The musician trying to rip France apart

This is a picture of Fabien Clain when he was a child in northern France:

Fabian schoolIt’s taken from his Copains d’avant page – France’s Friends Reunited.

Back then, Fabien was into rap and basketball, and was a real fan of Jesus (he used to write Catholic raps).

Here’s another picture of him, this time in the ’90s, foot up on a chair like any other moody teen:

Fabian teen

I’d like to post a picture of him today, age 40. I know he’s huge – prone to putting his arm around people’s shoulders and dragging them in when he talks. And I also know he’s got a beard. But I can’t say anything else. Because Fabien Clain is in Syria.

And he’s a member of ISIS.

Fabien Clain is apparently high up in the terrorist group – last week, the French press revealed he’s behind a plot to use child suicide bombers in Europe – but what’s less known about him is he’s also the group’s leading songwriter, a man whose tunes have reached into the heart of France and Belgium.

I’ve made a podcast about him – and the music of jihad, more generally – that’s just come out as part of the amazing music series, Pitch.

It’s on Audible, which means you need to be a member of it or take a free trial, but please do listen by heading here now (Amazon Prime members also get free access).

I came across Clain’s story initially while researching ISIS’ music for my book, hence posting it here, but this clearly takes that story somewhere else.

If you want a reason to listen to something so dark, well, The Sunday Times has just called the episode “utterly riveting”, but I’d prefer you listen because jihadi songs are important. Why else has ISIS released four this year even though it’s on the ropes – shouldn’t it be putting all its resources into fighting?

Al-Qaida’s Indian arm has released 13 songs in the past two months.

If you like it, please check out other episodes in the series. The amazing Laura Snapes has one on the world’s first Cornish pop album and what it says about our sense of national identity; there’s another great episode on the man who makes music for cats; and there’s a fascinating one on a music teacher who turned around a school – and a district – only for his plan to backfire (that could easily be a New Yorker story).

Huge thanks to Whitney Jones and Alex Kapelman, the people behind Pitch, for commissioning me. It was an amazing experience. And also huge thanks to everyone who features and helped me make it.

If you do enjoy it, you should also listen to the New York Times’ Caliphate podcast. It’s 10 episodes long, includes interviews with a former ISIS members and those who have been terrorised by them, and it’s the best podcast series this year: shocking, moving and thought-provoking.

 

What should London’s anthem be?

If it goes independent, obviously. And who knows post-Brexit?!?

London Calling?

West End Girls?

Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up, Look Sharp?

“Er… What?” I hear you say. Yes, Dizzee would be a strange choice. But he’s mine, and for a good reason, which you can learn by listening to Adrian Lacey’s great London Podcast at his site, via iTunes or here if you’re using Android.

I’ve never been asked the question before, which is surprising given so many cities, at least in the US, have anthems.

Adrian gave me one of the best podcast experiences I’ve had, taking me back to my childhood school in the London suburbs to stand in pouring rain (that wasn’t his fault) and explain where my love of music came from, doing a full, fascinating interview about the book, and even getting me to do a reading.

In the episode, he also goes out on London’s streets to ask people what their anthem would be. And he tells a brilliant story about his (white, lower-middle class, British) parents trying to write Nigeria’s anthem when it became independent.

It’s a real fun and interesting listen. And few podcast presenters go to such efforts, so, seriously, head here to hear it.

Adrian’s done some amazing other podcasts on everything from the Fire of London to Bob Marley’s London home, so check out other episodes if you can. Huge thanks to him if he’s reading.

Listen to me on Little Atoms!

This isn't actually the podcast, but click it and you'll be right there!

This isn’t actually the podcast, but click it to be flown right there. The wonder of the internet!

Any of you listen to Little Atoms? What do you mean, “No”?!? You should. It’s, like, the best books podcast in the UK and I’m not just saying that because they’ve got me on it this week.

If you want to hear me talk about my book and national anthems – covering everything from the Olympics to ISIS’s music – head here or subscribe via a site like iTunes. Although you should also just trawl their website, as on it you can listen to everyone from Jon Ronson to Jonathan Meades talk about their amazing books.

