The King Blues

We caught up with Itch and Jamie Jazz from The King Blues just before the Glasgow leg of their Big Issue tour to chat about everything from homelessness, Obama, music and how they plan to save the world. Then get the girl...

The audio file can be heard by clicking play below... (apologies for the background noise - there was a sound check)

The King Blues (Jamie Jazz and Itch in centre) were raising awareness of homelessness
Q. What kind of outcomes or reactions were you hoping to get from the whole Big Issue angle of this tour, and how has the whole thing gone?

Itch: Itís been great. The whole idea of the tour was that instead of getting a ticket you can just get a copy of the Big Issue and come in and that way its money going straight into vendorís pockets rather than admin and stuff like that. It was important to us to do something where money was going directly into vendorís pockets. A lot of the kids have said that theyíd be up for coming along and just paying what they would normally pay to see us and letting the vendors keep the change. Itís been really successful because we didnít know if people were gonna turn up or not, and itís been mad. You can see that the Big Issue vendors have genuinely been chuffed with the reactions theyíve got, and a lot of people have said that now they know their local Big Issue vendor theyíre gonna carry on going back week after week which is a nice thing to see. Itís good to know itís worked and weíve kinda beat the cynics in that way.

Q. So would you do this kind of tour again or is it just a one-off?

Itch: We like to have silly ideas and try them all out, but yeah, I mean thereís no reason why we wouldnít do it again.

Q. What inspired you guys to do this tour?

Itch: I used to sell the Big Issue when I was younger, and I feel like weíre in a position now where we can perhaps help out people who are in the position I was in. Homelessness is a very large issue, its not just about raising awareness for the Big Issue. Where we come from in London, thereís a lot of hassle with the homeless because Mayor Boris Johnson is saying he wants the streets of London cleaned of the homeless by 2012 when the Olympics come in. Itís a very wonderful thing for him to aim for but the way heís going about it is absolutely horrific. Thereís an operation called Operation Poncho where the police in the city of London are going around, waking up the homeless people at about 4 or 5am, telling them to get their bags, and then spraying down where theyíre sleeping with water so they canít go back there. This is in icy freezing temperatures and itís really quite inhumane the way theyíre dealing with people.
I think weíre going back to when Blair was our leader and he said he wouldnít give any money to homeless people, he would only give it to the charities. That really sent out the wrong message that homeless people are there because theyíre irresponsible with money and thatís bollocks. There are so many different reasons why people are out on the street, everyone has their own story, itís not a case of not being good with money, you know? Thatís a very patronising view and weíre trying to break down that mentality across the nation because in fact, homeless people are just as much a part of your community as your next door neighbour or anybody else. That was the thinking behind this tour.

Q. It has been reported that homelessness is on the increase due to the recession; people are losing their jobs and losing their homes. Is there anything the Government could be doing in your view to help the homeless?

Itch: Thereís a whole lot they can do. They can start off by sorting out the hostels. Iím not saying charities are bad things, but there is definitely a debate among the homeless community that a lot of charities just want to get heads onto beds, because the more heads on beds they get, the more money they get, but in fact hostels arenít safe places to be. Thereís a lot of trouble that goes in hostels, some of them are clearly inhabitable and others are just riddled with terrible things like drugs and violence, so Iíd like to see the hostels getting sorted. Until people have a different option other than sleeping on the street, they should be allowed to sleep there un-hassled and not be woken up by the police and moved along. Homeless people should be given rights, they should be treated with as much dignity as anyone else and Iíd like to see the Government provide proper alternatives rather than just saying you need to move off our streets, I donít care where you go, because thatís not providing any real alternative and itís not putting an end to the root causes of why itís happening.

Q. So aside from homelessness, what other issueís out there are really grabbing your attention at the moment?

Itch: Thereís so many, and so many of them are interlinked you know? I think one of the biggest problems weíre facing at the moment is that weíre in the middle of an endless war right now, weíre going on and on and on and weíre going to different countries. I think its very easy for us to say, well weíve got Obama in America now and heís talking about shutting Guantanamo within a year, and weíre starting to pull the troops out of Iraq, thing are going okay. But in fact this country is building an unbelievable amount of weapons being used in Israel against Gaza right now. The wars that are going on in the Middle East are funded by this country and the weapons that are being used are actually made in this country. So to pretend that weíre a country that isnít at war is absolute bollocks, itís just as much our war as anyone elseís and weíre heavily involved. Thatís something people need to begin to realise.

Q. You just mentioned Obama, heís hailed as Americaís great hope at the moment. Do you think there could be a domino effect in the UK, and we could look forward to a similar kind of leader that provokes hope and inspiration in the future?

Itch: I would love to see somebody that we could believe in, because we donít actually have that over here. We donít really have any kind of hope like they do in America. Whether it is false hope or not, thereís still a feeling that change is gonna come over there and I think thatís a wonderful thing. As British people we have a tendency to be very cynical, but then we donít ever see any decent change. In America, youíve got Obama saying things like he wants to close Guantanamo within a year but weíre not seeing the same thing in Britain even though there are many repressive laws that were brought in when we were apparently under a terrorist threat. Weíre not under that terrorist threat anymore so Iíd like to see those laws destroyed so we can go back to our freedoms. While Iíd like to see the same kind of hope America currently has over here, at the same time I think anyone pinning all their hopes on one leader is always going to be disappointed. The power lies with the people, and itís when people come together that thereís real hope. I think that as weíre going through this recession, people are going to get angrier. When people get angry and they come together, thatís when genuine change happens, so I have a real hope that somethingís gonna happen, somethingís got to give eventually.

Q. One of the aims of our organisation is to encourage young people to vote or become involved with the political process in the UK. How can we go about doing that?

