Nobody Writes Protest Songs Anymore | Folk from the Attic

Not a folk song in the traditional sense, I must admit, but something that fits in with the 60s and 70s style perhaps – the point at which the folk and singer-songwriter genres crossed over. I wrote this the morning after Donald Trump’s victory. For various reasons, I’d taken myself off to a little hut in the middle of Norfolk nowhere and, feeling an unpleasant sense of the inevitable having taken place, this tune found its way out. 

It’s not true, of course – plenty of people write protest songs these days (Ange Hardy has just published a great piece called “What May You Do for the JAM”, which takes issue with the post-Brexit Tory government – see below), but I just felt that the dark shadows that fell across us all in 2016 were, in large part, due to people drifting without purpose. As we’ve since seen with the ‘fake news’ reports, there’s a tendency to accept without question, which makes it extremely easy for people with an agenda and a little energy to get in there and make waves.

Busking with Billy Bragg - video

And it’s not only Ange Hardy. Over in the States, protest songs have thrived. The difference, as Billy Bragg stated in a Rolling Stone interview recently, is that you have to look to alternative genres to find them. Anyone thinking that the protest song belongs purely to the folk canon needs to do a little more digging.

“It depends what sort of music you’re talking about. If you’re talking about young white boys with guitars, it’s long overdue for them to get political again, long overdue. But I don’t think you can accuse African American musicians of not being political. You only have to look at Beyonce at the Super Bowl to know they’ve been representing. And it’s the same in the UK. I think the music with the most edge in the U.K. is grime music, talking about things that are really happening.”

– Billy Bragg, Rolling Stone

Anyway, this song is just my musical tuppence, and I’ve been pleased to find that it has resonated with a small but vocal audience (and I’m not talking about the Youtube crazies who’ll post on anything). Thanks to all the people who have written to me about it so far. It’s good to hear from you. I have plans to record the song properly, but for the time being the phone recording in the shepherd’s hut will do. Keep an eye on the Grizzly Folk Spotify channel for a fresher version.

A word or two more on Ange Hardy’s song. I hadn’t heard much from Ange before, but I was pleased to find this video popping up in my Facebook feed (a good example of the ‘echo chamber‘ having done something very right). I love that Ange was able to respond, write and record something so quickly, and then have it out there quietly going viral before the week was out. I also love that she appears to have personally thanked everyone who shared it – a great way to make your listeners feel as though they’re really a part of your community.

Somewhat conversely, her recording also reminded me of a conversation I had with Martin Carthy at a folk club in Newbury, in which he explained that, back in his day, getting to hear new folk songs involved firstly finding out that they existed (often via a trip to Cecil Sharp House), and secondly, tracking down someone who already did a version, so that you could find out what the melody was. You might spend several hours trekking from North London to Croydon just to hear a poor rendition of a song that you’d then have to memorise and hope you remembered by the time you got home again. Thank goodness for Youtube!

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