Posts Tagged ‘Folk Music’

A Seasonal Musical Attack on the Tories: the Universal Credit Songbook

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day, Mike also put up another piece of musical satire and anti-Tory criticism. This was the Universal Credit Songbook, where some clever clogs has taken the tunes of traditional Christmas carols, and given them fresh words attacking the Tories’ murderous policies, and particularly Universal Credit.

Mike posted an example, tweeted by Imajsaclaimant, which runs

Away in a bedsit,
No crib for a bed
My mother is silent,
When will we be fed?

My mother is crying,
But I’m wide awake
No money for presents,
Five more weeks to wait

This seems to have inspired Michael Fulcher, who posted another piece to the same tune commemorating the death of Gyula Remes, the Hungarian man, who died outside parliament.

See Mike’s article https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/its-the-season-for-christmas-carols-how-about-a-couple-from-the-universal-credit-songbook/

Socialism and working class protest, has a rich musical heritage, and this, and other recent anti-Tory songs are part of this. Songs like Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’, as well as past favourites like ‘Liar, Liar’, also about May and her inability to tell the truth, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’, about her former education secretary and her attack on state schooling.

The Wobblies’ Songbook

The Chartists in the 19th century also composed songs expressing their demand for the vote for all adult men. There are also many folk songs from the 19th century celebrating strikes and attacking poverty and exploitation.
The Labour party, at least in Bristol, had a choir back in the middle of the last century or so.

The radical American syndicalist trade union, the International Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’ of the early twentieth century, were particularly known for their songs. Their songbook can also be found on the web at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/iww.html

Many of the songs celebrate and promote the union, the power of working people and specific, heroic individuals, while others bitterly attack the owners and managers. One such is ‘The Parasites’ by John E. Nordquist. This runs

Parasites in this fair country,
Lice from honest labor’s sweat;
There are some who never labor,
Yet labor’s product get;
They never starve or freeze,
Nor face the wintry breeze;
They are well fed, clothed and sheltered,
And they do whate’er they please.

2. These parasites are living,
In luxury and state;
While millions starve and shiver,
And moan their wretched fate;
They know not why they die,
Nor do they ever try
Their lot in life to better;
They only mourn and sigh.

3. These parasites would vanish
And leave this grand old world,
If the workers fought together,
And the scarlet flag unfurled;
When in One Union grand,
The working class shall stand,
The parasites will vanish.
And the workers rule the land.

See: http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/usa/parasite.htm

Clearly, you don’t have to be a radical syndicalist wanting to see the working class utterly replace capitalism and its owners and managers to see that the poverty it describes is coming back, and that workers do need to stand together to demand real change under some form of socialism, like the reformism of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn here, and the radical left of the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US.

Mike hopes that Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’ will be the new No.1 this Christmas. It won’t be, but it should, if only to see the BBC go spare and try to avoid having to play such an explicitly left-wing song. I hope it, the UC Songbook and the other ditties attacking May and the rest of the Tories and their corrupt backers also get very many views and downloads, and inspired more people to sing, strum and drum against them.

They must never silence us!

Advertisements

Folkie Mike Harding Reads His Angry Letter to May on LBC

December 2, 2018

This is a short video from Garbage Collector’s channel over on YouTube. Those of us of our certain vintage will know Mike Harding has a folk musician and comedian. He used to have his own folk music show on Radio 2. Harding was on holiday in France when May made her speech calling for the whole country to unite behind her on Brexit. Harding was so outraged by her, her party and Brexit that he wrote this letter, which went viral. May herself even shared it, and James O’Brien then asked Harding to record himself reading it, so he could play it on his show on LBC.

