“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

23 July 2016

My politics, in music (a Blue ex-Labour playlist)


Music is an important part of my life and an important part of my politics too. Detaching from the political world is a political act after all.

But good music also has magical qualities which can inspire and lead us into seeing connections and aspects of life that we may have been only dimly aware of before. In this way it feeds back into our political world.

My own politics is an amalgam of all the different tendencies out there. I’m of the left for believing in our responsibilities to each other - especially those who find themselves on the wrong end of 'market forces'. I’m conservative for believing that we shouldn’t try to fix what ain’t broke, for respecting people as they are and life as it is. I’m liberal in believing that we should generally avoid interfering with what people are up to unless they are harming others. I’m Green for believing that we need to protect and conserve our environment and value the natural world. I’m UKIP for believing that Britain needs to control immigration and put limits on population growth and cultural change.

Obviously, there's no political party anywhere near satisfying these different tendencies. I left the Labour Party recently, but the Blue Labour strand of thinking has been the closest I have got to any sort of affiliation – and that remains. I have written previously about how Blue Labour would do well to reach out beyond the Labour Party to develop a new politics, emphasising the role of music. In line with these thoughts I've put together a ‘Blue ex-Labour playlist’. It's not a greatest hits list nor meant to be definitive in any way. It's a collection of music which I have associated with the idea of Blue Labour. You can enter the cycle of these tracks below (click on the Youtube icon to create a new window); underneath I have linked to the individual tracks with a few words explaining each of them.




Taking a breath and a break from politics, this lovely little piece is based on a couple of folk songs which Vaughan Williams worked into a larger piece for the massed voices of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, then converted into an orchestral work by his friend Roy Douglas.

A beautiful song written by Danny Flowers, wonderfully sung by Emmylou, it includes my favourite left-wing lyric.

An alternative to mainstream identity politics expressed through the medium of funk music. The video isn’t the greatest, but the song is.

A beautiful Welsh song wonderfully sung by a male voice choir – the sort of tradition that has been largely lost in England and is in danger in Wales too.

Based on John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and first performed at the height of the Second World War in 1943, this symphony portrays a man on a pilgrimage to the heavenly city. The third movement, the Romanza (from 17 mins), is surely one of the most beautiful movements in all music, and also one of the most quintessentially English, as Vaughan Williams intended. This live performance by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra is as good a version as you will see and hear.

‘Calling My Children Home’ by Emmylou Harris (live version, with her ‘Spyboy’ band)

A lonesome mother pleading for her children to come back home someday - ever more relevant in these days of mass migration and transitoriness, with families spread all around the globe.

“In high seas or low seas, I’m gonna be your friend, I’m gonna be your friend. In high tide or a low tide, I’ll be by your side, I’ll be by your side.” In our world of constant movement and transitory life, this sort of basic commitment of one person to another is becoming more and more difficult, and is something I think we should look to enable and protect.

I would like to link to a British song or two with the sort of beauty combined with deep honesty about everyday life that this song expresses, but I’m afraid I don’t know any. The American country and blues traditions seem to be a lot stronger along those lines than what we have in Britain.

Vaughan Williams is commonly known as a ‘pastoral’ composer, but the countryside of this symphony is the countryside of Northern France during the First World War, where he served as a stretcher bearer then artillery officer. During the final movement here, the reserved and restrained nature of the music breaks down into an elegy for the lost. For VW, these included many friends, not least George Butterworth, a fellow composer and companion in folk song collecting.

The full symphony is a slow burner, but wonderful.


For more on Vaughan Williams, feel free to check out my previous blogposts, ‘A Symphony for the Labour Party’ based on his Symphony No. 6, and ‘Vaughan Williams: British Music, English Music’.

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