Tom Ewing

Tom Ewing is a researcher, writer and critic based near London, whose day job is in market research. He has presented at PopCon about the British charts and about how Eurovision caused Brexit. In 1986 he won a scholarship to Winchester College, founded in 1382 and called “uniquely civilised” by the Good Schools Guide. This was not his experience.

"NOR SHALL MY SWORD SLEEP IN MY HAND: Boarding School Masculinity In The Pop Age"
In March 1980, industrial band Throbbing Gristle played Oundle, an all-male boarding school educating the children of Britain’s elite. In her memoir, band member Cosey Fanni Tutti recalls how she answered puerile harassment from the boys with a barrage of sound. They responded to the onslaught by spontaneously singing the hymn “Jerusalem”.

Boys’ boarding schools are a barely hidden heart of British culture, pop and otherwise. TG at Oundle is a fascinating story because it seems to be a clash of opposites, but band leader Genesis P Orridge had been a boarder himself. When you lock hundreds of thirteen-year-old boys up together for eight months of each year in crumbling Victorian buildings, things get weird. When you add the tumultuous, liberating diversity of pop to the mix, things get weirder.  And the institutionalised boys these schools produce, whether damaged or empowered, fan out upon release into every corner of pop life, as they do into every corner of the British establishment.

This paper, presented by a boarding school survivor, examines how pop, listening and fandom mutates and survives in these bizarre masculine hothouses, taking the Oundle incident as a start point and reaching back and forward in time. It mixes my own memories – how pop music worked to channel not just gender identity but hierarchies of taste, class and power – with interviews (including one of the boys who set up that Oundle gig), criticism and music. Featuring public schoolboys funding progressive rock, punk covers bands playing in 14th century feasting halls, and grime anthems about the real-life equivalent of Quidditch, this will be a strange, quick-fire and darkly funny presentation which will go a long way towards explaining why the British Establishment (and its native men) are such a mess.