4 Feb 2016

Massive Attack: putting refugees centre stage

It was, to be honest, more preparation than your typical Channel 4 News music interview.

But this was Massive Attack. The sound of a generation, or three. And a very rare interview with Rob Del Naja aka 3D, or D – to his mates.

So two days before the interview I drove down to Brighton on Monday night to watch the concert and meet Rob and put him at ease about a C4News grilling (not), revelling in my old favourites turned up loud on the stereo on the way down.


And I use that word – concert – deliberately. Someone on twitter took me to task for not calling it a gig. What an old grandad I sounded, he said.

But a Massive Attack performance in 2016 is a polished affair, more like a recital. Nothing seems left to chance. It is note perfect. And in the intimate setting of the Brighton Dome I wanted to applaud the end of each song, not cheer or jump up and down.

Rob is the one who does the talking for Massive Attack. G, his creative partner in the band, is utterly charming backstage, but has no interest in doing interviews. Fair enough. Rob clearly hates it too, but does it – very occasionally.

He’s a thoughtful artist and I get the sense he dreads the idea of sounding like a rock star with a cause. Bono perhaps has a lot to answer for.

Massive Attack always had strong political threads running through their performance but Rob hates the idea of preaching. He wants to provoke thought, not, he says lead it. This was to be his first television interview in several years.

Our “in” was the photographer and television journalist Giles Duley, who was blown up in Afghanistan and lost two legs and an arm.

Giles has spent months working for the UNHCR photographing refugees from Lebanon and Jordan through Greece and across Europe. His remarkable images, all shot on old fashioned film cameras, are arresting.

Before covering wars Giles was a music photographer so knew Rob anyway. When he saw the pictures he wanted to feature them strongly on the tour.

The images are put up on the traditional Massive Attack LED screen – once during a song but most strikingly at the end, in musical silence.

It was a risk – they didn’t know if people would stay to watch or just shuffle off towards the bar.

But if Brighton and Brixton are anything to go by the crowds are moved too. They stay, concentrate, cheer moments such as an image “Refugees Welcome”.

If, as Rob says, our humanity will be judged in history by our response to Syria’s refugees, the response of the Massive Attack crowd is a good sign. Better perhaps than what is being achieved in reality by our leaders.

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