Itch: Personally, I feel that voting isnít necessarily a bad thing, but it isnít necessarily a good thing either. Giving your blessing to somebody else to lead you, I donít know how I feel about that from a philosophical point of view. I feel that we should all lead ourselves and thatís how weíll all get out of this mess. Weíve given capitalism enough of a chance as it is, weíre told that any minute now itís going to start working and things are going to get better but itís just more of the same, it goes on and on and on. Obviously if you feel there is a decent candidate in your area then of course you should go and vote for them, but I donít think itís necessarily a case of getting every single person to vote just for the sake of it.

Q. If voting isnít the way, then what is?

Itch: Organising, going back to grassroots. What weíre gonna see with the recession coming up is an awful lot of commercial properties emptying, shops emptying up and down the high street and Iíd like to see a new movement that comes in and squats those buildings and uses them for positive means, things like opening social centres and really building communities again. During this recession, if the people get divided and we start fearing our neighbours again as the war on terror allowed us to do, thatís when things can go dreadfully wrong for Britain. I think we really need to start building communities again and thatís perhaps a good way to do it.

Q. Musically speaking, what are your influences?

Itch: We donít really agree on many bands at all, thereís so many of us we listen to all different kinds of things! We take influence from the spirit of bands like The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Asian Dub Foundation, right through to hip-hop like Immortal Technique, right through to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. I feel there is a very rich history of rebel protest music that we come from, that weíre part of. The music isnít necessarily the uniting thing; itís the message and the vibe.

Q. Do you really believe music can change the world?

Itch: We wouldnít be here otherwise! We live this 100% every day and I really do believe itís a vehicle for bringing people together. Music touches people in a way that nothing else does. Itís an emotional connection, something that can really take over your life, and so from that point of view you can tell real genuine honesty from someone, when something really means something. The voice of the people, for generations, for centuries has been passed on through song and itís a wonderful way to communicate and bring people together. When youíre at a gig and someoneís on stage saying something political and all the people around you are also agreeing with it, you suddenly realise youíre not alone in how you feel. Its very easy to feel like youíre the only one who thinks this way, youíre the only one who believes in freedom and believes that the world can live happily as one. A lot of people just donít believe in love anymore, they donít believe in hope or soul or anything like that and I think when people come together and they realise that actually, Iím not the only one and my views ainít that strange, thatís when real power happens.
Jamie: Music, more than any art form ever has the power to touch peopleís soul and collectively unite people that it touches at the same time. Itís the perfect vessel for any message.

Q. Weíve seen it at many gigs, like Rancid or Anti-Flag, people just come together and thereís a sense of unity in the crowd. Do you get the same thing at your gigs?

Itch: Yeah, I think itís a bit different with us because we have people from all walks of life at our gigs. Thereís hip-hop kids, punk kids, reggae kids, indie kids, thereís old people, young people. The mixture of people that come to our gigs is the thing I am most proud of achieving with this band. Thereís a real sense of unity. And among the kids themselves, thereís a sense of togetherness and theyíre there as one. There are never any fights at our gigs, no-one is cooler than anyone, everyoneís on the same level and itís a nice thing to see.

Q. In the punk scene especially, thereís an elitist attitude towards bands who release records on bigger record labels, have you guys come across that at all?

Itch: Yeah of course. From day one when we used to play squats or Anarchist benefits that was what we were and who we were known as. When we signed to Household Name Records, which is a tiny tiny record label, run out of a tiny bedroom in a tiny flat somewhere in the middle of the ghetto-est part of Brixton, we were called sell-outs then and told we were digging for gold so weíve experienced it the whole time. But I think if you donít get your hands dirty then youíre not gonna achieve anything. Iím not interested in just going out and preaching to the converted and being the soundtrack for like 5 crustyís round a barbecue. Thatís absolutely fine and Iím willing to do that and go back to our roots and pay our dues, just because I love it and thatís who we are but at the same time I feel that this music and this message is something thatís bigger than that and its something thatís really important and I donít think that anyone is not good enough to hear it. These are ideas that can really change the world, and these are ideas that people really need to start putting into action, so I think its unfair to say that little Jimmy lives in a very remote part of town and heís not cool enough to be a part of the underground scene so he has no right hearing this. This is music for everyone and these ideas are for everyone, theyíre for the people, and I donít think you can have a peopleís revolution without the people on your side, thatís the number one key.

Q. So you want a peopleís revolution?

Itch: Absolutely!

Q. What was your favourite album of last year?

Itch: Off the top of my head, I really liked the Frank Turner record and I really liked the Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip record, it was really good. Thereís a guy called Lowkey, heís a rapper from somewhere up North, his album was really incredible and it was probably the most socially important album of last year, he really spoke a whole bunch of truths.
Jamie: We were lucky enough to tour with The Gaslight Anthem at the end of last year and I was really into their album. I donít particularly know too much about hip-hop but last year I started getting into artists like Immortal Technique. His record The Third World just blew my mind, the energy and the anger behind his lyrics was amazing so Iíd probably say that.

Q. What albums are you looking forward to this year?

Itch: Thereís a band called Milk Kan thatís have an album coming out which is gonna be awesome, itís a massive record. The Skids are gonna be bringing out an album as well which is gonna be be big.
Jamie: Our friends, The Grit have just finished their new record, we were lucky enough to hear an early copy of it and there are some great great songs on there so Iím really looking forward to it.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

Itch: Big plans! Thereís always big big plans! But in the immediate future weíve got a lot of festivals coming up in the summer and weíre looking forward to getting back out on the road properly. This is the first time weíve been out this year so weíre looking forward to getting a new live show put together. Weíre also writing songs at the moment so weíll see how that all goes I guess!

Visit bigissue.com for more information on The Big Issue and homelessness, and thestreetsareours.net for The King Blues personal place for people to get active