What do you think of when you picture ‘protest music’? It’s probably a combination of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg knocking out ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ and ‘Which Side Are You On?’ to a crowd of ragged Marxists. But if you try to think of protest music today it becomes a little more difficult. We have no major modern-day political folk heroes – no civil rights movement to throw working-class strummers into the mainstream, no mass student movement to muscle maverick musicians onto the stage. Instead we have the aberration of Nick Griffin declaring his love of English folk music – to the disgust of Kate Rusby and others in his affection.
Though the right don’t have any clear rising stars either – except perhaps Eton-educated Frank Turner – this is little consolation to progressives, who’ve traditionally drawn our life-blood from four-chord angsty epics.
Despair not though, comrades. Protest music is actually alive and well.
There’s no 1980s-style Red Wedge (and sadly the incipient idea of a Green Wedge hit the rocks last year), but Britain has a thriving underbelly of left-wing music. The on-going ‘Anti-Capitalist Roadshow’ has proven a touring success, with a line-up of emerging political folk acts, and the Morning Star’s recent ‘We’re All In It Together’ brings 33 artists into the open for a collection of new socialist anthems. Union of Folk – a ‘supergroup of radicals’ – is out with a fresh release, Union Made, and Alun Parry is pumping out recordings for those ‘happily on the homeless left’. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – the popular anti-fascist musician Sam Duckworth – is currently recording a new album, and Billy Bragg continues to release inspiring work with his latest Tooth and Nail. Sean Taylor, Grace Petrie, David Rovics, artists who burst forth from Occupy, take alternative politics to young audiences the world over.
Protest music isn’t dead. It’s just underground – for the moment, anyway. And as the BNP and EDL take to the streets again, perhaps it’s time for us to revive Woody Guthrie’s famous chorus ‘All you fascists are bound to lose’…
[This article was written for the Young Greens’ fundraiser event on the 7th June, ‘Will Kaufman’s “Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travelin”‘]