' subjects like art. The degree of social mobility that I benefitted from is a thing of the past. People feel trapped and when they feel trapped they lash out. They do what they feel the powers that be DON'T want them to do.

Fuck you / I won't do what you tell me.

Another catchy line from a song. Every parent recognises that mind-set. It's basic human nature: the desire to do exactly the opposite of what you're told to do.

Demonising a sector of society because they didn't receive the 'right' kind of education is as bad as demonising them for being the wrong race or religion. It's dangerously divisive and it's just not true: there is no...

  • 'us and them'
  • 'goodies or baddies'
  • there is no WRONG type of person.

There is only ONE type of person: a HUMAN BEING. In all our fallibility, in all our glory - we must not forget this - it's kind of the whole point.

7 - My other day job, being a musician, has a role to play here. Music crosses boundaries - bypasses entrenched positions: you don't have to think about dancing and people dancing without permission has historically been a thorn in the side of repressive regimes. In 1930s Germany, for instance, a group of young people called the Swing Kids irritated the hell out of the ruling Nazi party by taking their swing records - denounced as degenerate because they were made by black people - and playing them in secret in basements. They weren't just dancing-they were sticking it to The Man and they accidentally invented the Discotheque in the process.

8 - The most impressive thing I witnessed in the aftermath of the 15th November attacks in Paris in 2015 was the way people were back on the streets, going to bars, attending concerts, mere days after such a horrendous event. They instinctively realised that giving in to fear and giving up their way of (night)life would have been to admit defeat.

Fear makes people cling to what they have but we all know that the tighter you cling to something the more it runs through your fingers.

Fun - on the other hand-makes you put your hands in the air like you just don't care.

So, ladies and gentlemen: the resistance starts here, and its slogan is...

FUN not fear

Can you repeat that for me please?
Louder [6]

FUN not fear

It may sound trite but it's true.

Proper entertainment. Entertainment for all - for all except those who would seek to rule by fear. Oh no - they're not getting any (I'm thinking how no-one would play TR**P’s inaugaration party).

How long do you think the elusive, mythic 1% will be able to hold out when they realise that the best they can get for their corporate event is a Boyzone tribute band?

This is true resistance-this is how you bring people back into the fold.

And that's what needs to happen: have more fun than the baddies.

9 - Brexit DOESN'T mean that this is a xenophobia country and we have to make the rest of the world realise that. The perpetrators of the EviI May Day Riot back in 1517, John Lincoln and Dr Bell, were executed - I'm not suggesting that we bring back hanging-though, it sounds like the Tories are going to bring back fox-hunting so who knows what else might get revived in this bid to take us back to the Good Old Days.

But in 2017, it feels like the extremist minority are being allowed to dominate the conversation rather than being punished or even just marginalised. I had the worst taxi ride of my life the other day... did you know that the ex-leader of UKIP, an individual I will only refer to by his extremely appropriate initials of NF, has his own show on LBC? The show was on in the cab and I almost got the driver to turn it off straight away but then I thought you know... stray out of the echo-chamber, Jarvis.

A very uncomfortable journey: terrible microphone technique for a start but it was the fact that his hateful rhetoric was even on the airwaves in the first place that really took my breath away.

10 - There's an entry on the Evil May Day Riot of 1517 on the website of St Paul's Cathedral. Its final paragraph reads:

  • For the past 500 years, London has continued to welcome people from around the world to live and work. Londoners now pride themselves on being part of one of the most culturally and ethnically rich and diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages spoken.

I'm not quoting that as some kind of 'bitter irony'. That's the London and that's the Britain, that I recognise and that you will experience if you actually go out into the world rather than absorb it through some form of media platform. Try it...

I want to end with a question:

In 500 years time will 8th June 2017 [7] be remembered as Evil Theresa May Day? The day when a marginal referendum outcome which, as you heard earlier, [8] may have been covertly influenced by malign outside influences-was finally set in stone?

Those stones haven't been laid yet.

We're all building walls / they should be bridges.

Why not call off this fake election and have a public enquiry instead? [9]

Think about it.

Thanks for listening,



[1] The show ran from 10th January 2010 to 31st December 2017

[2] This phrase also cropped up in Jeremy Corbyn's speech at Glastonbury Festival on Saturday 24th Lune 2017. Six weeks after this speech was delivered. Just saying...

[3] This debate took place on 3rd May 2017. There was no equivalent television debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to the June 2017 election. No plausible reason has ever been given for this.

[4] 2nd July 2016. You can watch the video here:

[5] The Scottish people voted overwhelmingly (62% remain, 38% leave) to stay in the EU.

[6] I had been appearing in pantomime earlier in the year. Old habits die hard...

[7] The date of the 2017 election.

[8] There had been a discussion entitled Media in a Post Truth Age just 2 hours before I took to the stage. Carole Cadwalladr was one of the contributors. You can watch the video here:

[9] Didn't happen. Obvs.x


First published in 2018 by Rough Trade Books