Interviews

We Interviewed the Biggest Metalhead in British Politics

After seeing the photo of Labour MP Richard Burgon outside a Madball gig, we had to call him up.

by Niall Cunningham
13 July 2017, 9:45am

Members of Parliament and the music industry have always had a nuanced history. The majority of MPs keep themselves to themselves, working for their constituency and occasionally showing up on Desert Island Discs to make sure everyone listening to the radio knows about their love of The Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute in full German. Britpop aligned itself with New Labour in the late 90s, which has led to nothing but Alex James' cheese festival, and since then political parties have kept pop culture mostly at arm's length.

During this year's general election, though, music and the Labour Party sat side by side as artists such as Wolf Alice, JME, Lily Allen, Enter Shikari, Stormzy and pretty much everyone you listen to openly supported Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. Labour's manifesto recognised the importance of the arts and pledged to keep giving kids instruments, places to learn and practice music and stop your favourite music venue turning into a branch of Foxtons.

Richard Burgon is the MP for Leeds East and currently is the Shadow Secretary State for Justice, which sounds pretty crushing in itself. However! He's also a metalhead that would put on shows in Leeds and drive local bands around on tour in his younger days. Maybe you spotted his face in the crowd at Download Festival and thought he looked familiar from, say, BBC Parliament? Maybe you have seen him tweeting about Electric Wizard? Or maybe you even bumped into him last month watching Madball at the Underworld. Either way, he's a guy who knows his stuff on all things heavy, so naturally we felt the need to call him up and pick his brains on Leeds DIY venues, Labour and riffs.

Noisey: Hello Richard, I feel I should start by asking – how was Madball in late June?
Richard Burgon MP: It was really good. I've seen Madball quite a few times. I reckon they're my favourite hardcore band, but it's been a few years since I've seen them. It was just as crazy as you'd expect. A lot of fun! For me, they're the best hardcore band to be honest.

How did you get into music and specifically heavy metal?
It all started at a young age. I went on holiday to Malta when I was about eight years old and was staying in the same hotel as a lad who was listening to something on his earphones. I asked him what he was listening to and he put one of the buds in my ear. It sounded really heavy but I thought it was amazing. He told me it was Iron Maiden and before the end of the holiday I made sure I got my hands on a bootleg Iron Maiden tape. They became my favourite band after that.

What did you do before your political career?
I was a trade union lawyer, so for ten years I worked in Leeds representing trade union members who had been unfairly dismissed, injured at work, had unpaid wages or had been discriminated against.

I would imagine that informed some of your social politics experiences and influences. Did you have any influence from music, like the community politics usually associated with hardcore?
I've always been influenced by the DIY and anti-commercial ethic. An ethic of not being enslaved by big business interests that's inherent in the hardcore scene and inherent in the DIY scene. I remember buying records on Household Name Records in the late 90s and early 2000s and specifically listening to Canvas from Leeds. If you went to their shows, there would be distros and zine fairs and it was almost like bypassing the over-commercialisation of music. I always loved the idea of people coming together to put on their own shows. I put on some gigs when I was younger. It was a space away from everything and I think it's influenced parts of my life and my political ideas.

Did you put on shows in Leeds?
Yeah, I used to put on shows at a space called the Brudenell Social Club.

What do you make of the venues in Leeds, like The Cockpit, that have been shut down recently?
I used to go to the metal night called The Garage at The Cockpit every Saturday. It's a real shame isn't it? It's like when I went to Camden Underworld for Madball. That's how music is meant to be delivered live; it's about grassroots venues and having the best space for music to be performed. Although I do love going to watch Iron Maiden at Donnington every few years, at the end of the day it's a real shame that so many of the smaller venues have shut. The Brudenell Social Club is still going through and, for me, that's the best venue in the country.

I'd completely agree with you there. Leeds still has a wealth of great spaces for heavy music in Temple of Boom and Wharf Chambers.
Definitely. I was at Temple of Boom a few weeks ago watching Canvas. They reformed after 20 years and I've known them since I've been in school. They were pretty influential in the hardcore scene. But yeah, Temple of Boom is a great underground venue. Same with The 1 in 12 Club in Bradford too.

What does Labour offer to make sure the venues and arts are protected?
There was a specific section in the manifesto about the arts and that's reflected in the fact that so many musicians from different genres have supported Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in the election. It was a long time since I bought Kerrang! but I had to buy the copy of the magazine with Jeremy on the cover. I might even frame that.

Especially having Sam from Architects questioning too, a very socially and politically active band.
That's right, in the interview both Architects and Creeper were asking really thoughtful, collective questions but what was great was Jeremy's answers – because he's totally unpretentious, he's not one of these politicians that pretends to listen to the readerships music. He was talking about music in the 60s and asking them questions. I think people like that.

What did you make of Ed Miliband's interview with Barney from Napalm Death ?
It was good! I don't think Alan Partridge could have done a better death metal growl than Ed's. Seriously though, it was fun. Ed Miliband's a good lad and it was nice to see him interviewing Barney. Napalm Death have always been a political band themselves. I've never mastered the grindcore growl but I think Ed really nailed it. I think Napalm Death have always been one of these evergreen bands, Barney strangely never seems to look any older.

I last saw Naplam Death about seven years ago and he doesn't look a day older. The grindcore elixir of life, I guess. What have you been listening to recently?
I've been listening to a lot of Madball recently. Obviously I had the gig coming up, so I wanted to refresh my memory. Also I've been trying to go to the gym more because being an MP is a really unhealthy occupation – the hours are so long and unpredicted that it's hard to timetable going to the gym – so hardcore has to be the music for it. It's the only music that keeps you motivated to carry on exercising. There's another band I've been listening to on Earache Records called Woods of Ypres. They're from Canada and the singer was called David Gold, who died in a car accident when he was about 30 or 35. Their later stuff was kind of like Type O Negative but he had really deadpan, introspective lyrics. I've also been listening to a bit of Maiden, a bit of Canvass and Motörhead on my iPod.

I suppose it's good commuting music because you're always between Leeds and London.
Oh, that's right. On the train from London to Leeds last night, I was listening to a band called My Dying Bride who are one of my favourites. They're a band from Yorkshire who have been going for well over 20 years now. The new Vallenfyre album is amazing, too. It's called Fear Those Who Fear Him. They're now a three-piece – the singer is the guitarist from Paradise Lost, the drummer I believe is from At The Gates, and the other guitarist is from My Dying Bride. It's so heavy and sludgy it's unbelievable, like a mix between crust and doom metal.

I think the last metal band I saw was Sleep at Primavera Sound about a month ago.
I was meant to see them on this tour! They were headlining the Sunday night at The Roundhouse for Desertfest a few weeks ago but due to the election campaign I couldn't make it. I personally blame Theresa May for that one!

Same. Thanks Richard!

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(All images courtesy of Richard Burgon MP)