Billy Bragg shows support for new UEA protest song project
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  • Post published:08/02/2022
  • Post last modified:08/02/2022
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Billy Bragg shows support for new UEA protest song project

    English songwriting hero, Billy Bragg, has shown his support for a new academic project. Our Subversive Voice catalogues the history of English protest songs dating from 1600 up to the present day. Bragg has said that these songs “can’t change the world” but can “bring people together”. The website contains roughly 750 songs, alongside interviews with some of the songwriters listed. 

    The University of East Anglia (UEA) project includes songs from The English Civil War to more modern entries such as Siouxsie and The Banshees’ classic track ‘Skin’. A rich mixture of songs, they detail English political history in a way that’s never been done before.

    Billy Bragg is lucky enough to feature twice in the catalogue, with ‘Between The Wars’ and ‘It Says Here’. He explained to the BBC how he feels the project is necessary for conveying the importance of the longstanding tradition of political songs in England. 

    “People think political pop music was something invented in the 1970s, but traditionally song has been used to get messages out, without them being edited by the government or establishment,” Bragg said. “When I took part in the miners’ strike in the 1980s, I was a little punk rocker guy… the folk singers were already there and their repertoire was more radical than mine and much of it had been written in the 19th Century.”

    Elsewhere, Bragg discussed the impact of the protest song, adding: “It can change some things, but it can’t change the world. What it does is it brings people together in solidarity – for example to raise money for a cause. Music also has a great way of making you feel you’re not the only person who feels this way.”

    As part of the same piece, Prof John Street, the mind behind the project used examples of how songs have enacted change culturally. “If you look at the ways a song like [The Special AKA’s] ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ brought attention to his imprisonment, that changed the way people thought about geo-political issues,” he said.

    “Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad To Be Gay’ got audiences to sing together… getting them thinking about that and sexuality at all is quite a significant impact.” He appended: “I also know people who when they heard The Smiths‘ ‘Meat is Murder’ started to think they shouldn’t be eating meat.”

    Listen to Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’ below.

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