It’s a powerful, angry attack on the Tories. Harding states that his family includes Irish people and Poles, who came to Britain and fought for it. His father is buried in Holland, having been shot down with his bomber during World War II. Yet these brave people have been shamefully discarded by May. He attacks the way she treated the Windrush people and her vans going round calling for immigrants to hand themselves in. He states that she has no answer to the question of the hard border in Ireland, nor over Gibraltar. Her party has privatized everything bar the NHS, and is lining that up to sell it to the Americans. And the Tories refusal to invest in industry has resulted in the north – Yorkshire, Sunderland and elsewhere – being decimated. She has grievously divided this nation. Those who voted remain will never forgive her for Brexit, and those who voted Leave will never forgive the Tories for not fulfilling the glowing promises they made about it. There are no magic unicorns being produced by the government, and no 350 million pounds people were told would go to the NHS if we left Europe.

Here it is. There’s a complete transcript of it over at Garbage Collector’s post for it on YouTube.

Steeleye Span’s Seasonal Hit ‘Gaudete’

December 29, 2017

I remember when at least one pop band nearly every year during the 1970s and 1980s released a Christmas single. The classic examples are Slade’s ‘Well, Here It is, Merry Christmas’, and one of the other glam rock band’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. These seem to have disappeared these past few years, possibly due to the collapse of the charts. A friend of mine told me that it was now nearly impossible to compile them in the way that had been done a few decades ago, because the music scene has become very fragmented, with different people listening to a wide number of musical genres. Or it may just be that public taste has changed, and people are no longer interested in buying songs about Christmas. Some of this might be due to the increasing secularisation and religious plurality of British multicultural society, but I doubt it. After all, people still put on school nativity plays, and there’s even been two British comedies about them. This is despite the scare stories run by the Daily Mail about ‘left-wing’ councils or schools banning such plays in case they offend Muslims.

One of the great pieces of British Christmas pop from the 1970s was Steeleye Span’s ‘Gaudete’, which was released in Christmas 1972. Steeleye Span were one of the great folk rock bands, who produced a series of great rock versions of folk songs. ‘Gaudete’ itself is a medieval carol, celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s in Latin. The first line means, ‘Rejoice – Christ is born of the Virgin Mary’.

I found this video of Steeleye Span with their lead singer, Maddy Pryor, performing it on the Park Records channel on YouTube. It was staged as part of the 35th anniversary tour. The band is obviously older, looking very definitely middle aged, but their musical skill has not dimmed with the years.

I realise that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I hope whatever your views on religion, you can still enjoy a piece of great medieval music, performed by some of the great folk artists of the 1970s.

Here it is. Enjoy!

Anti-Fascist Songs by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly

February 19, 2017

I think my political views and biases have made an impression on the search engines on YouTube, as these came up in the ‘recommended’ and ‘you may also like’ bars. Not that I mind – they’re classic, American working class folk and jazz. The machines decided that I might like Woody Guthrie’s Tear the Fascist Down, and All You Fascists Bound to Lose, as well as Mr. Hitler by the Blues/Jazz legend Huddie William Leadbetter, or Leadbelly.

Here’s Tear the Fascist Down

All You Fascists Bound to Lose

Mr. Hitler

It’s a bitter fact of history that at the time Leadbelly was singing this, Blacks were still very much treated as second class citizens with Segregation in the south. Still, he was absolutely right to lampoon and attack Hitler. I also think that popular music had a strong role in bringing Blacks and Whites together to challenge racism. The Nazis hated Jazz. They regarded it as ‘Negro music’, whose raw sexuality was corrosive of White culture and would corrupt virtuous White youth. But it and Blues very swiftly became popular amongst Whites as well as Blacks, and produced numerous ‘White Negroes’ like ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow, who not only listened to Black music, but were highly sympathetic to the people and their sufferings, which produced it. And the same thing happened later when Rock ‘n’ Roll emerged from the fusion of Black barrelhouse Jazz and White Country music. A few years ago I was watching a rock documentary, which mentioned Little Richard. One of the speakers was a Black musician, who remembered how the crowd at dance halls were divided before Little Richard came along. The floor of the dance hall was clustered with Black people dancing, while the Whites tended to cluster around the edges. ‘White spectators, we called ’em’, he recalled. Then when Little Richard came along, the Whites joined the Blacks on the dancefloor. ‘And so we had integration before Dr. Luther King’, the muso concluded.