Neil Denny, the presenter, interviewed me about 10 minutes after talking to Marcus du Sautoy about his latest book, What We Cannot Know (listen here). He couldn’t find a spare mug for me to drink from, so I used Marcus’. I had a cold for the next week. Make of that what you will.

Oh, look out for Little Atoms’ magazine too since it contains original journalism as well as long extracts from their best interviews. And go and see Neil interview Hadley Freeman in London this September as Hadley is hilarious and you are 110% guaranteed to fall in love with her, even though you know she’s happily married with multiple children.

“One of the most musically brave – or stupid – things I’ve ever heard in my life”

Before I had the meltdown

Mid-way through the meltdown

That quote’s from Tom Service, one of the UK’s best music journalists, and is worryingly about me.

Tom’s, right now, behind a great BBC radio show and podcast called The Listening Service where he explores how music works.

Here’s an amazing episode on repetition; here’s another on musical beginnings; and here’s one on noise. You should listen to them all.

But this week’s is all about national anthems – pieces, as he says, that have “been made to carry more bloodshed, hope, victory, despair, arrogance, humility and even cynicism than any other melodies before or since.” See, it’s not just me who’s obsessed with these songs.

I’m on the episode quite a bit and you can listen to the whole thing here, but I thought I’d put up a couple of excerpts up in case you haven’t got half-an-hour to waste.

Firstly, here’s Tom on Stockhausen’s Hymnen – the great German composer’s attempt at a world anthem – since I don’t actually mention it in the book.

But secondly, here’s that brave/stupid thing.

When we were recording the show, Tom asked me to tell a story about the time I sung the Star-Spangled Banner at a song contest in Nashville. And he found it so funny, he then begged me for the recording.

The story’s in my book, but if you want to hear the sound of a man basically having a nervous breakdown in a baseball stadium, listen below. Dear God!

Any Listening Service fans who stumble across this, read this from BBC Music Magazine for a lot of information on famous composers and anthems. It has everyone from Verdi to Haydn – your every classical need met!

Dope sounds

Just in case you think I only write about national anthems, below are a few things I’ve done recently that couldn’t be more different.

Here’s a piece on my trip to the world’s first government-owned cannabis farm in Uruguay done for the BBC’s amazing From Our Own Correspondent programme:

And here for The Guardian is an interview with the man growing that dope, the CEO of the brilliantly-named Internal Cannabis Corp. It’s a more fun read than it sounds.

“How about some music?” I don’t hear you ask. Well here for the New York Times is a piece on the British musicians who’re remaking the world’s oldest instruments. It contains some amazing sound clips of a 30,000-year-old vulture bone flute and a carnyx, and I highly recommend you click through.

And here, again for The Guardian, is a somewhat odd piece on Radiohead’s business empire, for which the band wouldn’t comment. Which says it all, doesn’t it kids? [“No, it doesn’t. Stop insinuating things about my favourite bands tax affairs”].

There will be some other pieces appearing soon, including one I did on my trip to Antarctica for British Airways’ High Life magazine (how appropriate a name given the cannabis pieces). I’ll try to remember to post those when they appear.

O say can you shut the hell up: Sir Twittwaddle on The Gist!

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended I listen to Slate’s daily podcast, The Gist – one of the most American podcasts you could come across, but funny and opinionated and topical in a similar way to The Daily Show.

I did as told, but about two episodes in had the shock of hearing myself being introduced as Sir Twittwaddle, and then being torn apart for some comments I made about the Star-Spangled Banner to the BBC.

All credit to Mike Pesca, the man in charge, though. I tweeted him and he decided to get me on to explain myself and talk about the US anthem. You can listen below (or here) from the incredibly specific time of 6:47! It’s a fun interview and somehow I come out in one piece!

Listen before for some bizarre talk about Starbucks sandwiches, and afterwards for some very interesting chat about US gun laws!