Mare Nostrum (don't leave shore)

by Elvers

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about

An old fashioned protest song.

Written whilst on holiday in Cyprus in spring 2015 just after the UK announced that they were withdrawing naval support for an Italian-led search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean called Mare Nostrum ("Our Sea'). The reasoning was that the likelihood of rescue was deemed a "pull-factor" for refugees and migrants to set sail. The inference being that if we let enough drown they'll soon get the message and decide to stay on shore. I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Of course desperate people fleeing genocide, brutal civil wars and extreme poverty will take pretty short odds if there's a chance of reaching safety or comfort and the people taking their money to send them out to sea in leaking wrecks don't care where the passengers end up.

Shortly thereafter a boat carrying almost a thousand refugees sank whilst being intercepted by the Italian Navy with the loss of much life. It wasn't much commented on in the mainstream press but I remember the picture on the cover of the periodical i'd bought at the airport on the way out lying around our shabby holiday villa all week. It was an aerial shot of an upturned boat on a bright blue and glistening sea surrounded with dots of the pretty pinks, oranges greens and golds colours of African Sunday best fabrics floating in the water. Another picture inside was of a brightly coloured child-sized party dress floating lifelessly just under the surface. The sunny aesthetics of the scene were so at odds with the unfathomable awfulness. It haunted me.

The holiday place we were staying in at that time was at the end of dead-end dirt road surrounded by dusty orange groves and had a vaguely creepy, cut-off feel about it. The shore at the end of the track behind the house consisted of a narrow strip of boulders strewn with litter and crumbling concrete military structures facing south west across the Med to Libya. I didn't really feel like swimming in that sea that week.

That summer there was a huge amount of anti-immigration rhetoric in the UK right wing and mainstream press culminating in David Cameron using the phrase "swarm" to describe the migrant threat. Then in September, about the same time my daughter was born, photographs of a drowned Syrian boy ignited a wave of compassion and outrage in those same same publications. I had conflicting feelings about the motivation for publishing the pictures and the public reaction to them but ultimately felt it was a good thing that the sobering reality of the issue was finally on front pages and seemed to humanise it for many. A lot of previously vocal "send 'em back"ers were suddenly conspicuously quiet. I was affected as anyone by the mundane horror of the images.

However the whole issue seemed to die away as autumn set in and the stories and accompanying pictures dried up. People seemed to forget. I played the song occasionally but memories of the emotions that it had stirred faded fast too as winter dragged on.

This spring, a whole new wave of tragic drownings seem to be crashing onto our screens and all the old feelings of shock and helplessness and are back with a vengeance. This week, following another sinking which once again appears to have been all the more potent for having been photographed, the UK have committed to send a ship to the Med to assist with the operation.

This welcome news technically makes my hitherto unheard protest redundant... but I thought i'd share it anyway. Hopefully if a few people hear and like it it might achieve a tiny fraction of the compassion, goodwill and maybe even positive action generated by certain pictures.

It's not exactly feelgood hit of the summer but I felt compelled to record it, post it to our page and write this.

I hope you like it. Cheers,

A
xx

lyrics

Oh the end here it comes
From the planes and the bombs
I have run from my home
Just to sink like a stone

A thousand souls put to sea
And headed for Italy
Shoulder to shoulder they packed us in
A set adrift to sink or swim

A Sunday dress floating on the bright blue water
A tragedy
We all agree
Buy we must be strong and remain silent once more
And send our message
Don't leave shore

Send this ships back to port
Send home the navy their fight is fought
Man the towers guard the coast
Mare Nostrum is now a ghost

A Sunday dress floating on the bright blue water
A tragedy
We all agree
Buy we must be strong and remain silent once more
And send our message
Don't leave shore

credits

released May 31, 2016
Written by Allan J Begg, performed by Elvers, recorded at Lewisham Heights.

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Elvers London, UK

Elvers are an alt-folk/country band founded in South London by Allan Joseph Begg and now based in Faversham, Kent.

Gigs and more info at www.facebook.com/elversong

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