Ian Watkins, the convicted paedophile, has been sentenced to 35 years behind bars for a range of child sex offences. He has revealed himself to be a sick, callous individual, showing no remorse for his crimes, which he could commit in part because of his celebrity status. It afforded him a level of power, allowing him access to all sorts of people.
He was also the frontman of the Pontypridd fringe-of-mainstream rock sextet Lostprophets – frontman of the band that shaped most of my teenage years. I went to their shows. I made great friends sitting in queues for hours outside venues where they played gigs. I bought their t-shirts and plastered my room in posters. At thirteen, creating my email address, I named it after my favourite CD – which was Lostprophets’ third album, Liberation Transmission.
When the verdict was delivered, my Facebook feed was full of people voicing their disgust at how short the sentence was. It was my friends saying this. People I’d sat in the freezing cold with outside their gigs. Girls who had giggled and fawned over Watkins’ pout. Boys who had bellowed along to stadium-sized choruses with me.
I met Watkins but I could never say I liked him, he creeped me out. But I just assumed he was a sleazy drug-addled throwback to the days of 80s musicians. I waited patiently for his signature then I went to talk to the guitarists about coffee and bleached hair.
Every day, I have to check my inbox at [email protected] That’s bad enough. And obviously the victims in this case are the children Watkins molested and abused: that is under no contention. But I know people who have are also suffering, but cannot levy criminal charges: the girl who got into a sexual relationship with him at 16; my friend who has lyrics tattooed on his arm; the woman who used to be their merch girl; and of course his ex-bandmates.
For all the disrepute Watkins has brought Lostprophets into, the other five musicians in the band are that: musicians. They have been a band since 1999, and it has ended 14 years later in arguably the worst way possible. Their livelihood has been stripped away from them, and their names are tarnished by mere association. Four of them are married, with young families. What are they going to do with their lives now? HMV has pulled all Lostprophets albums from their shelves: why are five hard-working, genuine men being punished for the crimes of a sixth?
This is where I should produce my argument, a well-reasoned line about how we should divorce art from ad hominem attacks on the artists. We watched Roman Polanski and Woody Allen films despite aspersions cast on their characters; can’t we apply the same reasoning to Lostprophets’ music? Can I argue that these songs still have artistic merit? That the emotions created by listening to his words, and these songs, are still valid despite his crimes? Doesn’t art transcend its creators and occupy its own world, as we, the consumers, interpret it?
Maybe someone else can argue that. It’s what I want to say – it really is – but every time I hear his voice in my ears, I have to skip it. I can’t listen to a word from his mouth, but I equally can’t bring myself to delete their fives albums off my iTunes either.
It seems Lostprophets may be going the same way as Gary Glitter: a popular music act so tainted by spectres of paedophilia that to express a fondness for their songs is tantamount to tacitly endorsing child sex crimes.
Obviously, that’s a flawed argument. Liking someone’s music does not mean you like every seedy aspect of their character. And yet, I don’t know if I’ll be able to listen to Liberation Transmission ever again.