Do Music and Politics Still Mix in the U.K?

You hear quite often that music and politics don’t mix and that is the reason why musical innovation has slowed, as we all look back and borrow from times when they did mix. For the most part that is true, but it is not universal by any means. It might not even be intentional if the listener makes that connection to a political happening, then it is a political song for them and may sway them to whatever debate they are interested in. It might not be as direct as ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday by Lennon and John Lydon might not be snarling ‘God Save The Queen’ to us all, but you’d be surprised what you find and don’t assume that musicians are automatically out and out liberals still either.

Most of these are in direct or indirect relation to Scottish Independence, E.U membership or general distaste with Mr Cameron and his Bullingdon Chumps, but alas I shall try to remain neutral (I apologise in advance if I’m not!) but in the interest of sparing any complex questions, I identify as British-pro-European-NHS-anti-nationalist-pro-equality-environment-and-diversity-left-wing-between-Labour-and-GreenParty…. I hope that clears thing up for you…

Several high profile musicians such as McCartney, Jagger, Bowie, Bobby Gillespie, Bryan Ferry, Rod Jones and Sting have all thrown their hat into the no campaign for Scottish Independence in what seems to be a split between old liberals and young nationalists. The once forward looking ideals of a globalised world have surprisingly been openly rejected by Scotland’s young musicians whether it’s Kyle Falconer from The View or Django Django. It’s almost became a squabble between liberal against whatever sort of liberal the SNP are which isn’t very liberal of either side. It might explain why many supporting a YES vote try to detach themselves from the party as it would be a little confusing to support a party that says Liberal and does Centre Right? Then everyone would be voting Tory which would be a disaster from every angle. With regards to Europe we still have the trusty Manics to rely on with their unwavering left wing ideals but again a surprising lack of young people lend a voice in support of the EU which worryingly offers up the assumption that as a generation we are becoming far less interested in politics or if we are it is right leaning or right intending politics. A little sobering. We even have to still rely on Johnny Marr to do the Tory bashing, but is there still a creative outlet in young musicians and in turn, young people to combine music and politics together and more vitally left wing politics?

Chvrches

Though Lauren Mayberry has declared herself as neutral in the independence debate; Britain’s and Glasgow’s newest and brightest synth pop group can’t keep themselves out of the debate. Their hit single ‘The Mother We Share’ is often used as a pro independence song and it’s easy to see why with lyrics such as “We’ve come as far as we’re ever gonna get
Until you realize, that you should go” or “I’m in misery where you can seem as old as your omens
And the mother we share will never keep your proud head from falling”. These seem like clear statements of a nostalgic yet certain break up of the Union set around warm electronic instrumentals with the slow dropping synths and sweeping sounds.

If you ask supporters of a no vote however, they will point you to the song ‘Lies’. It’s lyrics do seem relate to how everyone has bought into Alex Salmond’s vision without questioning him or his propaganda. When “I can sell you lies. You can’t get enough. Make a true believer of anyone” is sung, you do see the link and anyone questioning whether Salmond is as Liberal as he presents himself as, are sure to look at this song for solidarity.

Franz Ferdinand

The well established Indie ‘troopers’ are playing a pro Independence gig on September 14th so that should give you a little idea of where their allegiances lie. Not only that, but you detect subtle hints and satirical snipes at the politicians involved, but mainly aimed at those of the NO campaign or we can safely assume that at least. ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ speaks for itself when those points are considered. “Almost everything could be forgotten” and “this time same as before, I’ll love you forever”. evoke the satire they direct to those wishing to keep the Union.

Maximo Park

Maximo Park are another well established act dealing in electronically charged Indie rock. They are very proud to come from the North East of England and Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside in particular. There is a real fear in this region, which I am from myself; that we have been forgotten about in this whole debate as we will be hit hardest by the fallout on either side of the border should Scotland vote yes, but we don’t have any say. Salmond’s ‘Friends of Scotland’ speech to us all in Gateshead, back in 2012 was very quickly soured as he also trying to lure business to away from the area to Scotland at the time. He has never been back since funnily enough, but he occasionally uses the region as a pawn for his goals as he did recently in effectively claiming the NHS in Gateshead was inept and that operations were being axed. If the people in this region didn’t feel alienated and patronised enough, now we all just see Salmond in a similar light to Cameron. ‘Leave This Island’ is a song that is very frank and reflective of these feeling with an abundance of lyrics.

“So we watched the water swell, from a Scottish hotel. Have you ever fell?”

“Are you gonna tell me why there’s a backpack by the bedroom window? It’s a pack of lies. Everything has to reach a peak sometime. Tell me why? There’s a map lain flat on the bedside table. It’s a pack of lies. It’s not a peak, it’s a plateau. Let me know. When you wanna leave this island. Let me know. When you wanna hear my point of view”

They have always been prevalent with their political messages in their music and tracks from their last album such as ‘The National Health’ are testament to that. As are the past actions that spawned the messages of ‘Leave This Island’,which have only been reinforced by recent comments.  

Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts from Cumbria also seem to be reflective of the frustration at the thought of a their region becoming a potential borderland should Scotland vote for separation from the rest of the U.K. The first half of their song ‘Wanderlust’ shows the hopeful optimism many people had as a union with Scotland and with everyone on these islands sharing common means and unbroken connections as the lyrics “Wanderlust. With us, the world feels voluptuous. I just feel more with us. It’s a feeling that I’ve come to trust.” show that naïve sense of safety that nothing will happen. As the song becomes more aggressive and darker with it’s heavy distorted synths and sharper percussion, the lyrics read “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck. Funny how that little pound buys a lot of luck. Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck. In your mother tongue, what’s the verb “to suck?” These lyrics swiftly signal the change of the debate into a snarling and bitter argument and how the optimism of the earlier lyrics have been buried under debates about currency, oil and other things to the point where it feels like that trust and optimism has long gone to the point where they ‘don’t give a fuck’ anymore. As if too much damage has been done anyway.

