Posts Tagged ‘protest songs’

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

Inspired by October’s TUC march in Manchester, I’ve been thinking about modern day marching songs.

While the music playing through the PA system on the day was a mixture of things, some feel good rebellion songs (The Who’s ‘My Generation’, some Bob Marley, Clash, Jam…) it did come to rely, increasingly on the 1990s Britpop songbook, climaxing with Pulp’s ‘Common People’ and Oasis ‘Don’t look back in anger’ as we neared the Tory Party Conference at GMEX.

Now, personally, I felt ‘Common People’ worked, and did have a kind of political charge to it, but ‘Don’t look back in anger?’ If it’s a slice of Mancunian sentimentality you’re after, give me Elbow any day…

While I never really bought into Britpop at the time, there are other reasons for being uneasy about the prominence of Britpop on the march soundtrack. For one, Britpop was notoriously co opted by New Labour in 1997, and by extension, the use of Britpop on the march might be seen to be suggesting a nostalgia for the days of Blair: Things have moved on, both politically and musically since 1997. There’s a whole generation of politically interested teenagers who didn’t even live through Britpop going on marches for one, what are they listening to? Does modern protest even have a soundtrack, or, as Dorian Lynskey argued very persuasively in 33 Revolutions per minute, is the modern protest song a dying breed?

As such, I propose 19 songs for possible co-option or inclusion on the soundtrack of any future protest marches you might be planning to attend or organise. Some of the choices may well seem a bit odd, but my choices are steered by personal taste as well as overall vibe and feel of the song, and as such are bound to be idiosyncratic. Your list will no doubt be different.

With one notable exception (which I’ll explain in a minute) all songs were released post 2000, and in order of playlist, they are:

Daft Punk ‘Revolution 909’: Because every march needs a warm up song for a bit of ambience.

Le Tigre ‘Get off the internet’: Because you can sort of dance along to it while marching or waiting to set off, and it promotes direct action over digital activism, which is kind of what marching is I suppose.

Sleaford Mods ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’: I think there may have been some Sleaford Mods on the TUC march soundtrack, but a bit more never does any harm.

Poppy and the Jezebels ‘Sign in, dream on, drop out!’: Their 2012 paen to youth unemployment. Bang on, and relatively up to date.

Pretty Girls Make Graves ‘Parade’: Perfect: A song with a marching band tempo, about going on strike and union activism. Suitably bolshy.

Aaran Fyfe ‘All These Days Of Changing’: Bang up to date, came out a month or so back I think. A songwriter for whom the words ‘Voice of a generation’ will probably be applied at some point? Only time will tell…

Jake Bugg ‘Lightning Bolt’: This qualifies as a fast paced feel good one with a positive kind of attitude while being vaguely stroppy. Keeps the feet tapping and spirits up.

Sleaford Mods ‘The Wage Don’t Fit’: There’s always more than one voice of a generation… The definition of ‘Austerity Pop’ surely?

Santigold ‘Disparate Youth’: For it’s general sense of discontent and unease in the modern world

MIA ‘Galang’: Mainly because I think it’ll be great fun to march through Manchester, en masse, chanting ‘YAH YAH YEY…’ etc, and it will encapture a vague sense of warrior spirit or something…

La Roux ‘Uptight Downtown’: It just sounds like it was written about the 2011 riots to me, and has a similar sense of unease and discontent as the Santigold track, albeit with a vague sense of elation as well. But it would work as a marching song because it has that kind of Nile Rogers esque swagger to it, while encapsulating Britain today quite well.

Ting Tings ‘We Walk’: Perhaps I’m being a bit literal here, but it is called ‘We Walk’ isn’t it. As the lyric goes, ‘When it all goes wrong, we walk’

Georgia ‘Move Systems’: Just for general attitude and sound, bang up to date.

Stereolab ‘Ping Pong’: This is cheating because it came out in 1996 (I think…), but, lyrically, it was clearly light years ahead of its time…

Elbow ‘Lost Worker Bee’: Fast enough to march to, vaguely fits the mood.

Doyle and the Forefathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’: Our first defining example of ‘Austerity Pop’, or ‘Austerity Agitprop’. And it still sounds good, five years down the line.

Grace Mitchell ‘NoLo’: ‘How do you know, what the top looks like when you’re living on the bottom?’ She may not have meant it that way, but, if the tune fits…

Florence + The Machine ‘Spectrum’: If for no other reason than doing a conga to ‘Spectrum’ would beat the pants off singing along halfheartedly to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, for me anyway. I class ‘Spectrum’ as my euphoric, feel good moment towards the end of the march song.

Elbow ‘One Day Like This’: Compulsory moment of Mancunian sentimentality as march closes.

The playlist is in Spotify if you want to see if it works. 


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Yesterday was officially the final day of Christmas. En route to work I came across a couple of interesting reminders of this: The crane on the A6 in Longsight awkwardly removing the Christmas decorations from each and every lamp post, causing necessary havoc with the traffic whilst doing so. And a spirited rendition of ‘Hark the herald angel sings’* courtesy of the bell ringers at the Catholic church on Oxford Road.

Earlier in the week I watched The Road To Coronation Street on DVD. I had actually bought it as a Christmas present for my Grandad, who died just before Christmas, but decided to watch it myself. It’s quite short, but it packs a lot in. It tells the story of Tony Warren’s transformation from actor to writer at the newly formed Granada TV, and the long and difficult development, commissioning, casting and screening processes involved in getting the show on the air.

The Road To Coronation Street

It was a difficult programme to sell because Warren insisted on a Mancunian cast, and because the board at Granada were incapable of seeing the dramatic potential of the everyday and the regional, and thought hearing the Manchester accent (there are, of course, several Manchester accents) would cause viewers to turn off in droves.

Within a year of its first episode airing, Coronation Street was the most watched programme on British TV, and it would help launch the career of another young Manchester writer: Jack Rosenthal.

Thinking about The Road to Coronation Street, and the issues it raises, has caused me to think about two events in Salford this past year: The transfer of a number of BBC departments to Salford from London (and from Oxford Road), which despite the fanfare has neither been the great move north or the great job creation it was touted as: London staff, unsurprisingly, being very reluctant to re-locate, commuting instead, and far less jobs being created locally. The chances of MediaCity creating its own Coronation Street or its own Tony Warren or Jack Rosenthal looks very remote indeed.

Media City by Rupert Brun shared via a flickr creative commons licence

Also, on the Manchester/Salford border, an Indian student was shot dead on Boxing Day. That Anuj Bidve’s parents had found out about his death through Facebook before GMP contacted them, and that they had considered sending him to University in the US or Australia but had opted for the UK because they felt it would be ‘safer’, makes it even more terribly poignant. They had also re-mortgaged their house to pay the crippling fees international students must pay: £9,000 a year if you’re an undergraduate currently, and likely to be much higher when domestic students fees rise to £9,000 this September.

I finished reading Dorian Lynskey’s history of the protest song, 33 Revolutions Per Minute last night. It is excellent. By the end of the book he comes to the conclusion that he has been writing a eulogy though, and by and large, it’s hard not to agree with him: The student protests and the riots had no discernable soundtrack, and it would be nice to see Doyle and the Fourfathers ‘Welcome to austerity’ do its job, but it doesn’t seem to have caught the publics imagination like earlier protest songs would have done.


 Image of MediaCity by Rupert Brun, June 2011. Shared via a flickr creative commons licence.

* – We did it at primary school. Primary school was less agnostic than high school, and favoured hymn practices and carol singing, not to mention the works of Lionel Bart and Gilbert and Sullivan come the festive season.

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