Absolutely. And the very best popular has been entertaining, uplifting and drawing people together ever since.

John Brunner on the 1979 SF Book Show, Time Out Of Mind

May 4, 2015

‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!’

I found this edition of the BBC series, Time Out of Mind, over on Youtube. Broadcast in 1979, the series looked at four SF authors, who were either British, in the case of Ann McCaffrey, an American based in Ireland. Apart from John Brunner and McCaffrey, the other authors featured were Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison. The fifth and final programme in the series was on that year’s SF convention in Brighton.

I vaguely remembered the series from the trailers running earlier in the evening, though I never watched it myself as I was probably too young. I’ve got a feeling it was broadcast long after my bed time.

Stand On Zanzibar

Brunner’s particularly interesting, as he’s known for writing very dystopian, near-future SF, such as his books The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. All of these are rightly classics of the genre, and I think Stand On Zanzibar has been republished under the Gollancz colophon as an ‘SF Masterwork’. It is indeed, though I think it’s also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s very much a product of its time, which was the late 1960s-’70s concern about the ‘population bomb’ and the massive problems faced by an overpopulated world. It’s set in a near future, c. 2020, if I remember properly, in a massively overcrowded world, where living space is in short supply. The result is endemic domestic terrorist violence, and ‘muckers’ – frenzied spree killers. These are ordinary citizens, who’ve finally snapped under the strain of such oppressive conditions. They’ve taken their name from quite literally ‘running amok’.

In order to curb the population explosion, the government has passed eugenic legislation preventing those with genetic defects or inheritable diseases, like haemophilia, from having children. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is legal, but still vulnerable to the interest of organised crime.

Far more sinisterly are the attempts by the various government to find ways to control the population using genetic engineering. This includes the research of an Indonesian scientist, who the Americans send a special agent to extract.

Brunner, CND and Environmentalism

Brunner was politically active for a time in his life. He was a member of CND and attended their meetings and marches. The programme shows how he even took part in an exhibition of the horrors created by the bomb, and how this influenced him. He states on the programme that when he turned to writing near future SF, he didn’t have to do much research. While it was harder to write than stories set in the far future, where the imagination could run freely, he found that much of the nightmarish conditions he describes in his works have already happened. This includes the dangers of chemical pollution on the environment and agriculture in The Sheep Look Up.

The ‘New Wave’ and Literary Modernism

Brunner’s like Moorcock and the other members of the British ‘New Wave’, in incorporating the techniques of literary modernism into his work. Moorcock in the programme dedicated to him said he wanted to use the techniques of such avant-garde literary authors as James Joyce. He was bitterly disappointed when his literary aspirations were rejected by the rest of the SF milieu, who considered these models to be pseudo-intellectuals.

Brunner acknowledges that in creating the background for the world on Stand On Zanzibar, he took John Dos Passos as his model, and included clippings from newspapers, even poetry. These clippings also show how rooted the book was in present-day reality. Several of the clippings explaining the ‘muckers’, for example, are taking from 1960s reports of real spree killers. As for the ‘partisans’ and their terrorist campaigns in America, this looks like it was based very much on the urban terrorists that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, like the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the various French Maoist rebels and the Weathermen, Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Front in America.

America as Dystopia

The show also makes the point that although Brunner’s British, he’s popular in America, partly because he speaks with a mid-Atlantic voice. Brunner is shown talking to friends and his publisher in the US. But Brunner was also very critical of the US. He says that he took America as his model for the dystopias he created, as much of what he describes in his books has already happened there. He follows this with the statement I’ve quoted at the top of this piece ‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work’.

Folk Music and Dancing

I also found the episode interesting, as Brunner was a folkie, who lived in the small town of South Petherton in Somerset. He and his wife were the organisers of the town’s folk festival. I found it rather incongruous that an author, who was concerned with the future and the problems that it would throw up, should also be a fan of, among other things, such very traditionally English pastimes as, um, Morris dancing. Brunner and his wife are shown opening the festival, and watching a group of Morris men dancing with the white flannels, handkerchiefs and bells.

