Time Out NOVEMBER 23-30, 2005 - by John Lewis


Brian Eno - producer, pornographer, perfumier and peacenik.

We know many different Brian Enos.

We know him as the sound sculptor who transformed the music of Roxy Music, David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2. We know him as the pioneer of sampling, of electronica, of ambient, of generative music. We know him as the connoisseur of hardcore pornography; the man who once fucked six groupies in one day before collapsing; the occasional transvestite; the man who started work on a male aphrodisiac perfume for Unilever in 1977; who once pissed in Duchamp's urinal as an artistic statement.

Today we meet more incarnations of Brian Eno. We meet a session musician who is busy playing keyboards and treatments on Grace Jones's new album, her first in seventeen years (she's one of the great treasures of modern life). We meet someone who's curating this Sunday's concert at the Astoria - he's invited multi-instrumentalist polymath Nitin Sawhney and singer-songwriter Imogen Heap to play solo sets, and has French-Algerian punk disco maverick Rachid Taha to headline. We also meet a Brian Eno who is going to re-live his ancilliary role in Roxy Music - albeit without the feather boa and the spaceman outfit - as Rachid Taha's backing vocalist and sound manipulator (I'm playing various processing tools to distort the guitarist, so effectively we'll be playing one guitar together).

We also meet a Brian Eno who has become a political activist. Anyone reading his hilarious diaries of 1996 will have met someone whose whimsical, surrealist rambles about tasting his own piss, or not being able to achieve an erection in Ireland, seemed somewhat apolitical. But, in the last five years, politics seems to have subsumed his life. He's become a prominent supporter of the Lib Dems and a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq, which is the focus of this Astoria show.

"No, I haven't been particularly political in the past and I would happily not be political now," says Eno. "But I think it came from one book I read, called Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner in which he describes how Germany in the 1920s slid, quite unconsciously, into fascism. And, while I'm certainly not making any comparisons between Blair and Bush and the Nazis - I don't want to give that impression at all - I'm just saying that it's easy for things to slide out of control. It's actually very easy for democracy to disappear. It's important to be engaged."

Were you opposed to the last war with Iraq?

Yes I was, actually.

So, by that logic, Saddam would still be in Kuwait?

Well, I was opposed to going to war. I wasn't opposed to getting him out of there. I don't think that war is the only way. Law is always better than war.

You are known to be a very intuitive artist - do you see your politics as similarly intuitive?

Well, yes, in the sense that, politically, you either believe in the strict father model or the nurturing mother model. You either believe that people respond to authority, or that they respond to kindness and inclusion. I'm obviously in the latter camp. I think that people respond better to reward than punishment. It's an intuitive position that's very difficult to defend in an argument.

Isn't law usually only enforceable through strength and intervention?

Maybe. I was actually in favour of military intervention in Kosovo, but even that I'm not sure about. I think there might have been other ways of putting pressure on the Serbs. But I see your point. I have been reading the diaries of Churchill's secretary John Colville, and it is astonishing that so many people, especially in the British upper classes, thought that we should go into alliance with Hitler. And yes, I hope I wouldn't have been one of those liberals who tried to argue us out of going to war in 1939.

"But music, as a mechanism of protest, is completely useless," he laughs. "And lyrics, of course, have less to do with politics than anything else. Lyrics are always misleading because they make people think that that's what the music is about. For me lyrics are just a way of getting voices to do something. That's why I can listen to Arabic songs or Indian songs, because I'm interested in what voices do, and then how they move and how they feel free to move. For instance, it really was political when Elvis Presley started indicating that he had life below the neck. Even if he was just singing Love Me Tender while he was doing it. Now that's a political statement!"

What might surprise many is Eno's association with the Stop The War Coalition, a ragbag crew dominated by Trotskyites (like the SWP), Ba'athists (like George Galloway) and Islamists (like the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim Association of Britain). Is Eno happy to share a platform with the Socialist Workers who carry banners proclaiming 'Victory to the Resistance', or various fundamentalists?

"Well, yes, some of them are fucking stupid, of course. I don't like everyone who is involved in the Stop The War Coalition. To be honest I don't know much about them. I do realise that it's a very broad umbrella. The only common bond between us is our conviction that the war in Iraq, or our part in that war, should stop soon.

"That said, I have quite a lot of misgivings about George Galloway. But I don't much like Christopher Hitchens either. That was a very peculiar argument. Two rather unbearable people. I didn't really want to agree with either of them!"

Brian Eno presents the Rachid Taha Band, Nitin Sawhney and Imogen Heap at the Astoria on Sunday.