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Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

12/04/2016 17:32

It has become almost a mantra, there's no protest music any more, discuss. In the mainstream maybe, though Beyoncé for one by following up her embrace of feminism with the message that the Black Panthers matter seems to confound.

This is one revolution that will most certainly not be televised. Instead it exists largely in the margins. Corporate power has closed off too many options for most to make any kind of breakthrough. So instead the sisters, and the brothers, are doing it for themselves. Take The Hurriers who seem to be single-handedly turning their home town Barnsley into a citadel of soulful socialism. Absolutely shaped by the enduring legacy of the miners' strike this is band whose sound is straight out of the mid-eighties Redskins songbook , that's a compliment not a criticism incidentally. Debut album From Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks absolutely confirms this, music to shout along to rather than sing along to, full of commitment mixed up with rousing tunes. Or Thee Faction, kind of the southern cousins of the aforementioned, though my all-time favourite description of them remains ' Comrade Feelgood'. Whereas The Hurriers remind older listeners of The Redskins this lot have Wilko written all over them, again a compliment not a critique. Their latest masterpiece Reading, Writing, Revolution continues where previous albums left off combining music to dance too with a richly acute ear for socialist history. Dialectics for the dancefloor, just what The Corbyn Effect demands. Reminding me of early Belle and Sebastian vocals-wise the debut album from The Wimmins Institute comes with a title nobody is going to forget in a hurry Badass Lady Power Picnic. The combination of wit and a lightness of music touch gores to show showing our anger doesn't always mean playing angry music, nice. The rising prominence of women musicians in protest music is splendidly reported in a new, and free e-zine, with the brilliant title Loud Women. Promoters of political gigs have a read, there is absolutely no excuse for not having 50:50 in your line-ups.

A key role of protest music through the ages from Woody Guthrie to Grace Petrie has always been to provide a chronicle of the times we live, the histories from where we carve the present out of and futures we might dream about. Leon Rosselson is without much doubt the most important singer of this tradition in Britain. His new album Where are the Barricades? marks his retirement at the age of 81 after some 60 years of songwriting and singing. Full of anger, wit and imagination that Leon has always provided across those six decades. Robb Johnson comes from a slightly later era to Leon, though his beautifully packaged 5-CD box set A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands still manages to account for almost three decades of protest singing, 1986-2013. This is the era of Thatcher, the miners, Hillsborough, Stop the War and a whole lot more, the news via song and guitar. Yes it sounds old-fashioned but as a means to provide a collective response to that is thrown our way, a sense of identity and belonging, and knowledge too Robb and Leon's trae in verse and tunes has few rivals. Joe Solo is one of many now adding new to this tradition. A musician-activist Joe's new CD Never Be Defeated is what might once have been called by other artists a 'concept album'. The difference lies in the kind of concepts Joe is interested in. Solidarity, community and resistance in the coalfields of South Yorkshire '84-85.


Out of the despair of the Tories 2015 General Election victory and the delight of Jeremy Corbyn's entirely unexpected landslide win in the Labour Leadership vote a wave of protest music , old and new, erupted. This was, and remains, almost entirely beyond the gaze of the mainstream media and their annual rehash of the 'whatever happened to political music' article. Goodnight Heard and Unheard Hope not Hate Favourites is a double CD compilation of anti-fascist tunes, some of the classic variety - Billy Bragg's The Battle of Barking - but for the most part pleasantly unpredictable, both artist and content. Plenty of old favourites too for those of a certain age, Inspiral Carpets, Attila the Stockbroker, Wonder Stuff and Chumbawamba,, alomgside the latest of the new wave including Siobhan Mazzei, Blossoms, Trascey Curtis, Steve White and the Protest Family. A rich variety yet still journos ask ' Whatever happened to political music?' Doh.


Orgreave Justice is another double CD also featuring Billy Bragg alongside Louise Distras, Sleaford Mods, Paul Heaton with less well-known names Quiet Loner, The Black Lamps, Matt Abbott and more. The common theme here is truth and justice framed by that epic moment in the 84-85 Miners' Strike, Orgreave. The specificity of the theme gives the disparate tunes and voices a collective sense of purpose producing an album of record as well as resistance. The spoken word and folk interludes sit well alongside the more obviously rousing tracks to create a really impressive compilation, in fact a textbook version for others to follow.

Based in Lewes, East Sussex Union Music Store is an extraordinary factory of good music - live music, record shop, recording studio and their own label too. Every town should have one, sadly most don't. Testament to their ambition and impact is the CD they rush-released within a few weeks of the nightmare Tory victory (on just 24% of the popular vote it should always be remembered) last May. Land of Hope and Fury also benefits from the specificity of its content, this time in terms of musical styles, mainly of Americana, Country and Folk which is what Union unashamedly favour. Lucy Ward, Mark Chadwick of the Levellers, Moulettes, O'Hooley and Tidow, with for me Grace Petrie's If There's A Fire in your Heart providing the absolute stand out track of a very splendid lot.

A music of change needs a music we can dance to as well. There is nothing that gets close to Ska in its mix of conscious lyrics and rhythms to move body and soul to. It's no accident that the 1980s Two-tone music was one of the first tri provide this mix and with an unrivalled multicultural line-up too. A revival has been a long time coming but there is a hint of it with Captain SKA and South Coast favourites The Meow Meows. Both are absolute showstoppers live. The Meow Meows are promising to release a third album soonish, meantime treat yourself to some uneasy listening off their second album Somehow We Met.

A rebel music that knows its history, diverse in styles, mashing up gender, race and sexuality, conscious lyricism with enough tunes for those out to look good on the dancefloor. Not the same as it's ever been, but paying dues to those who went before. Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come . Not just a classic tune, but a shared musical and political ambition too, now and back then too.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. On Saturday 1st October at Rich Mix London 2016 Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and Thompsons Solicitors, supported by The International Brigade Memorial Trust will be marking the 80th Anniversary of Cable Street and the formation of the International Brigades with a night showcasing protest music 2016 featuring The Hurriers, Louise Distras, The Wakes, Potent Whisper, Will Kaufman and Lánre. Reserve the date for a night not to be missed.

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