Olly the Octopus
by Joseph CornforthLiving in a free country such as England, we have the right to speak our minds. The main example being is the mass protest back in 2003 when Tony Blair decided to go to war with Iraq. Even today, there are still protests occurring relating to the massacre in Iraq. We have had our fair share of protests in this country, which have been sparked by political decisions made by our politicians, including the expensive fuel costs. Meet Olly the Octopus, a protest singer who famously sung a song entitled “London’s New Mare” in the middle of Boris Johnson’s first mayoral assembly in Bromley back in November 2008 and also sung other songs expressing his political views. He is currently living proof that music can be used by a musical individual to express opinions and thoughts about the world today.
Olly also was on the Channel 4 news and CNN in March 2009 singing a song called ‘Fred Goodwin’s Pension’ outside the Royal Bank of Scotland head office in Bishopsgate, London. Olly had been asked to appear in an interview at G20 protests on 1st April 2009. At the protest, he played a gig with the legendary Billy Bragg, who previously formed punk rock band Riff Raff back in the 70’s, and also performed with Get Cape Wear Cape and Kate Nash. The gig at the G20 protest gig was featured in NME’s 8th April 2009 issue.
Last Christmas, Olly released a single in aid of the Palestinians, titled “A Call to Arms for Hippies,” and all the profits went towards the humanitarian work of Gaza Medical Aid for Palestinians. Olly’s first stunt was in the UK headquarters of the Church of Scientology, in which he sung his song “The Scientologist,” and, as similarly to the Boris Johnson stunt, he was bundled out, but was shown out by scientologists. It was that stunt which gave him a cult status.
He has sung many satirical, yet humorous songs, including “Gordon Brown,” “Gangster’s Picnic” and “Camden’s Burning.” These songs can be heard via his MySpace page. I managed to catch up with the singer, and talked to him about music, his beliefs, the general election and that Boris Johnson moment.
PSF: First, how did you start getting into music?
Well when I was about 15 I decided that far from being the corny instrument that my dad played Eagles songs on, the guitar was in fact uber cool and that I simply must be good at it, although I was loathe to admit it at the time, I think I thought it was going to get me girls.
PSF: Most of your songs are very political. How did you start getting into politics?
Politics just creep up on you- you think they don’t matter but they sort of do. It can be a major bore because it's all about pragmatics and keeping most of the people happy most of the time, but I've always liked to write music about the experience of being a human being on planet Earth and politics is one dimension of that. Olly the Octopus started out as a side project for my ranty vaguely political stuff. I save the love songs for my bands, and it just sort of ran away on its own trajectory, the octopus that is...
PSF: How did you come up with the name Olly the Octopus?
Alliteration, pure and simple, and I have the same hair-style.
PSF: Are there any musicians you admire, not just because of their music, but for what they believe in?
Yes, I admire people who have strong beliefs in general, it's a curious mixture of pity and admiration actually, mainly because I generally find it very difficult to hold strong beliefs and convictions myself and I sort of look down on it as naive but also secretly wish I could be as righteous as Martin Luther King or as strident as Billy Bragg... Trouble is, I'm too much of a pissant, but I think that makes me good at seeing the bigger picture and calling things as they are from a twisted morbidly detached view point that people seem to find amusing
PSF: You released a single last Christmas in aid of the Palestinians. How does not just your music, but music in general, help support causes like these?
Well look at all the Free Tibet benefits, Live 8, Kosovo compilations, some great things have been achieved raising the profile of some tough humanitarian struggles. Have they changed the world? Well, we still have nuclear weapons, war and famine, so perhaps not. But I think it's important to try, if you make clothes you send a dress, if you’re a musician, you do a charity single. Bono pisses me off though.
PSF: Would you say you're a charitable singer as well as a satirical one?
I have done stuff for charity, so I suppose that makes me a charitable singer. When people clap after some of my lesser performances, that’s charity too!
PSF: What was your inspiration for the song “A Call to Arms for Hippies”?
I was thinking about my role as a songwriter; whether I wanted to change the world, be more of an activist with it all, take on The Man. I sort of stopped and laughed at myself for taking it all too seriously and that song was what came out.
PSF: With the general election having gone by, do you think music had played some part in the election?
I did a mass hypnosis song on channel 4 for Election Day- I brainwashed the nation into voting green.
PSF: How was your attempt to hynotise the public into voting for the green party?
I failed to secure a prime-time television slot but I did managed to get a song about Gordon Brown on to Radio 4's tonight programme with coded subliminal messages to encourage recycling and Green Peace membership. I hope that appeases the shadowy environmental overlords.
PSF: What are your views on a hung parliament?
Don’t know what the fuss is all about. I think it’s a good thing.
PSF: So amid all the concerns and doubts, and the speculation that there may be another general election, you think (prime minister) David Cameron and (deputy prime minister) Nick Clegg can get on?
I'd rather a more European system of representation with lots of smaller parties, rather than an American style bi-partisan system. Too much power in any one party's hands is unhealthy and isn't really a democracy. I think it’s a good job they stopped the ID cards scheme because it'll make it eaier to pretend to be someone else for the next few years, which is something Nick Clegg is going to have to do a lot of.
PSF: Can you please tell me about the Boris Johnson moment? What made you decide to sing right in the middle of one of his speeches?
Well,he decided to cut loads of public transport spending that day, and I always thought he was a poor candidate. I love him, I'd love to have him over for dinner, he's funny, but Ken was the hero of the town, and Boris just sort of rode a wave of charming Bush-esque gaffs into power. I wouldn't have Ken for dinner though; he'd bore the hell out of me and Boris as we played drinking games.
PSF: Would you consider releasing your Gordon Brown song?
Sure, although the Stranglers might sue me, in which I suppose I'd actually make money out of it.
PSF: Finally, what’s the future for Olly the Octopus?
Well, that would be telling. I rely on the element of surprise!
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