Here’s the video:

Population Explosion or Population Crash?

While Stand On Zanzibar is a classic, it’s also somewhat dated. Europe and America don’t have the teeming, claustrophobically overcrowded cities of books like Stand On Zanzibar, or Harry Harrison’s depiction of similarly terribly overpopulated world, Make Room! Make Room!, filmed as Soylent Green. Indeed, birth rates around the world are falling, and in some parts of the West, China and Japan they’re actually below replacement level. Some demographers are talking of a ‘population crash’, and the problems this will cause. This in its turn has created its dystopian prophetic fiction in the film Children of Men, with Clive Owen and Thandie Newton. This imagines a world where humanity has become sterile. No children have been born for 18 years. The result is political instability, violence and ruthless control by a Fascist state. The only hope in this dystopia is presented by an immigrant woman, who has become pregnant.

Spree Killers and Religious Violence

We also don’t have intelligent, supercomputers cooled in liquid helium, like Shalmaneser. Other predictions are so accurate, as to be actually prosaic, such as influence of the media and the emergence of the pop video. Unfortunately, so are the ‘muckers’ – such as the maniacs, who walk into schools, restaurants or cinemas with guns and begin shooting. The book’s also accurate in that some of the crazed killers are religious fanatics. In the book the religious violence is carried out by Christians. This is true of part of the American extreme Right, as shown in the Militia movement and their fears of an atheist government, which will begin sending Christians to death camps run by FEMA as part of the establishment of a one-world global dictatorship.

The Pieds-Noirs and the Legacy of Algeria

Other predictions look dated, but contain a kernel of truth that has been subsequently hidden, but still remains a powerful influence in contemporary politics. Two of the characters, for example, are a brother and sister, Pieds-Noirs – former French-Algerian settlers, who have been forced out of the colony after independence. Despite the decades that have passed since France lost its war against its former colony, Pieds-Noirs still suffer from considerable stigmatisation because of the atrocities the former colonial overlord committed. Now, nearly five decades or so later, there is little special shame attached to the Algerian War. Nevertheless, it has influenced French politics in that many of the Arab, Muslim population of France are the descendants of Algerians, who chose to emigrate to the former colonial power. These have formed an immigrant underclass, who have suffered racism and discrimination. Much of the political disaffection French Muslims come from this background of emigration, dislocation and resentment by the host society.

The Corporate Take-Over of the Nation State

One of the most extreme of the novels predictions, and one which mercifully hasn’t occurred yet, it the literal corporate takeover of entire states. Another of the characters is the president of a small, west African nation. Unable to improve conditions for his people through normal politics and democracy, he literally signs it away to an American corporation. In return, that company promises to invest in his nation, develop it economically, and provide jobs and training for its people. It also, as Brunner makes clear, condemns them to corporate slavery.

This hasn’t quite happened like that yet, but there are some close parallels. The Socialist government of Alfredo Benz in Guatemala in the 1950s was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup, after Benz nationalised the banana plantations of the United Fruit company, an American corporation. Similarly, Mahmud Mossadeq, the Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown by the Americans in the 1950s after his government nationalised the oil industry, including British-Persian Oil, which then became BP.

And the TTIP, if launched, will allow multinationals to sue national governments if they dare to pass legislation, which threatens to harm their business. Veolia has used similar legislation to sue the Egyptian government, after it raised the minimum wage for Egyptian workers.

The Psychological Legacy of Slavery and the Experience of Black Politicians

Another part of Brunner’s novel, that still retains its contemporary relevance, is that one of his characters is a Black American politician. This isn’t quite so novel as it was when the book was written, coming when Blacks in America were still very much fighting for their civil rights. America now has its first Black president in Obama. Nevertheless, the issues of racism, Black alienation from what they see as White power structures, and the psychological legacy of slavery, still remain a powerful presence. Although physically fit and able-bodied, the Black politician suffers from a psychological weakness in one of his arms, due to being told about how one of his slave ancestors had his amputated as a punishment by his owners. The organiser of a recent campaign against an exhibition on the White exhibition of Africans as subhuman others, staged a year or so ago by one of the Museums, stated that amongst her reasons for opposing it was a concern for the psychological health of Black people. She pointed to studies of young western Blacks, who have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through material showing or discussing the sufferings of their slave ancestors.

