Feb 12, 2009

Blowin' in the wings: why protest songs should return to centre stage

A member of the BNP lives near me.

I know because on the sign outside the flats where this person lives, someone has scrawled a flat number next to the letters "BNP".  And yes, the address was on that leaked list of members last November.

I do wonder if the person concerned wears the graffiti as a badge of pride. Or whether they're vulnerable and fearful in a society that ought to respect people's freedom of speech, even if their views are hurtful and repulsive.

Do you recall the years after Thatcher (you remember Thatcher: she's the mother of the BBC's least favourite celebrity since Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Clarkson and, um, the DEC)?  In the early 1990s, for a generation of young people politicised by the poll tax riots, it was especially cool to bash racism with music.

Some artists waved the flag higher than others. Reggae trance soundsystem Dreadzone (pictured) woke the zion youth and encouraged them to Fight The Power. Credit To The Nation sampled Nirvana with protest single Call It What You Want, and we all learned that (a) racism was wrong and (b) sampling had gone too far.

And Phil Collins threatened to leave the country if the left-wingers gained power. (They never did, because Collins and his ilk secretly infiltrated the Labour party with a drumming gorilla, or something.)

I still have Anti-Nazi League stickers on old notebooks somewhere.  The notebooks are full of appalling song lyrics that will never again see the light of day.

Since then, we've forgotten how to be political through music. Yes, protest songs live on, and plenty of musicians rouse the Citizen Smith within us. But Bono made the whole thing a little maudlin, while Morrissey's revived spat with the NME left both parties looking more than a little pathetic.

Politics seems to be hiding in the wings when it should be centre stage.  There is plenty to be political about.  The BNP keep winning seats for their disgusting cause, the red-top dailies prey on people's fears, and the pay gap continues to drive a chasm betwixt all different sorts of people. 

It's pretty disingenuous of me to turn a piece about racism into an exercise in nostalgia.  But I wish we could regain that spark.  Make Chumbawamba cool again. Well... okay... maybe I've taken it too far...


rach said...

Chumbawamba, Credit to the Nation, Dreadzone - I feel like I'm back at college :-)

I once evacuated chumbawamba off the stage in the middle of their set, into a dark alley. They were surprisingly compliant...

Anonymous said...

Chumabawamba never stopped being cool Fat Roland.

They always went down a treat in Scunthorpe anyway ..

Anonymous said...

The former lead singer of the Stranglers has recorded a 'protest song' about a ring road he doesnt like in his local town. He was asked on BBC breakfast news this morning how he thinks the song will be viewed by history, compared to the heritage of protest songs more generally. "Only time will tell" he said with a completely serious face.

Fat Roland said...

Rach - Was this just off your own bat? The gig wan't that bad, was it?

Expletive - What goes down in Scunthorpe stays down in Scunthorpe. That's the rule. Probably.

James - It's somehow comforting to know that most rock stars end up being annoyed about normal things like everyone else. And yes, I reckon people will buy 'Slow Boat To Trowbridge' in their, ooo, dozens.

steve said...

Sounds kinda scary - the political situation in the UK right now, geez. A good political lp that comes to mind is Gary Clail and On-U System's "Emotional Hooligan", from the early nineties I think. Meat Beat Manifesto "Armed Audio Warfare" as well. Anyhow, sad to see these racist turds, so intent on keeping things as they used to be and fearing what they don't know (or at least try to know), come to power.

Anonymous said...

To be vaguely serious for a moment, I've been listening to a bit of old anarcho-punk lately, and a lot of it is still scarily relevant.

I would recommend Crass, Zounds and the mighty Rudimentary Peni (although Peni are not so obviously political)..

Fat Roland said...

Thanks for the music recommends and for the regular comments.

Steve - I discovered MBM via Orbital (Mindstream was kind of a MBM remix): great stuff. Why aren't they on Spotify, dammit?

Expletive - Crass had a long-reaching influence. Without them, in a roundabout way via early techno, I guess a lot of the music on this blog wouldn't exist.