17 October 2008

Little Britain 1, Copyrights 0

I'd feel pretty bad if seeing the Zatopeks and the Copyrights playing together was the only reason I'd popped over to this side of the Atlantic. Thankfully, I'd rationalized that I needed a little trip as a birthday present to myself (this coming Tuesday, if any of you want to get in on the present-giving action), and it seemed like a good idea to time it so as to coincide with the Zatopeks-Copyrights tour. If I'd known it was going to turn out like this, maybe I would have waited till November and followed Delay around instead.

Well, I didn't do too much following anyway; originally I was hoping to see half a dozen shows in France, Belgium and the UK, but as the time approached, things got pared down to only three shows, one in Paris and one each in London and Brighton. The only one that worked out turned out not even to be in Paris, but in a suburb called Malakoff (not nearly as grim as it sounds; it was sort of the Gallic version of Secaucus if you're a New Yorker or Barnet if you're a Londoner). So I rode the Metro out nearly to the end of the line and saw the Zatopeks and Copyrights play for a smallish crowd in the back room of what resembled a French sports bar. The reception from the Frenchies was a bit desultory, but one got the impression that they were about as excited as they ever get, apart from when they're ripping up cobblestones and beheading kings, that is.

So far so good. I was really looking forward to the next night's gig, even if it was in Brixton, not exactly one of London's garden spots (more or less a cross between Crown Heights and Trenton NJ). But the Windmill pub is a decent enough place, if a bit grotty, and as it would be something of a homecoming for the 3/5 German-based Zatopeks, I anticipated a large and lively crowd.

Well, the crowd was there, but not the Copyrights. Seems they'd tried riding across the UK-French border in the van with the Zatopeks, along with all their merchandise, and were rather rudely shocked when the UK customs authorities proved none too keen on letting them into the country. So not keen, in fact, that they turned them around and sent them right back into France, where they sit at this moment in an F1 hotel by the side of a motorway waiting for the Zatopeks to return and pick them up for the final two gigs in Belgium and Holland.

Everyone seemed genuinely shocked by this turn of events, even though I'd raised the issue the night before in Paris. "I don't think it'll be a problem," declared Fletcher, "the Zatopeks said they go back and forth all the time and have never had a problem."

Yeah, but the Zatopeks are British, I pointed out, while you guys aren't. I don't expect to have trouble being allowed back into my own country, but that doesn't mean I can bring along a few Mexican friends and tell the border guard, "Hey, it's cool, they're with me." But there's no sense in blaming the Zatopeks either; after all, one would assume that since the UK is part of one big happy European Union and since people and goods are allowed to move freely all through said Union, bands allowed to play in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc., should be allowed to do likewise in Britain. And in fact traveling between most European countries these days is not much different from traveling between American states.

But Britain has never adjusted to this new reality. A significant body of British public opinion was very much against the Channel Tunnel, presumably in the belief that if you put a hole under the Channel, hordes of Frenchmen and even less salubrious foreigners would suddenly come popping out of it, and while you can now travel from London to Paris with minimal fuss, almost like taking an extended subway ride, the return trip continues to be the kind of hellish ordeal that only British Rail and British Customs could devise, with long queues and nosy border guards demanding to know the purpose of your coming to London (how about because it's there, one of the principal reasons people have been flocking to great cities since time immemorial?).

The ironic thing is that despite its almost obsessive paranoia about maintaining its own separate borders, the UK is probably more awash in guns, drugs and illegal immigrants than any country in Europe, and the authorities seem absolutely powerless to do anything about it. However, the timid burghers of little Britain can sleep comfortably tonight knowing that Johnny Foreigner has not been able to sneak his pernicious brand of American pop punk with an eye to debasing pristine British culture or undermining the fragile British economy by flogging half a dozen CDs and t-shirts.

God knows I love this country and its people just as much as the one I was born in, and I still have many regrets about leaving it when I did, but one thing I don't miss is the incredible bloody-mindedness that still reigns rampant in so many quarters. But before I ride any further on my high horse, I should bear in mind that by all accounts, American customs and immigration is, if anything, even worse. And if you've ever tried taking your band back and forth across the American-Canadian border, you'd know that while NAFTA allows oil tankers, logging trucks, and billions of dollars in goods and money to flow freely between the two countries, a band not big enough to afford a license (aka a work permit) is begging to be taken out and crucified if they're not good enough at dissembling their way across the border.

So, next time, Copyrights (or any other band hoping to enter Britain): get out of the van, pretend you're a tourist, and ride across as a foot passenger. "Even crusties have known that for ages," opined Sean Hard Skin, who stood disconsolately outside the Windmill, having come specifically to see the Copyrights. Well, as the Copyrights themselves put it, "Shit's fucked but what can you do?" The Zatopeks were still awesome, and will be again tomorrow night at the Prince Albert in Brighton.

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