It’s good show, but not a good excuse. (Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns)

June 9, 2023   5 mins

Roger Waters presents Corbynism the Musical, and, unlike its source material, it is still going. On the 81st night of his tour, This is Not a Drill, there are two demonstrations outside the O2 arena. The first is to Free Julian Assange. A small group holds a cardboard cut-out of Assange (the real Assange is in Belmarsh), here to thank Rogers for his support. The second waves Israeli flags and shouts, “Roger’s a Racist!” and it is better attended, mostly by hecklers. And why not? It has more drama: as Rogers will say later, “It’s theatre, darling!”

This is Not a Drill just left Germany, where there were attempts to ban it. In Frankfurt, he played the venue where Jews were imprisoned after the Kristallnacht riots and in Poland his shows were cancelled. These cries have snowballed: the US government and Keir Starmer have pointed out Waters’s antisemitism. “Sixty fucking years [of making music] and they’re trying to cancel me, and it hurts,” he says later.

Yet here he is. The anti-Waters faction complained that he dresses as an SS officer in the show — he doesn’t; it is a generic fascist uniform — that he placed a Star of David on an inflatable pig — he did, a decade ago — and that, by mentioning Anne Frank in a list of victims of tyranny, he defames her. The last is true, because Waters believes that a Jewish conspiracy overthrew Jeremy Corbyn, fixed the result of the 2019 general election, and controls Keir Starmer. It’s a variation of the conspiracy theory that killed Anne Frank.

The protest has Israeli flags and a series of Pink Floyd-related signs: “Hey Roger, Leave us Jews Alone”; “From the Dark Side of the Moon to the Wrong Side of History”. One is more pointed: “Your Daddy Didn’t Fight the Nazis for you to Desecrate the Holocaust”. Eric Waters was killed in the battle of Anzio in 1944, when Waters was five months old, and I think his interest in fascism — his parodic fascism, which he communicates with fists and leather, and sympathy for Putin and Assad — comes from this loss. To inhabit something, to impersonate it, is to control it: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” for a 79-year-old rock star. Firing a fake machine gun while wearing a leather coat with double hammer insignia is plausibly theatre; naming Jews as players in a demonic conspiracy is deadly.

The crowd must navigate Waters’s passion and they do it in different ways. First, they must pass the protest, which angers them, because it is a rebuke, when they are having fun. When you go into dinner, you don’t want to talk to the food. Some pause and shout: “Free, free Palestine!”

There are reasonable people here: an army of bystanders to the latest eruption of antisemitism. It’s weekly now. Some of them want to reassure. They pause to say that the fascist uniform is satire, the flying Star of David pig is satire. Waters, they say, is Pink from The Wall. “He campaigns against demagoguery”: a hard sell from a stage in a massive arena. “Roger loves everyone!” “I think this is wrong, because it’s not Roger”. “He’s got nothing against Jews, you’re blowing it all out of proportion”. “It’s ironic”. Then they ease off, with saddened eyes. “I just like the songs,” pleads one man, and in he goes.

But there are also the unreasonable. A man stops to shout: “Racist! Apartheid state! Down with Israel! You are killing Palestinians! You hate Muslims! Mass murderers, you are mass murderers, you have turned oppressors, you have forgotten about the Holocaust! You are creating a Holocaust on the Palestinians! Are only your lives important?”

An immaculately dressed man mutters, “pathetic, scum….” on passing: is it so painful to walk past a flag held by a Jew? I see him again later, saying into a telephone, “Meet me where the Israelites were protesting”. I go in, passing a woman raging at the protest, dressed as a rainbow.

Inside, in the queue, an affable man from Newcastle tells me: “I think he’s cracked. Like lots of geniuses.” He can’t say why Waters moves him. It comes from a place without words.

The show opens with a statement about the events in Germany, projected onto a screen: “Regardless of the consequences of the attacks against me, I will continue to condemn injustice and all those who perpetrate it.” This gets a moderate cheer, which will disappoint him. They are here for the music and if some of them half or wholly believe him — I’m not sure how many Corbynites can afford the O2 — for others it is only the price of entry, nodding alone as he says Fuck the Occupation, Fuck the Roman Empire, Fuck Drones. But he doesn’t know it. “If you are one of those ‘I love Pink Floyd but I don’t like Roger’s politics’ people,” says an announcer, “you might do well to fuck off to the bar.” But they don’t.

The stage is arranged as a piano bar, for intimacy and the flow of ideas. It is another of Waters’s delusions because, the following night, when a man unfurls an Israeli flag in the arena, his opinion is not suffered in “the bar”, and he is manhandled away. Tonight, though, Waters says he wants to “exchange human feelings. All of you in the O2 are in the bar with me somehow.”

Waters speaks his distress. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever tried to cancel any of you. I’ve watched other people being cancelled. I watched Jeremy Corbyn be cancelled by the Israeli lobby. That is what happened in 2019. I know you didn’t come here to listen to this,” he moans, “and I didn’t come here to tell you.” Didn’t you? “If only I didn’t have to tell you, if only these fuckers weren’t trying to cancel me, but they are, and I’m not going to let them do it. I’m fighting back.” A man screams: “I love you!” “I love you,” Waters replies, “whoever you are”, unaware that he who loves everyone loves no one.

He attacks the Tory-turned-Labour MP Christian’s Wakeford’s criticisms of him: Wakeford, whose constituency has a large Jewish community, complained about the mention of Anne Frank, the flying Star of David pig, and the “SS” uniform. “Star of David on a giant pig, blah, blah, blah,” he says. “Guess what Christian? I didn’t. Do your research you cripple!” The crowd, listening patiently, as if watching a man they admire shout at a broken Teasmade, emits a murmur of confusion. Surely this is a banned word? “You are making shit up because you’ve been told to by your masters in the Foreign Office in Tel Aviv. Because this hate — hate, this hate! — is being organised from Israel. Alright..” And he slumps a little, “The Bar…” And he sings.

This is Not a Drill is explicit: Waters believes that the world is controlled by a cabal that includes Bush, and Obama, and Clinton and Biden (“war criminal — just getting started”), and arms companies and Israel, but not Putin, who appears briefly next to a sign that reads “Believe”. The music is better than the politics; others helped him make the music, and the politics are all his own. The music is incredible: Waters has finessed his screaming over 60 years.

We are, for our entertainment, told, in song and image, that we are dolls, robots, babies, sheep: that we are inhuman, and at the mercy of a demagogue that Waters inhabits but in no way is. “It’s theatre, darling!”

I goggle when the Fuck the Patriarchy sign blooms on the screen because Waters’s feminism is not convincing. The two women on stage are young and lovely, though the men are not. The bass guitarist and the saxophonist get long solos; the women do not. Waters squeezes himself past them, saying, “Shanay, squeeze, Amanda, squeeze”; he’s a rocker Benny Hill. The following night, he will insult Polly Samson, the wife of his former bandmate Dave Gilmour, who called him an antisemite on Twitter in February. “Imagine waking up to that every morning,” he says, and I am reminded he has been married five times. The next morning, Gilmour posts a picture of Samson, saying he is glad to wake up with her. Waters has a gift for making people sing to his tunes. He does it here.

By the end, the crowd is sated on Waters’s combination of exultation and grief. Most of them stand by Waters because they love the music of Pink Floyd. It’s good show, but not a good excuse.

Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.