Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Am Murdered.... Music and Politics

Music and politics have an extremely long and very close association.
When print medium of even the most basic sort was solely the preserve of the rich, and almost all of the populace would have been unable to read it even if it were available to them, songs and the travelling singers that sung them were both a way of spreading political information and also of fomenting dissent. Music was also an ideal medium for disguising, often by allegory,
messages that might have been treasonable if spoken in public and many examples survive in the canon of folk music.
In general three circumstances, which often occur together, seem to lead to a rich legacy of songs of a socio-political nature:
repression, resentment and hardship. This is why there is such an extensive collection of songs, particularly from Ireland and Wales, dealing with these themes and also a large collection of songs documenting workplace hardship and catastrophe. Not all songs however: Lilli Bulero is probably a good case in point as it seems to have started life as exactly the opposite!

Not that much has changed: forty years ago the Vietnam War spawned a resurgence in the genre - though obviously particularly in the US - and they generally became known as 'Protest Songs' but if George W. Bush
(a self-confessed fan of Country music - a penchant to which he is of course quite entitled) leaves a musical legacy of his Presidency then it is the huge upsurge in the depth and breadth of political song writing worldwide.
I'm sure that, for the truly cutting edge music sociologists, there are plenty of folk collections to be made in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. ...
It is almost enough to make the original London 'punk scene' look quite feeble by comparison but all things need foundations and quoting Sir Isaac Newton, when explaining the basis of his achievements in a letter to
Robert Hooke on 5th. February 1676, and not the rather later Oasis lyric:

"... it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Modern (UK) folk and traditional music often get slated, rather unfairly I think, for their tendency to focus on bucolic themes to accompany the largely traditional sounds. I happen to like much of this too, but I don't see why the particular sounds and the lyrics should be so closely tied together.

Very occasionally they are not.

Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) is the only British Prime Minister to have been murdered. His assassin was John Bellingham whose grievance was the UK trade policy instigated by the above (Bellingham had lost his fortune in trade with Russia) that he believed was ruining him and which, eventually, drove him to the deed. He did the job himself; on 11th May 1812 in the lobby of the House of Commons, when Perceval was on his way to attend an inquiry into Luddite Riots.
Bellingham was apprehended at the scene, confessed and was hanged within a week. No contemporary account of the incident seems to have survived in song but it is however
a very unusual theme for a 2007 single!

Spencer Perceval c/w I Am Murdered is a single at that bears little resemblance to anything ever normally found on the format. The 'A' side is an account of the lead up to and execution of the murder itself from the perspective of the murderer, while the 'B' side is the response of the murdered to the crime. Only one band I can think of at the moment would even attempt it and that, of course, is iLiKETRAiNS.
It is not a topic to take lightly, and certainly not one to try and cram into a four-minute 7" single, so they simply didn't bother with convention
and of course one advantage of the CD single format is that this is no problem. So no vinyl then?

Fear not - there is a full-length 10", 45 rpm, heavy-weight vinyl version that could be a murder weapon in its own right. The quality is great, from the music and the pressing right down to the packaging, but as it is all dark a picture would hardly do it justice. The two tracks together run for over fifteen minutes and echo each other - the first being 'angry' the second 'reflective'.
It is brooding and dark but there is nothing folk about it whatsoever. In fact the "accusation" - "reply" format of the two songs even has faint echoes of the hip-hop duelling of a few years ago!

The murdered Perceval reflects on his lot which, even before he was murdered, was not
a politically happy one. At the time of his assassination he was, as well as holding the post of Prime Minister:
  • First Lord of the Treasury
  • Leader of the House of Commons
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer (he asked six colleagues and they all turned the post down!)
As the song lyric [I Am Murdered] goes:

If truth be told I've had a lot to contend with.
I've kept the French at bay
In Portugal and Spain
As our King went insane.

Not the run of the mill (don't even mention the Luddites) but quite typical of iLiKETRAiNS

Perceval himself was a master of the sound bite and during a
debate on electoral corruption he came up with the following memorable rejoinder when asked for his comment on the forgoing speaker:

"I have nothing to say to the nothing that has been said."

No comments: