People Powered – Concerts for Corbyn – Brighton Dome – Friday 16th December 2016
Politics and music have not always seen eye to eye, but their intimately intermingled relationship has, to a greater or lesser degree, always been there. However, political protest via the medium of music had all but been submerged within the commercial airwaves by the first decade of the 21st century. Thankfully though, their spirit has driven much of contemporary alternative music. Indeed, folk music has always had social and political issues at its heart, folk music in essence reflecting the creativity of working people, who have consistently used it as a political voice, and not just one for the purposes of ‘entertaining’.
But, in the wrong hands, politics and music have often been uneasy bedfellows. Certainly, no one likes to be pummelled into submission via political sloganeering.
Take John Lennon, for instance. Songs such as ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Revolution’ (in particular, the anti-revolution album version), and ‘Come Together’ are all, to varying degrees, songs with oblique socio-political-cultural references. They are shrouded in cryptic allusions to political events and scenes, which nevertheless resonated with listeners. These songs, and others, were open to interpretation, and didn’t attempt to force a point of view on anyone. That’s why they are liked. Loved even (of course, the melodies and harmonies have to be there as well!). Conversely, when Lennon went nakedly political for his almost universally derided Some Time in New York City album, his table thumping, extreme political posturing resulted in by far the worst, and least popular music of his career. Such direct lyricism in the political arena almost always goes hand-in-hand with sledgehammers for melodies. From ‘Imagine’ to ‘Woman Is The Nigger of the World’ in the space of little more than a year. From sublime and nuanced poetry, that at least attempts to understand and communicate the complexities of life, to obnoxious generalisations that only dictatorial regimes could sign up to.
Of course, when it comes to issues like racism, it was relatively easy to rally the forces. Rock Against Racism of the late 70s was a no-brainer (apart from for racists), an easy wagon to jump on to and believe in. However, the Red Wedge campaign of the mid-80s was a more difficult sell. In essence, its purpose was to sell the politics and ideology of the Labour Party. The likes of Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Jerry Dammers, Madness, The Communards, Elvis Costello, The The and many other alternative and mainstream stars of the day took sides with the Labour Party of headed by Neil Kinnock, as the 1987 general election loomed. The Tories, under Margaret Thatcher, comfortably won that election, and indeed the subsequent one under John Major in 1992. But, in ’97, Labour finally won back power, and for a short moment, it seemed most of the country’s musicians partied with the politicians; everyone from Oasis to Peter Gabriel believed big changes were a-coming. But, instead of poetic outpourings we instead got ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Alas, it was not quite to be for many of those initially star-struck stars. And from then on, the country glacially shifted to the centre ground. Recent shockwaves however, have opened up a Pandora’s box of ‘whatever next’. These are, to say the least, interesting and volatile times we live in.