White Lies

The Ealing group don’t appear to have much of a political opinion, however you detect some subtle hints in their most recent that could be applied and have been applied to political thinking on a person by person level. The lyrics in ‘Getting Even’ are believe to be a passionate plea to keep these island unified or to remain unified with Europe. I’m yet to be so convinced but it isn’t impossible and it is easy to link a song that appears to be about sour break ups and the petty arguments that ensue to either debate.

“So if you go. And leave recklessly. We can only be me. We can only be me. That’s something I. Through the tons of my life. Never wanted to be. Never wanted to be.”

“But if you stay. Just a bolt in the ball. Then you’ll never know. Then you’ll never know. How you could miss. Like the day light the way. You’re missing us now. You’re missing us now.”

“So listen to some reason. There’s nothing in your dreams. But if you’re getting even. You’re getting even. Trying to get even. Better start believing. I can forgive. And we can forget…”

Rose Elinor Dougall

If you’ve ever read the posts on this site, then you won’t find it hard to find one on this woman. Not only is her music varied and so effortlessly delivered but she, like many young people in the U.K; have positive and forward thinking views on women’s equality, NHS and more. Last year she released ‘Future Vanishes’. It’s a track that perfectly encases her forlorn and cynical lyrics around perfectly poised hooks and melancholy. Lyrics that read “Time casts no shadow on the old sundial” reference a time or thing long confined to the past. “Escape as future vanishes” gives a sense that the very past she spoke of is returning and the future is vanishing. Perhaps an ode to the reversal of these islands back to it’s divisive past. “Stay on the outside. In a nowhere place, neither young nor wise.” could easily be construed as a reference to yes voters or to supporters of UKIP too, who wish to leave Europe. She points out how old fashioned and unwise such nationalistic attitudes might be and the lyrics “Don’t know where I’ve been and I can’t tell you where I’m going to” is a clear reflection of many as these islands teeter on the edge of the unknown and we start to wonder what identity we will hold.

Kasabian

The band from Leicester have grown to be one of the biggest in the country and the world, with headlining Glastonbury acting as evidence of their standing. This year’s fifth studio album from them in 48:13 has plenty of politically tinged statements, but none more so than ‘Glass’. The track eerily meanders with muted, flashing electronica and simple, yet purposeful bass lines and percussion.  This song bemoans how we’ve stopped trying to change things and how both at home and around the world, we are willing to let ourselves fall back into things and times we have thought against in the past. “We are going nowhere fast. Are we made of glass? No one knows, no one knows” reflect this and “Save me. Oh, come on and save me. From this world. Tell me. Cause I need to know. I’m not alone.” are almost an acknowledgment that such activism is dead and that we need saving from the world as it falls apart and hit the rewind button of progression. The closing rap from Suli Breaks depressing closes the song with the lines “When did we stop believing? When did we stop marching? When did we stop chanting?” in a exasperated sense of frustration of how it went wrong. How we’ve all moved towards nationalism and the right without a question or challenge.

Manic Street Preachers

We can always rely on the Manics to stand up for something they believe in as they have done for their entire careers. The two most recent albums have seen no change in that respect, but again you detect a hint of disillusionment and being lost in the narrow minded and increasingly nationalistic and right leaning tendencies. In recent interviews they’ve talked of how they’ve lost faith in Labour and the centre left and that they feel no one represents them. Almost a depressing notion of defeat about them as with the song ’30 Year War’ in which they sing about “And 30 years of war. To darken all our class. Black propaganda, lies and mistrust. See it in our eyes, the fire dimming away. The old-boy network won the war again.” and this idea of defeat continues with “The endless parade of old Etonian scum. Line the front benches so what is to be done? All part of the same establishment. I ask you again what is to be done?” as they lament the shrinking of the left and growth of the right.

They also recently declared themselves as Internationalists which was a refreshing consolation amongst the mass of nationalists in the news via Farage and the U.K Independence Party and Salmond with the Scottish Nationalist Party. A song to hit back at calls to leave Europe from bumbling ‘Man of the people’ Nigel Farage who managed to gain a foothold in every part of mainland Britain during the Elections to the European Parliament in May with only London making it difficult for them to do so. The song ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ from this year’s Futurology album; see’s the Manics show a much needed sign of affinity and solidarity with the rest of Europe with which the song translates to ‘Europe Goes Through Me’. The entire album Futurology is a rejection of digging up past situations and is about looking forward and being open minded as the Manics are.

Johnny Marr

Another reliable figure in speaking the truth when it needs to be spoken; Marr recently carried this on with his latest single ‘Easy Money’ in which he takes a stab at everyone who is driven by money alone and is also a protest to the current Tory government with the line “That’s no way to serve… nobody” and in the video he is seen goading a blurred out picture of David Cameron, who he has already brilliantly shown his distain for on a number of occasions. With this in mind, it is no doubt a dig at that age old tradition of the Conservative Party. Money over society.

So all in all, you can still find politically motivated music in the U.K, but with younger generations it has changed substantially. The classic left wing motivators and social commentators have gone. People either don’t care or if they do, they are on the nationalist or right leaning side which is why figures like Salmond and Farage dominate the agenda at the moment. Now politically motivated music is just bemoaning that fact on the whole or leaves them harking back with innovative music flourished along with liberalist and left wing thought. In that sense; where did it all go wrong?

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