Going underground

Questionable pop ballads and Deptford's very own subterranean feel

'A song from the darkest hour': Brown's party playlist

All poets want to be rock stars, and all rock stars want to be poets. Which is fine. There will always be a place in the world for ageing poets in leather jackets, and no-one would begrudge a rock star a few too many bad metaphors. It’s more perilous by far, however, when it’s not poets but politicians who decide they need more of the guitar hero about them. They should be wary of such urges, as Gordon Brown’s choice of walk-on music for his speech on Wednesday shows.

The Prime Minister’s arrival onstage was heralded by Manchester folk-rockers James’ ‘Sit Down’ – which begins by announcing itself as ‘a song from the darkest hour’. It continues as bleakly: ‘Its hard to carry on when you feel all alone, / Now I’ve swung back down again, its worse than it was before’ – an odd choice for his make-or-break ‘Obama moment’.

James frontman Tim Booth links the lyrics to Brown in a way that the Prime Minister might not have intended. ‘The song was written as an expression and call for unity in a lonely and frightening world. Personally the lyrics were written during a 4am bout of insomnia when the world looked bleak,’ he told us. ‘Here, it's being used by a desperate politician trying to hang on.’
Booth isn’t keen for the song to be a regular on the conference playlist. ‘If the Labour party use it more than once we might have something to say about it,’ he warns.

Labour are no strangers to misguided musical choices. At the 1995 Labour Conference, Tony Blair bounded onstage to ‘If the Kids Are United’ by 70s punks Sham 69, in defiance (very punk) of the fact that the current Labour front bench were neither kids nor, at that point, particularly united. It could have been worse, however – other Sham 69 possibilities include songs about breaking out of jail, getting drunk, and throwing up in toilets. Two years later, Dream’s ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ voiced the optimism of the 1997 conference. It didn’t seem quite as optimistic, however, when it was still being played in 2004.

Not that the Tories can feel superior. Boris Johnson's campaign to become Mayor took place to the apocalyptic sounds of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’. With lyrics like ‘We ain't got no swing / 'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing,’ quite why that ever seemed like a good idea remains unclear.

Knife crime and talking dogs

The winner of this year’s Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize was announced on Wednesday. The award goes to Patrick Ness' novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, which combines talking dogs and mysterious pools of silence with the topical concerns the title implies. Todd, the novel’s protagonist, has to decide whether he can kill people with his knife, a ‘big ratchety one with the bone handle and the serrated edge that cuts practically everything in the world’.

‘I really wanted to show what it is like having a knife in your hand’, Ness said. ‘It's power. Power has terrifying consequences even if you think it's quote unquote “just”. Once used it changes you, and in ways you may not want and can't change back.’ Two weeks after Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about knife crime (and a murdered goldfish) was removed from the curriculum, it’s nice to see that not everyone thinks we should be covering teenagers’ ears to keep the world out.

From tavern brawls to grass roots art

Marlowe was stabbed there and Francis Drake was knighted there, but since the Renaissance, Deptford’s kept a bit of a low profile. This is changing, however – a new influx of cafes, galleries and studios are transforming the area into a hotspot for up-and-coming artists. Now the area's Deptford X, holding its tenth annual arts festival. Subtitled Ghost Trade and the Spectre of Change, the festival will include installations, film screenings and Cy Twombly-esque asemic carvings on the windows of the train station. “There’s a real buzz down here, but it’s not just an overspill of trendy east London,” says curator Julia Alvarez, who graduated from the nearby Goldsmith’s College. “Deptford’s got its own flavour, there’s an underground feel.”