A musical interlude for the holidays

Ken Wolff, regular author extraordinaire at The Political Sword, has gone back to his ‘radical lefty’ roots to have a look at political and protest songs. We take this opportunity at the Cellar to run in parallel with Ken’s piece as an old fashioned music thread that Migs and others used to run at Café Whispers.

Have a leisurely read through Ken’s excellent piece, comment there and/or here at the Cellar – join in the fun here and at TPS


[Woody Guthrie]

In my piece ‘Are you sure you’re not a radical?’ I wrote: ‘Over the centuries folk music has been important in supporting the oppressed and Ireland and many countries in South America have a long tradition of revolutionary music.’ So I have chosen in this ‘summer recess’ to present some of that ‘revolutionary’ music to make the point that such music has influenced, and continues to reflect and influence, social and political movements. There are over 40 songs linked here, so it is not intended that you listen to every track in one sitting. Take your time over the next ten days, come back a few times, and check out as many as you wish. I hope you find some that you like. [Please note that these are not always what I consider the ‘best’ songs but I have been limited to some extent by what is available to link to.]

In the 1840s Thomas Osborne Davis in Ireland wrote ‘A Nation Once Again’ which set the tone for the Irish fight for independence for the next 80 years. Davis recognised the power of song and wrote:

“… a song is worth a thousand harangues”. He felt that music could have a particularly strong influence on Irish people at that time. He wrote: “Music is the first faculty of the Irish… we will endeavour to teach the people to sing the songs of their country that they may keep alive in their minds the love of the fatherland.”

Many songs were written about the 1916 uprising but one I particularly like is ‘The Foggy Dew’ — this version by The Wolfe Tones.

Davis’s words were prophetic and ‘rebel songs’ have continued into the modern era in Ireland with songs written about The Troubles in northern Ireland: ‘Man Behind the Wire’, and ‘My Little Armalite’. Very late one night in the Canberra Irish Club I heard a similar song when a young man, not long arrived from northern Ireland, sang a song that included reference to an AK47. It was the first time I realised how the Irish tradition of rebel songs continued to this day.

It is not only in folk music that the influence is felt — U2 performed this song about ‘Bloody Sunday’.

Read the rest of Ken’s musings at The Political Sword, comment and add your favourites there and/or in comments here.


7 comments on “A musical interlude for the holidays

  1. Something interesting I read on John Lord’s Day to Day Politics post today – Harry Belafonte was a strong an activist with the civil rights movement. So to start the fun here in the Cellar.

    A Jamaican folk song about a worker getting his just due after a long night on the graveyard shift. This and many other songs symbolically or explicitly spurred the civil rights movement.

  2. Many of those old singers did. Some of Whitlam’s strongest supporters came from the entertainment world. Aside from Garrett, doesn’t appear to be same today.

  3. Lovo

    Good stuff!! There have been many groups over the years, and recently, who have done one or two protest songs but few who have done it consistently. Of course Midnight Oil was different to most ‘pop’ bands because they focused on political songs.

  4. I like the idea you have for this site. Yes, the entertainment world played big part in Whitlam’s success. Must be many budding young musicians with a political bent looking for a outlet.

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