Ambiguous Endings and Political Message

Brian Aldiss, discussing Brunner’s work in his study of the history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree, criticises him for failing to take an explicit stance. Despite being a very political novel, Brunner doesn’t take a party-political stance. There’s one incident, for example, in which an elderly lady is forcibly moved out of the home she has lived in for most of her life by the local authorities. This can be read in two ways. It can be seen as council busybodies, enforcing bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation, regardless of the harmful effect this has on the lives of ordinary people. Or it can be read in the opposite view, as local authorities blindly committed to corporate interests and commercial redevelopment.

Brunner also leaves the final results of his characters’ actions on the wider society ambiguous. One of the last sections of Stand On Zanzibar is entitled ‘And See Which Seed Will Grow’, taken from the line in MacBeth which about peering into the sands of time. He hints at their being two possibilities for the world and its millions: either pacification through specially engineered food introduced into its peoples’ diet. Or the possibility of genetically engineering humans themselves, as presented by the Indonesian biologist.

At the end of The Shockwave Rider, the authorities organise a plebiscite, which will hopefully liberate humanity from tyranny. This asks them to vote between two statements. These seem to offer strikingly different alternatives, but when read closely, don’t actually mean very much, and actually say pretty much the same thing. The book then concludes ‘Which way did you vote?’

Again, as in Stand On Zanzibar, the final result, the choice made by humanity, is never shown. There’s the possibility of hope, or a little more hope. But it doesn’t end with a total solution that will automatically improve everything, and the outcome is decidedly mixed.

Warning: 70’s Fashions on Display

I think Brunner died a little while ago. This documentary gives provides an insight into the life and views of one of Britain’s great writers of dystopian SF. As I said, his book’s don’t make an explicit party-political statement, but in his anti-nuclear activism, environmentalism and critiques of corporate power, Brunner does share many of the concerns of the Left.

You should be warned, however, that as the documentary was made in 1979, it shows it in some truly horrendous ’70s fashions.

Alun Perry’s ‘Sack Esther McVie’ Song

March 30, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political pointed me in the direction of this at the weekend. It’s the official song for TUC Wirral’s ‘Sack Esther McVie’ campaign. It’s a folky little piece of the type you used to hear coming out of folk clubs in the 1970s. It compares her abysmal record at oppressing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, with Christ’s, who healed the sick and preach against the maltreatment of the poor by the rich. I think everyone ought to get behind it’s message of voting out the Wicked Witch of the Wirral on May 7th.

Radical Balladry: Folk Protest Songs against the Credit Trap

May 31, 2014

On Thursday I published a post about the way the Bulgarian peasants’ party, BANU, attempted to provide reasonable credit from banks lent to peasant credit cooperatives as a way of destroying the moneylenders that had plagued Bulgarian rural society, as a result of whom hundreds of villages had found themselves in serious debt. I suggested that we needed something similar to act against usurers, such as Wonga and the other payday loan companies. Thousands of people in Britain have now also found themselves heavily in debt because of the way they have been forced to rely on such companies, as well as criminal loan sharks, because of low wages and the repeated slashing of benefits by successive governments. People have also been caught in the credit trap through the absurdly easy terms on which it was available during the boom years. Advertisers must share their responsibility for this, has the television adverts for the services of Wonga and the various credit cards suggest that this is all free money, which the borrower doesn’t need to worry about paying back. It’s a seductive message, and all too many people have been taken in and deceived by it.

