Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Top Five Songs For Activists

Well, top five for this activist, anyway.

I suppose I am a little out on my own here as my most active years as an activist were the rave years, whilst I was the old hippy still listening to folk and rock.

We failed to cause a revolution then, but I guess one could still be on the way. As an anarchist I fully expect to be against the wall on the second day. But whilst I enjoy 24 hours of freedom I hope there is at least a good soundtrack.

5. Food 'n' Health 'n' Hope by Seize the Day

I remember Seize the Day when they were just Shannon and Theo, two musicians who met during the Newbury Bypass protest. We once had a plan to start Wage Slaves Earth First!, for activists who actually worked for a living. Bizarrely they seemed to think being professional musicians counted as working.

Once they ran out of roads to protest they turned, like most of us, to GM crops. This song was an attempt to get Monsanto to sue them in the hope of a lively trial. Monsanto though, having inadvertently made an issue of the Ecologist about them a best seller with a veiled threat of legal action, weren't daft enough to fall for that trick again.

Greenpeace once hired them to play their annual Skill Share. As good Earth First!ers Seize the Day regarded Greenpeace as almost an evil corporation in its own right, which added a little creative tension to the evening. At the time 28 of us were on trial for GM crop destruction (so Greenpeace only do banner drops do they Theo?) so this song went down well.

Seize the day have probably done better songs. With My Hammer, about the Ploughshares action on BA Warton comes to mind, but this is a song that captures a moment when activists took on some of the biggest companies in the world and won.

4. Dancing on the Ruins by Casey Neill

Otherwise known, to those of us who remember the days of VHS, as the theme tune for the Undercurrents videos, which was how we found out what was going on in the world before we could all afford computers.

Casey Neill is from Oregan, the centre of Green activism in the USA, and he started off in the underground music scene of the Pacific Northwest before making something of a name for himself and getting compared to REM, Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen.

He used to play the Earth First! Rendezvous in America, hence his song Riff Raff, and then in 1997 he came over to the UK to play for us. Apparently he did a really good gig in Manchester, but I missed it as I was crawling round the fields of Cheshire on a totally futile action at the time.

3. Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood by Damh the Bard

Pagans are generally supposed to be in tune with the earth, although most prefer to cast spells from the comfort of their bedroom's rather than get their feet dirty on an actual action. There are certainly plenty of exceptions, not least the current King Arthur Pendragon. After a few days in the Newbury mud my Monty Python quip that he "must be a king as he hasn't got sh*t all over him" rang a little hollow.

Also at Newbury was Damh, then just David Smith, who turned up with Bobcat, Greywolf and a load of other Druids to bless Middle Oak, which ended up being the only tree marked for chopping that survived.

After that he started writing pagan folk songs, eventually going on to be our leading pagan song smith. The election of the ConDem government though, and its plans to privatise Britain's forests, seem to have stirred the old activist in Damh, hence this call to arms.

He recently sang the song at the Balcombe anti-fracking protest.

2. Battle of the Beanfield by The Levellers

Once again, they've done better songs; What A Beautiful Day, their cover of The Devil Went Down To Georgia and the anthem of the alternative lifestyle One Way for instance, but maybe not angrier ones.

The Battle of the Beanfield is one of those events that I need to keep reminding myself actually happened because even I find it hard to believe British police could behave like that.

Things were a bit safer in the nineties and you had to go to London to get into a real fight. Like the FIT teams and Brays detectives couldn't really avoid the Levellers during the decade.

A tabloid meme at the time was that were personally bankrolling Reclaim the Streets, Earth First! and any other radical direct action group that happened to be in the news that week. If this was true I didn't see any of the money, but they did share an office with the radical newspaper Schnews for while.

The Levellers now have their own festival down in Devon, which is certainly one of the more laid back places to go to hear music outdoors, and rather more like the old Glastonbury festival than Glasto itself is these days.

1. Snelsmore Wood by New Model Army

I always remember there being music on the camps, although if you brought a penny whistle you were quite likely to have it nailed to a tree. Most of it was fairly amateurish, although Paul Gill deserves a mention for this brilliant song, along with my friend Sarah Collick and the gang of Welsh who would follow her over the border to England.

By the time of the Newbury Bypass campaign in 1996 more famous musicians were starting to take an interest. Julian Cope was a regular visitor to Tot Hill camp and plugged the protesters on Top of the Pops.

New Model Army front man Justin Sullivan was there too, where he made himself very useful as he had the dosh to afford a hire car. His experiences inspired several songs on the bands 1998 album Strange Brotherhood. However this is his best song about that time, which is from their next album, Eight.

These are definitely lyrics by someone who was there; angry and impassioned but also nostalgic for a time when it was quite clear where the battle lines had been drawn. Yes, those were days we now recall. Ten thousand trees gone, but not without some mark being made of their passing.

Thanks Justin.

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