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You say you want a revolution?

Whatever happened to the protest song? Sixties museum exhibit or still going strong? The Farm's Peter Hooton is to chair a TUC-led debate on the very thing next week. So we asked him

Published on January 14th 2009.

You say you want a revolution?

THERE'S a lot to protest about today …war, global recession, famine, corporate greed, climate change.

But these are things we do not sing about any more – or so it seems.

‘Anarchy in the UK’, ‘Career Opportunities’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ – all uncompromising, raging anthems against the crimes of the system.

And before them, the rich tradition of protest championed by Woody Guthrie with his ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ guitar, Joan Baez, Dylan, Liverpool’s Lennon and even McCartney.

Protest once seemed part of the fabric of popular culture. Now it appears the preserve of a marginal minority.

Of course, there are notable exceptions which engage the masses and even call them to action, such as ‘Do They Know It's Christmas?’

Springsteen turns protest anthems out reliably. Costello, intermittently. Old masters like Neil Young, with his furious indictment of the Iraq debacle, ‘Living with War’. Or Liverpool’s own Pete Wylie, whose angry anticipated celebration of ‘The Day That Margaret Thatcher Dies’ failed to enliven the sclerotic airwaves last year. Obviously.

So, in our celebrity obsessed, Cowell-driven culture, who sings now on behalf of the dispossessed, the downtrodden and the marginalised?

That’s something Peter Hooton, former frontman with The Farm will be exploring in ‘Whatever Happened to the Protest Song?’ – part of a day-long cultural festival organised by the North West TUC next Saturday (24th Jan).

The Farm already have impeccable local credentials - having penned the anti-war ‘All Together Now’, they have watched it being chorused in a variety of contexts, by everyone from football fans to culture crowds.

“There’s a new generation of protest singers out there now,” says Hooton, “they might not be household names, but they are alive and kicking.”

He points to the liberating internet and to the committed acts who choose to dot YouTube and MySpace, rather than beat a path to the door od A&R men and major record deals.To the young punk garage bands, following the death-or-glory path of the Pistols and Joe Strummer, and to the groups who pack out the Zanzibar on a Friday night, but never make it on to the local radio playlists.

So how does he define a protest song?“A song which comments on events – and questions them,” says Hooton, simply. “A good tune and dance-ability help too.”

The sixty-four million dollar question is: Does it matter anyway? Does the protest song have the power to bring one iota of real change?

“It’s an impossible question to answer,” says Hooton, pausing, “but I’m convinced that protest songs can galvanise communities. Songs like ’Change Is Gonna Come’ and ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ certainly helped the civil rights movement in America.”

If protest is no longer part of the daily soundtrack of our lives - as children’s bodies litter Gaza and Darfur, terror stalks our streets and the planet consumes its way to oblivion - maybe Hooton is right and we need to listen more intently outside the mainstream?

“When people unite to protest, they need songs like that to latch on to….and, after all, protest songs are about people. That’s why they will always be with us.”

*You can hear more protest talk and debate at ‘All Together Now’, 10am-4pm, Saturday, Jan 24th, Novas Centre, Greenland Street (opposite Cains Brewery), Liverpool

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DigJanuary 14th 2009.

Not a single song in the protesting 21 by Rage Against The Machine? I protest against your protesting list!

Revolution in the headJanuary 14th 2009.

John Lennon didn't do badly out of his protest period. Yoko Ono is probably one of the richest women on the planet as a result of her husband's crafted rants from the luxury of Manhattan. Or perhaps I've got it all wrong and it was the shrieking and caterwauling stuff that he allowed his missus to do and which blighted his every album. Give peace a chance. Yeah right, at least he does now!

GedJanuary 14th 2009.

I find it odd that pop stars release 'protest songs' and then make bags of money from them, i.e. for their individual estates. I don't mind people making a living out of creativity in fact I applaud them for doing so, but a successful song can be put to good use in terms of generating income for good causes.

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