Jess has also commented on this post with her encyclopaedic knowledge of the long tradition of radical British folk music. She notes that there was an outcry at the way many people were finding themselves in debt through hire purchase when this was introduced in the 1950s. Then as now, Right-wing think tanks attempted to justify the creation of easily available credit, which could lead the poor and vulnerable into a never-ending cycle of debt. This indeed occurred, and was bitterly criticised in song by Graham Gouldman and Jeff Beck. Jess writes

“Britain too in the 21st century has seen the return of the loan shark and moneylender as thousands, perhaps millions, have got into serious debt. Some of this has been through the absurdly easy credit that was offered in the boom years, ”

The availability of ‘absurdly easy credit’ was one of the cornerstones of the neo-liberal agenda.

Way back in 1958 the IEA published their apologia for the money-lending industry ‘Hire Purchase in a Free Society’ [Harris, Naylor & Seldon]

A typical IEA publication of the period, it contains a few gems;

“Social Impact;
Criticism of hire purchase has not come only from moralists who condemn the practice on the grounds that it ensnares people into debts they cannot afford to repay’ morphs into, with an aside from Walter Greenwood’s condemnation of ‘tick’ in ‘Love on The Dole’ to the assertion that;

“Harry [the character condemned by supposedly old-fashioned notions of debt as a weekly ‘mill-stone around the debtors’ neck’ got his new suit…”

Just how deeply the tally-man was disliked, generally, is suggested in this song from Graham Gouldman, (recorded with great reluctance by Jeff Beck)

“To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We give him a pound
When he calls on his round

To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We give and we get
And we’re always in debt

With his plan he carries all we’re needing
With his plan most anything is ours
He’s the Tallyman, oh yeah
He’s the Tallyman

Shoes and socks, hard wearing for the children
Village frocks all in the latest style
From the Tallyman, oh yeah
From the Tallyman

To our house on a Friday
A man calls every week
We’ve made him a friend
So he’s here to the end

From cradle to grave
We expect him to say
Here’s tick to the end
So we’ve made him a friend
Here’s tick to the end
So we’ve made him a friend”

[Beck objected to Mickie Most’s insistence on a ‘catchy’ follow-up to ‘Silver Lining’ and hated the production, rather than Graham Gouldman’s lyrics]

The debt problem is likely to become even more severe with the government’s cuts to the buffer amount of money allowed to families before they are considered to have been overpaid tax credit, and the use of private debt collectors to pursue the poor, who have been mistakenly overpaid. So this is another song that could reasonably be revived and adapted to suit the new conditions created by Wonga and the like, and now the Inland Revenue.

As for the latter, one of the experts on Japanese monster movies on TV – I think it may have been the great Phil Jupitus – once said that the only time you ever heard cheering during a Godzilla movie was when the epic fire-breathing radio-active dragon from the depths trashed the headquarters of their Inland Revenue in Tokyo. If only something similar would happen to the house of whichever vicious Tory apparatchik dreamed up this bill.

Godzilla

Godzilla: First the Japanese Inland Revenue offices in Tokyo, but will he trash Osbo? We live in hope!

Radical Balladry: The Meadomsley Strike

May 18, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

As an example of the way traditional working class music and poetry could still have power and relevance today, Jess in one of her comments to another of my posts on radical working class music and poetry posted this piece about the South Medomsley miners’strike of 1885:

“If you’re inclined te hear a song, aa’ll sing a verse or two,
And when Aa’m done yer gan’ te see that every word is true;
The miners of South Medomsley they never will forget
Fisick and his tyranny and how they have been tret;
For in the midst of danger, these hardy sons did toil,
For te earn their daily bread se far beneath the soil.
Te make an honest livelihood each miner did contrive,
But ye shall hear how they were served in eighteen eighty five.

Chorus.
The miners of South Medomsley they ‘re gannin te mek some
stew
They ‘re gannin’ te boil fat Postick and his dorty candy crew,
The maistors should have nowt but soup as long as their alive
In memory of their dorty tricks in eighteen eighty five.

