With the general election looming Super Furry Animals‘ Cian Ciarán is concerned about the apparent lack of any protest or opinion in much of the music around today. Firing his own musical broadside, the keyboard player and solo artist in his own right will release a series of singles released from 1 April aimed at string British voters to think about the issues – culminating with Hero, Leader, God a collaboration withthe Beta Band’s Steve Mason, that will debut on the eve of the election itself (6 May). In a guest column for Q he urges his fellow musicians to get involved too, and not just “leave it to Billy Bragg” like they normally do.
It doesn’t really feel like there are many British musicians, aside from a handful of socially-minded performers, who really attach themselves to issues which negatively affect the day-to-day lives of people in Britain. Johnny Marr has said enough about the injustices of five years of coalition government to make his case clear, Paul Heaton is alive to the problems we face and Billy Bragg has never stopped. Each also released their first records in the 1980s, so with the exception of the few, eg Akala, we’re not talking about fresh, young faces leading the fight. Why do we have to dig so deep to find a voice of opposition in today’s music?
One theory as to why we have a placid, apolitical music industry is because it has been socially cleansed. In recent times, the arts and broadcasting have all come in for stick due to internships, record deals and jobs going to people with privileged backgrounds. But, this isn’t all about class, it’s surely about intelligence and, once in a while, opening your eyes to see what’s happening around you. As well as touring with Super Furry Animals this May, I am releasing albums with Zefur Wolves and a collaborative album with contributions from Steve Mason, and She Drew The Gun among others. Both of those projects have overt political messages, whether it is the disorientation of displaced Mexican communities in the States to the Coalitions onslaught against the NHS whilst propagating weapons of mass destruction.
Why? Because we must.
I never really listened to lyrics whilst growing up; it was always the music that grabbed me. Then, in my early 20s I started paying attention, appreciating the marriage of the two and how overall stronger a song can become when you get the two right. Learning lessons from the past and taking them into the future is no bad thing, so if we were to offer politically-motivated classics to today’s musicians as inspiration, which would I choose?
John Lennon – Imagine
You don’t have to sound angry to make your point and Lennon chose to keep his angst simmering under the beautiful chord progressions of Imagine. As far as statements go, by the world’s biggest selling artists, you couldn’t get much more influential. But wars still rage on.
Public Enemy – Fight The Power
If you’re going to do a call to arms, loaded with intellectual aggression, then giving this tune a spin before you sit down to write will do you no harm. Public Enemy separated themselves from the machismo of hip hop to get astutely political.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Much like Lennon, Marvin Gaye’s style was subtle, smooth and to the point. It’s a non-threatening call for people to wake up, see the devastation of the times and do something about it.
Sex Pistols – God Save The Queen
The established higher orders must still have serious problems with the Jubilee of 1977 being sound tracked by this punk classic. It’s exactly this sort of attitude that we’re crying out for in modern music.
Tecwyn Ifan – Y Dref Wen (The White Town)
History’s mistakes just keep on repeating and this Welsh folk singer made his point about problems in Wales during the 1970s by referencing the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Wales. With the Welsh assembly being short changed and feeling the brunt of coalition cuts in order to protect the wealthy it’s as apt as ever.
You don’t have to become Bono to make a stand and nor do you have to become a snarling punk or droning protest singer. There are brilliant ways in which musicians can say their piece, keep their dignity intact and inspire others. Let’s fuckin’ do this!
For more head to Pledgemusic.com/projects/zefurwolves, and here’s his first single, Stand Up a collaboration with poet Stephen Morrison-Burke.