Pussy Riot: the Russian authorities should learn to twist and shout

Music geeks like me have lots of useless facts squirelled away in their brains.

One of mine is that Siouxsie And The Banshees’ first-ever live performance in October 1976 included a mashed-up version of (amongst other things) The Lord’s Prayer. Check out a poor-quality-but-still-excellent audio recording on YouTube. Good stuff, I reckon. Sid Vicious on drums, Marco Pirroni (later of Adam And The Ants) on guitar, and Banshees stalwart Steven Severin on bass.

(BTW - check out the line-up of bands at this event at the 100 Club in London on the YouTube video link above. What a gig! I was there. It was great.*)

Anyway, so what? Well, I’m reminded of this because of the current plight of three alleged members of the band Pussy Riot in Russia. The three - Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Ekaterina Samutsevich - are behind bars awaiting trial after Pussy Riot's “punk prayer” protest in a Moscow cathedral earlier this year, where they played a tune called “Virgin Mary, redeem us of Putin”.

As I’ve said before, what they did was nothing more than classic punk-style provocation and they should never be facing criminal charges for it. They’re charged with “hooliganism” and could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison if found guilty. There are now reports that one of them - NadezhdaTolokonnikova - is on hunger strike to protest at their treatment. Support the Amnesty campaign for them here.

To me this case is an ugly little episode in Russia’s seemingly inexorable slow-motion descent into 21st-century authoritarianism. Today’s news that Russia's parliament is considering a new law which would require foreign NGOs to be identified as “foreign agents” is part of this, and is both sinister and a touch ludicrous. (“So, Mr Durkin, you say you are a researcher from Amnesty International but are you not, in fact, an agent of a foreign power? What is this strange number on your passport? It ends with these highly-suspicious digits … 007”).

Meanwhile, with the St Petersburg authorities now reportedly banning tomorrow’s planned Pride march - part of a totally depressing pattern of the Russian authorities finding a pretext to prevent every single Pride that organisers have ever attempted to stage in the county - you once again have to ask where Putin’s Russia is heading. Surely a country as diverse, culturally rich and (one would think) politically self-confident as the mighty Russian Federation can allow a smattering of day-glo punk protest, some gay pride revelling and a few NGO workers to go into prisons and police stations without being stigmatised.

So, back to Siouxsie And The Banshees … their famous 100 Club gig also included a rendering/mangling of The Beatles’ Twist And Shout. This tune - a typical early Beatles stomper (actually a cover version) - was probably one of the reasons that the band were (according to Wikipedia) derided by the Soviet authorities in the 60s as “a belch of Western culture”. Seems the Russian authorities are still having problems with unconventional musicians …

*Not really, but as all punk fans know, it’s fashionable to say you were at these seminal gigs even though you were actually 12 years old at the time and had only just started liking Abba after seeing them on Top of The Pops. 

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2 comments

What they did would be a similar crime in the UK or the USA, there were senior citizens attending to their devotions at the church. They have virtually no support in Russia. The opposition wants nothing to do with them.

Gregory Carlin 6 years ago

Hi Gregory.
I'm not sure which laws in the USA or UK you're referring to - maybe you could be more specific.
Either way, is what they did actually a "crime"? Should they be in jail now, facing a possible seven-year sentence? Maybe you think they should ..
Also, what about the wider clampdown in Russia? Any comment on that? Some details here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/russia/report-2011
N.

NiluccioStaff 6 years ago