Below the county average then the men was ten percent,
Yet Fisick the unfeelin’ cur he couldn’t rest content;
A ten percent reduction from the men he did demand,
But such a strong request as this the miners couldn’t stand.
The notices was aall served oot and when they had expired,
Aall the gear was brought te bank, and the final shot was fired;
Te hurt his honest working men this low lived man did strive,
He’ll often rue for what he did in eighteen eighty five.

Fisick was determined more tyranny te show,
For te get some candymen he wandered to and fro’
He made his way te Consett, and he saw Postick, the bum,
He knew he liked such dirty work and he was sure te come.
Fisick telled him what te de and were te gan and when,
So at the time appointed, Postick landed with his men,
With pollisses and candy men the place was all alive,
All through the strike that Fisick caused in eithteen eighty five.

Commander Postick gave the word, they started with their
work,
Though they were done at five O’clock, they dursent stop till
dark,
And when they’d done aall they could and finished for the
day,
The bobbies guarded Postick and his dorty dogs away.
Fisick was a tyrant and the owners was the same,
For the torn oot of the strike, they were the men to blame,
Neither them nor Postick need expect they’ll ever thrive,
For what they did to Dipton Men in eighteen eighty five”.
Tommy Armstrong
http://www.pitmanpoet.org.uk/SongsAndPoems/TheSouthMedomsleyStrike.htm

It comes very much from a particular time and place, but it also reminds me very much in its tone and sentiments of the Miners’ Strike against Thatcher nearly one hundred years later. Unfortunately, after Thatcher won, she nearly totally destroyed the mining industry in Britain so that there are very few miners left.

Radical Balladry, and Songs of Protest, Folk and Punk

May 17, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

I posted a few pieces this week on Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (London: Faber & Faber 2010) and radical and Socialist British folk song and verse, including examples from the 19th century. This started an interesting debate between Untynewear and Jess over the nature of radical folk song, its influence and its appeal today compared to other genres.

Untynewear commented that the folk music he tried after reading Young’s book was largely too twee for his tastes, and was too middle class, ‘nice music for nice people’, for which he blamed the very middle class folk music collectors like Cecil Sharp. It’s a fair point, as after the raw energy and nihilistic rage of punk, some British folk music can indeed seem safe and twee, celebrating an idealised bucolic idyll that never existed except in the minds of Conservative Romantics and urban city dwellers. You consider all the jokes about Morris dancing. The new masses of the rapidly expanding Victorian towns reacted against the horrors of the new mass industrial society while unaware of the grinding poverty and squalor that also existed in the countryside, and which forced their parents and grandparents to move to the city to find work in the first place.

In response, Jess pointed out that some of the folk bands and artists did recover and perform the angry, radical songs of the past. She recommended in particular Ashley Hutchings’ Albion Band, who had ‘recorded ‘Battle of the Field’ a couple of years before punk, but inspired many later bands such as the Levellers and The Men……”

And his ‘Kicking Up the Sawdust’, 1977, with Bob Cann, though not overtly political, can hold its own in any musical company.’

She also points out that there was a considerable difference at the time between the point of view of the collectors of the songs and dances, with some being far more radical in their beliefs and the material they collected. She writes:

As Gergina Boyes points out, there was quite an ideological battle went on within the ;’collectors’ (one that paralleled the arguments between the Jacobin John Ritson and tory Walter Scott in the 1790′s) . If you look at the work of Frank Kidson you will find an entirely different attitude to the music and the people who made it than the one held by Sharp and his cohorts.

She also pointed out that the people composing and performing the music were largely ignored by the middle classes and the music industry:

Despite the polite interest from above, the people who made the music, just carried on doing so. Fortunately some of it was recorded (try Veteran CD’s) , though not much made it onto the airwaves, let alone the jukeboxes.
Try http://www.veteran.co.uk/Veteran%20Catalogue.htm

She also traces the influence that this radical music has had on modern pop through Lonnie Donegan, whose interest in music was inspired by an American folk artist.

