Mixing pop and politics 1

This is the first in a short series on the music played by political blogs. I think there'll be three instalments with three blogs in each. In this one, I'll focus on three of the grand old fellas of the genre.

Inveresk Street Ingrate
People, people just, people want to dream
Just look at their graves and you’ll see what I mean
Let’s leave them to dream
Darren's blog is seven and a half years old (that's geriatric in blogging terms); it recently past its 3000th post. Darren kind of defined mixing pop and politics as a blogging approach, although in recent years books have taken up more and more space, and of course football and films. In his case, it's impossibilist socialism and post-punk jangle specifically, and I guess that reduces the overlap between our tastes a little. (Actually, it took me a little while to dig out, but Darren once cruelly satirised my musical taste, but I'm not bitter:
Going by Bob's selection I'm guessing that he is a bit of a muso. Has been known to subscribe to Record Collector magazine, and has index carded his record collection. Back in the day he was more of a Charlie Gillett groupie than a John Peel groupie. Been known to not only buy CDs that have been reviewed in the New Internationalist, but he's also been known to listen said CDs voluntarily.
So, delving into the small area of overlap, here's a song that I'm posting because I couldn't find a youTube of "Kingdom".

Ultramarine: Instant Kitten (by Robert Wyatt)

I note I'm filed under the "People Just Want to Dream" section of the blogroll, named for a Microdisney song (listen here). Microdisney were a New Cross band, I think (yes, they are, just checked), and I'm in not bad company, along with Socialist Unity and Shiraz Socialist, but I think he's making a dig at non-SPGB socialists. Here's what he said, back in 2008:
Being the lazy type, I've fallen back on Andy Newman's Top 101 Left Blogs post from last September, to reintroduce the blogroll. Those were the halcyon days of British Left blogging when the Shiraz Socialist bods were still on speaking terms with Socialist Unity blog, and the SWP's rank and file had yet to truly fall out of love with Gorgeous George. Who'd have thought back then that those times qualified as the good old days?
Socialist Unity Blog - Andy Newman and friends. Yeah, I know, you're supposed to be dismissive about the blog. Andy Newman is a supposed megalomaniac . . . the blog did a flip on Gorgeous George . . . it's soft (or hard?) on China's imperial adventure in Tibet . . . yada yada yada. What can I say, it's a readable blog that is regularly updated and for every four posts that aren't my cup of tea there's one that's of interest. And you have to have a sneaking admiration for anyone who's able to put a rocket under the collective arses of the SWP's Central Committee. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of political chancers.
Andy Newman's Grand Ol' Opry 
Dear Uncle Sam I know you're a busy man, And tonight I write to you through tears with a trembling hand. My darling answered when he got that call from you; You said you really need him but you don't need him like I do.
Don't misunderstand I know he's fighting for our land. I really love my country but I also love my man. He proudly wears the colors of the old red white and blue, While I wear a heartache since he left me for you
Dear Uncle Sam I just got your telegram. And I can't believe that this is me shaking like I am
For it said 'I'm sorry to inform you'
So, here we are. Although I have increasing doubts about the politics of the Socialist Unity blog (obsessed with Gorgeous George, soft on Chinese imperialism, yada yada yada) but its main blogger, Andy Newman, has great taste in music. He posts fantastic country and western, with the emphasis on twanging honkytonk Nashville mainstream of country, sometimes straying into high camp rhinestone territory, and other times edging towards grittier Americana. He recently noted that "Even when it’s bad, country music is brilliant, especially when redneck bad" (exemplified by Gretchen Wilson, singing "I'm a redneck woman, ain't no high-class fraud"). I love the fact that he rubs this in the face of the viciously anti-American middle class British left, but he also does make a strong case for a radical tradition in country. Here's some of his tracks:

Johnny Cash: Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues

George Jones and Hank Williams Jr with Audrey Williams: I Saw The Light

Also check out Sunny Sweeney, who I'd never heard before. The lyrics above, by the way, are Loretta Lynn's "Dear Uncle Sam", a Newman favourite.

Unfortunately, Andy's colleague Jon Wight has less good taste in music, as exemplified by Lowkey's well-meaning but appallingly rhymed Palestine solidarity rap.

The Poor Mouth
Speaking King's English in quotation / As railhead towns feel the steel mills rust water froze / In the generation / Clear as winter ice / This is your paradise
The lovely Jams O'Donnell mixes more photography than either pop or politics into the mix these days. And his musical taste has large areas of non-overlap with mine, but it was him (I think) that introduced me to the extraordinary Sephardic music of Mor Karbasi. So, here's her, then our mutually favourite Clash song, then some beautiful Iranian rebel music.

The Clash: Straight to Hell

I realise that (although I'm not as old as Jams), it's about a quarter of a century since I first heard this song, and it has been intriguing me ever since. What is it about? I thought it's about imperialism, and the Vietnam war, and Graham Greene, and migration, and racism. So, inspired by writing this, I found that crowd-sourcing, via wikipedia and yahoo answered my queries perfectly, and the mystery is over. (Incidentally, if you don't know the song but there's something familiar, it is brilliantly sampled by MIA in "Paper Planes", which is also about migration, and which is in turn used to great effect in Slumdog Millionaire, mixed by the awesome AR Rahman.)

