Music has been used to spread messages; political, romantic, historical, for hundreds, probably thousands of years. It’s an effective medium and the musical traditions we’re so proud of owe their very existence to this fact. The trouble is, of course, that almost any message is open to interpretation. This CD, and the Folk Against Fascism movement it supports, have come about because of the misappropriation of British folk music and culture by the British National Party.
Folk Against Fascism Volume 1 is the first in a series of three double disc albums featuring music donated by leading artists on the Folk and Roots scenes, all of whom support Folk Against Fascism in their work to put a stop to this. To quote the Folk Against Fascism web site:
“The UK folk scene is a welcoming and inclusive one; folk music and dance have always been about collaboration, participation, communication and respect. Folk Against Fascism has been created to take a stand against the BNP’s targeting of folk music, a stand against the appropriation of our culture. Folk Against Fascism isn’t a political party or a bureaucratic, top-heavy organisation. It is any and all of us who want to make ourselves aware of the BNP’s bigoted view of our history and culture, and who want to do something about it.
The BNP want to take our music, want to twist it into something it isn’t; something exclusive, not inclusive. We must not let them. Folk Against Fascism is a way to demonstrate our anger at the way the BNP wants to remodel folk music in its own narrow-minded image.”
Now, I enjoy a good protest song but I must admit that the thought of over thirty of them, lasting over two and a half hours, was more than a little daunting. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. What Folk Against Fascism have released is an engaging and enjoyable selection of music from some of the best musician’s in the UK. Yes there are protest songs, there are political messages, but there’s a whole lot more.
Let’s start, though, by looking at some of the important messages artists have contributed. Roy Bailey‘s Anna Mae is the first of the more overtly political songs on the CD and it’s a good choice. Roy’s never been known for hiding his feelings, of course. A story such as Anna Mae Pictou’s can never be fully told in a song, but the listener’s left in no doubt about the importance of the tale in relation to freedom for oppressed peoples. Christy Moore‘s Pink Triangle is stark reminder of what people will allow to happen when blinded by Fascism.
Chris Woods‘ Spitfires is a sleepy, laid black song. So relaxing, in fact, it’s easy to let the message pass you by in a warm, summer haze. This song was written as a direct response to a BNP leaflet bearing the image of a Spitfire that came through Chris Woods’ letterbox. Not so much a protest song but it makes you think about national identity and how easy it is to develop a misguided pride in nationhood. This applies to many songs on the album. Billy Bragg‘s English, Half English, featuring Imagined Village, is also thought provoking and in a far more direct manner, whereas John Boden‘s Beating The Bounds sings of the traditions kept alive but perhaps neglected in spite of this. The reason for many traditions is all but forgotten, leaving them open to the kind of cynical interpretation typified by the BNP. By contrast, The Unthanks‘ Nobody Knew She Was There deals with the loss of individual identity, rather than national. In Colony, Damien Dempsey probably deals with the issue more directly and with more passion than any song I know. What it means to be British, when you’re looking in from the outside.
Political satire has always had a place folk music and Chumbawamba‘s Dance Idiot Dance couldn’t be a more fitting inclusion. With Ray Hearne‘s Point The Finger At The Emperor following close on its heels, the satirist’s voice is skilfully represented.
The majority of this double CD, though, is music provided by artists who, quite simply, want to make it known they agree with, and support, the stance Folk Against Facism is taking. There are workers songs on the album; Four Loom Weaver by Ian King and Heidi Talbot‘s Bedlam Boys being fine examples. There are definite up-tempo offerings, like Lau‘s dazzling Horizontigo or the jaunty close harmonies of The Bevvy Sisters with their rendition of The Littlest Birds. There are contributions from Andy Cutting, James Yorkston, Kris Drever, June Tabor and Belshazzar’s Feast. I could go on for far longer than space allows, to be honest.
Folk Against Fascism Volume 1 is a music compilation that’s thoroughly representative of what’s enjoyed in the UK today under the general banner of Folk Music. In representing the music of a wide range of artists, the album unavoidably represents the politics of a wide range of artists. The political views here don’t always lie comfortably together, but in this instance the artists stand side-by-side for one reason. Of course, if we thought about it hard enough, just about any song or tune could be contrived to have a message for the cause within it somewhere. This, in a way, is fitting, because isn’t that how this whole argument started in the first place?
It’s alright for you if you run with the pack
It’s alright if you agree with all they do
If fascism is slowly climbing back
It’s not here yet so what’s it got to do with you?
Peggy Seeger, Song Of Choice
The Origin Of The World – Blowzabella
Spitfires – Chris Wood
Nobody Knew She Was There – The Unthanks
Anna Mae – Roy Bailey
Wildwood Flower- Laura Veirs
England Half English meets John Barleycorn – The Imagined Village feat. Billy Bragg
Roll Her Down the Bay – Bellowhead
Dance, Idiot, Dance – Chumbawamba /No Masters Co-Op
Point The Finger At The Emperor – Ray Hearne
High On a Hill – Kate Rusby
Pink Triangle – Christy Moore
The Littlest Birds – The Bevvy Sisters
Horizontigo – Lau
Work Harder – Duotone
Standing In Line – June Tabor
Edges / Thin Waltz – Andy Cutting
Martinmas Time – James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players
Like I Care – Eliza Carthy
Four Loom Weaver – Ian King
Subuhanalaii – Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara
Beating the Bounds – Jon Boden
Softly Good Tummas; Shropshire Lass – Belshazzar’s Feast
Roots – Show of Hands
Bedlam Boys – Heidi Talbot
Colony – Damien Dempsey
Under One Sky – John McCusker’s Under One Sky
New Voice – Corrina Hewat
The Call & The Answer – Kris Drever
Holding On – Ruth Notman
Safe House – John Tams
Two Brethren – Shirley Collins & Dolly Collins