The Independent MARCH 9, 2007 - by Jonathan Brown


There was a time when pop stars employed the Thames as a place to bring mayhem and chaos.

The Sex Pistols' notorious Silver Jubilee boat trip in 1977 was perhaps the most celebrated example of this uniquely British form of protest.

But last night, the Blur front-man Damon Albarn and music legend Brian Eno used the river to attempt to end mayhem.

The two rock stars, with the assistance of a fifty-strong gospel choir, staged a serious bid to convince MPs downstream at Westminster to oppose plans to update Britain's nuclear deterrent.

If anyone was in doubt that next week's Commons vote will have far-reaching consequences, Albarn and Eno's evocative sound sculpture, performed from the decks of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, will have disabused them of the notion. Albarn's music was adapted from a mediaeval Welsh hymn. The repeated lyrics of The Clock Is Ticking drove home the sense of urgency as the choir reel off a series of hard-hitting facts.

US nuclear bases now occupy an area of land three-quarters the size of Wales - the equivalent of 2.75 million Wembley stadiums, Albarn informed the crowds gathered along the banks of the Thames by the old Pool of London.

A Trident D5 missile has a range of four thousand five hundred miles. Each submarine carries sixteen missiles armed with forty-eight warheads - the firepower of three hundred and eighty-four Hiroshimas.

According to Eno, who had been drafted in as a "sonic addition" to the proceedings along with Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja, Britain was faced with a stark choice: "I would say even if Trident was a good idea - which it isn't - and even if it was cost effective - which it isn't either - renewing Trident is the worst possible signal we could send to the world.

"How can we be in a position to criticise North Korea or Iran for doing what we are doing, using exactly the same reasons that we are doing?" he demanded.

"We have a chance now to do something that no country has done before which is to withdraw from the nuclear club. It would be a fantastic thing for Great Britain to do."

Eno is no stranger to political engagement. In 1996 he founded the Long Now Foundation with the aim of provoking a public debate about the future of Western society. Since 2003 he has been at the forefront of protests against the Iraq war, appearing as a speaker at demonstrations in 2005 and 2006.

The twenty-minute performance last night, which drew applause from diners in the riverside bars and restaurants, was simultaneously web-streamed around the world. It will remain on view on the internet for twenty-four hours.

Campaigners are hoping the performance will draw the attention of audiences, in particular, in the Middle East, where the issue of proliferation is at its most acute.

The Arctic Sunrise was seized only last week by the Royal Navy during another protest at Faslane, the submarine base and home of the British deterrent in Scotland.

Campaigners from Greenpeace, who organised a series of pleasure boats to circle the famous ice-breaker moored downstream from Tower Bridge, described last night's proceedings as a peaceful process. They are determined to highlight what they say is the Government's hypocritical ambition to spend £76 billion on upgrading the UK's submarine-based deterrent.

According to Del Naja, who provided a series of images and statements which were broadcast simultaneously to the hymn including the moving testimony of a twelve-year-old victim of Hiroshima, the issue of Trident was one purely of power politics.

"All political power comes from the barrel of a gun. Blair and his government want this to provide political leverage to allow Britain to keep its place at the top table but Trident won't work as a deterrent. It's there as a political tool."

Massive Attack recently performed in the Middle East close to some of the most serious fighting during the Israeli assault on southern Lebanon. Del Naja said that the band enjoyed support in countries from Iran to Israel and added that music was a powerful force for bringing people together.