Mor Karbasi: El Pastor

Marzieh: Sange Khara

If you are interested,
An Bйal Bocht (The Poor Mouth, 1941) was the only book which Brian O'Nolan, alias Flann O'Brien, alias Myles na gCopaleen, wrote in his native language. Why only one, and this in particular? The answer may lie in the identity of the persona to whom the narrative was entrusted, Myles na gCopaleen... On his first day at school, Bonaparte O'Coonassa is asked to repeat his name for the roll-call. The litany which follows is a long-winded tribute to ten generations of noble aspiration, which have resulted in a total erosion of Gaelic identity:
Bonapairt Michaelangelo Pheadair Eoghain Shorcha Thomбis Mhбire Sheбn Shйamais Dhiarmada.. (Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo, son of Peter, son of Owen, son of Thomas's Sarah, grand-daughter of John's Mary, grand-daughter of James, son of Dermot...). [7]
At this point, the hopeful litany is cruelly interrupted by a blow from the English-speaking master and the terse announcement in a foreign language that "Yer name is Jams O'Donnell", a sentence which is uttered to every single child in Corcha Dorcha on arrival at school. 
Bonus track: Fairport Convention: Jams O'Donnell's Jig

Mixing pop with politics
In case you didn't already know (although I'm sure you did), the title of this post comes, via Darren, from Billy Bragg, and the song "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward".

I think the lyrics sum up my own blog pretty well:
In the Cheese Pavilion and the only noise I hear
Is the sound of people stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer
And someone asking questions and basking in the light
Of the fifteen fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer
Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I'm looking for the Great Leap Forwards
Jumble sales are organized and pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there's still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you're waiting for the Great Leap Forwards


Modernity said…
I think one of the issues with the Socialist Unity blog is how quickly the politics has changed.

Since leaving the SWP Newman has embraced soft Stalinism with unseemly haste.

Further, from being a once revolutionary socialist Newman has managed to latch on to what remains of the new Labour bandwagon without batting an eyelid.

Whilst there may be some good articles on SU blog concerning trade unions and anti-fascism the political content is often a watery gruel, without any critical analysis of Labour Party failures or the weak leadership of Miliband.

In fact, looking at Labour party related articles at SU blog you could be forgiven for forgetting that Newman was once a Marxist.

I think that it demonstrates the problem with many Leninists when 1) they've lost their way, renounced their former comrades 2) simply shift their obedience from a bunch of chancers in the SWP to pile of a mediocrities in the Labour Party. etc

It is that Leninist "ends justify the means" approach to politics which obviates the need for consistency or a principles, loyalty is simply shifted from one group to another, without seeing the contradictions of that particular shift. The basic political manoeuvrings, shallow politics and poverty of argumentation doesn't change merely whose benefit it is employed for, in this case the LP, but once it was the SWP.

Therein lies the problem, habits acquired in the SWP are now employed on behalf of Miliband and the LP, they remain as useless and unconvincing as they once were, it is just that the political masters/idols have changed.
jams o donnell said…
Why thank you Bob for your kind post. I'm glad to have introduced you to Mor Karbasi and Marzieh.

To tell the truth Marzieh is new to me. My dear friend Elahe Heidari was in Paris in September for another stay at the Cite Internationale des Arts We decided to go to Avers sir Oise to visit places relating to Vincent van Gogh, including his grave. Marzieh is buried in the same graveyard. Before that I was not familiar with her life or music.

A very brave and remarkable woman. I love this quote of hers: “I sang for the birds, for the river, the trees and the flowers but not the mullahs.”
Roland Dodds said…
I second Jams' taste in music. Been a consistent worthwhile blogger for some time.
jams o donnell said…
Thank you Roland. I've always liked what you have to say. You say it far better than I could (but then a macaque with a cleft palate is more eloquent that I am!)

"But I am a Liberal" is the oldest link in my blogger list.
Imposs1904 said…
Cheers for the kind words (and the kinder linkage), Bob, but if there is a blogging equivalent of 'jumping the shark', then my blog jumped it long ago.

It's just devoted to listing books read and films watched these days.

Best wishes to you and yours for the holidays and the New Year.
Mike Killingworth said…
Thankyou Bob (or Jams) for introducing me to Marzieh - Mor Karbasi I knew of already. Both utterly brilliant.

To return the favour, have you heard this woman?


(Her politics are sound, too, needless to say.)
Mike Killingworth said…
And I forgot the Greek, Maria Farantouri who - as well as singing brilliantly - served a term as a Socialist MP...
bob said…
Thanks Mike. I have heard one or two songs by Mari Boine, on Real World compilations. I thought she was Irish or Shetlandy or something, and had no idea she was Norwegian, let alone Sami, let alone a Sami leftist!

I see Jams is already on it: http://thepoormouth.blogspot.com/2011/12/mari-boine.html (clickable link below)

I'll check out Maria Farantouri.


Mod, I agree about ex-Leninists

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