Donegan, she writes, started off as an aficionado of Josh White an American folk singer whose music reached this country through the airwaves of the BBC, courtesy of a slightly left wing (Labour) presenter called Charles Chilton.(we will meet Charles in another context, another time)

Unable to find the records he heard over the airwaves, he found them at Collets Book shop in Charing Cross Road (Formerly Hendersons, a syndicalist bookshop). The end result, as someone once said was ‘the Beatles’

Untynewear championed punk as the modern music of protest that appealed to him, as well as the music of the British West Indian community that emerged at the same time, like Steel Pulse and Linton Kwesi Johnson. He particularly recommended Johnson’s ‘Inglan’ is a Bitch’ and ‘Wat About Di Workin Class?’ Johnson has a sizable following, including many writers and bloggers for his left-wing music attacking racism and capitalism. Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove include ‘Inglan is a Bitch’ in their anthology of radical, democratic and socialist texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Untynewear gives the lyrics to ‘Wat About Di Workin Class’, which goes

‘From Inglan to Poland Every step across di ocean
The ruling class is dem in a mess, oh yes
Di capitalist system are regress
But di Sovjet system nah progress
So wich one of dem yuh think is best
When di two of dem work as a contest
When crisis is di order of di day
When so much people cryin’ out for change nowadays
So what about di workin’ claas? ??
What about di workin’ claas?
Dem pay the cost, dem carry the cross
An’ dem nah go forget dem ??
Dem nah go forget dem plans’

While this seems very dated after the Collapse of Communism, in the 1950s and ’60s, it should be remembered, the Western ruling class was very definitely in a mess because it looked like the Communist bloc would overtake the West in affluence and material prosperity. See the book Red Plenty for a partly novelised account of this period from the point of the view of the Soviets. Buddyhell over Guy Debord’s Cat has also included Johnson’s ‘Reggae fi Peach’, protesting against the murder of Blair Peach by a member of the SPD at an anti-racism demonstration.

This isn’t an either/ or situation. The idea that folk music is somehow a unique expression of a nation’s essential nature, somehow isolated and different from the music of other nations and cultures, as viewed by some of the 19th century Romantic folklorists, has been rejected. Writers and researchers on folk music have pointed out that folk music has always drawn on international influences since at least the 16th and 17th century. A German writer then described how musicians from all over Europe, including England, toured the Continent and the fairs of Germany to pick up the latest tunes, which they then took back with them to their own countries. Sea Shanties are a particularly mixed genre. One book I read said it was impossible to work out from which country’s musical tradition the genre as a whole developed from, while noting that there was a distinct African element to the music. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from an industry, whose very nature was international trade and the transport of goods and people. And the influence of other nation’s culture and the adoption of their musical forms continued in the 19th century. One type of music that entered British folk music in the 19th century was the Polka, which originally came from Poland.

And far from being the anonymous expression of a nation’s collective soul, some folk music was written or composed by distinct individuals, whose identities are known, or entered the tradition from Broadside Ballads. With this in mind, it’s entirely fair to regard modern radical pop artists, like Johnson and the politically engaged Punk bands, as forms of modern folk, even though some of the artists themselves may have reacted against being lumped in with the genre. Jess herself agreed with Untynewear about the quality of Johnson’s music. Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, in The People Speak apart from Johnson, also include songs by The Clash, ‘Know Your Rights’ and Elvis Costello, ‘Shipbuilding’, along with folk songs like Hamish Henderson’s ‘The John Maclean March’ and ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’, Frank Higgins’ ‘The Testimony of Patience Kershaw’ as well as anonymous 19th century ballads like ‘Hunting A Loaf’. They’re all songs of popular protest and attacks on social injustice, with the same roots in the experience of the poor, the working and lower middle classes, and the marginalised and oppressed, like many ethnic minorities.

Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.

1.

We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.

2.

“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.

3.

“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.

4.

“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;
http://pronoblem.com/iwwlrs.pdf

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here
http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o6tbi8b3qf6dgbw

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here;
http://www.radicalglasgow.me.uk/strugglepedia/index.php?title=Tom_Anderson ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.