Protest songs; come back Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger…

pete seeger

Pete Seeger died a few weeks ago. He was a middle class son of left leaning academic parents who began his radical education- then he discovered the real thing- Woody Guthrie, who died the year I was born in 1967 after years of Huntingdons disease.

There was a programme on Radio 4 (catch it on the I player for a few more days here) about Pete Seeger the other day

Never have we needed protest songs more yet no-one seems to write them much anymore.

It occurred to me however that perhaps it always seemed that way. Seeger and Guthrie sold few records. Any plastic winner of Pop idol will sell ten times the product that they managed between them over almost a Century.The songs had nothing to do with making money, and everything to do with collectivising the experience of working people in the face of oppression. The more oppression, the more songs it seemed- black Americans had most of both.

The songs were sung on marches, in protest sit-ins, in union meetings. They were acts of defiance in the face of blatant obvious injustice.

The problem is that we no longer see injustice clearly even when it spits at us. This is the other role of the protest song- to make us look again at what was obscured by all the tinsel and tv. We need prophets to come out of the desert with a Gibson guitar and snarl to us that we have become fat on the meat of other peoples children.

I am reminded again of this song. It is heading in the right direction…


The return of the protest song…

The Occupy London movement have launched their own music channel, along with an album entitled ‘Folk the Banks’.

More from the Guardian here.

The first album, called Folk the Banks, has a cover designed by the artistJamie Reid, who stuck a safety pin through the Queen’s nose on the Sex Pistols’ behalf all those years ago. This is not punk, though, but – as the title suggests – folk music.

Adam Jung, an activist from the US who is the driving force behind the project, believes the organisers have made the right choice of musical genre. “Folk makes sense because it’s traditionally the music of protest,” he said. “It’s the music of the people. It’s very appropriate for the first album to come from that tradition.” And even if this one doesn’t take off, there are already four others in the pipeline.

The 17-track album includes work by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Billy Bragg, Anaïs Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Sam Duckworth and the stalwart anarchist collective Chumbawamba. Yours in exchange for a donation, it will be distributed digitally and, the organisers hope, on vinyl.

Vinyl! I hope to be able to get hold of this…

The power of song to communicate ideas and to allow passion to flower in the very heart of us all remains strong. Sing on I say- we need you.