If we fight the good fight then they’re gonna have to fall..
I’ve always thought of myself as a bit politically hamstrung. The only family member of my childhood who would avidly and feverishly impart political discourse to me was my Grandfather who was a rampant conservative who idolised Margaret Thatcher – I quickly learned to disengage from that topic of conversation over the years. Whilst my school years were against a backdrop of strikes by the miners which I mixed up in my head with teachers strikes at the same time, really all I thought was it was good to get a day off from the classrooms.
There were no miners in the family, I was too young to understand the implications of what was occurring – I vaguely recall some of my Dad’s siblings being angry about the Poll Tax, and noting the disparity in how The MIrror my Dad bought talked about political issues of the day compared to the headlines that featured in The Sun which was the staple reading of my childminders house – possibly because of the allure of Samantha Fox as much as any particular political affiliation.
So it’s maybe understandable why as I reflect that I’ve been somewhat politically remiss since writing Ferocious Blog for the last year. Of course, politics are inherent in the bands output, and the world that has opened up to me through following them. I was first politicised at university really – my politics lecturer was an inspirational and cynical Marxist, and just as he revealed a world of corruption and what initially felt like conspiracy theories about ‘the state’ was the time that Tony Blair changed the course of the Labour Party into centrist Conservative Light politics.
As such, just as I was nurturing an interest and discovering the theory behind my underdeveloped misgivings about the way the world was run, so too was the viable alternative being gradually being dismantled into, well, not an alternative. My social conscience found solace in music from Levellers or Crass rather than politicians – which of course would, in years to come, lead me to Ferocious Dog – which in turn saw me at the Ashfield Labour Party Red Flag Rally this evening at the George Street Working Man’s Club in Hucknall.
I’ll admit the main lure was the music on offer from King of Rome, Hagg Farm Conspiracy and Ferocious Dog Two Piece, but also to hear speakers and be amongst folk who are not content to watch our government dismantle precious public services for profit, or savagely attack the most needy and poor in our society whilst protecting the rich and large corporations to perpetuate the myth of austerity. With Jeremy Corbyn at the helm of the Labour party – love him or loathe him – there is now undeniably a credible alternative offering with left wing credentials.
So anyway. There’s the waffly context over – I headed up the M1 earlier than needed – Maundy Thursday is basically a Friday in commuting terms, and the roads can be unpredictable. They were in this instance. They were pretty clear so I got into the car park the second car to arrive, just behind Martin from King of Rome and fractionally above Ken – with him Karen, Bev, Carol, Jamie and Dylan. Once loaded in we found a seat and nattered for a while as folk started to arrive. Ken, despite suffering with ‘dog flu’ genially circulating around arriving folk as he does.
The evening was initially compared by Louise Regan, a teacher and NUT member – she got the night underway by plugging a raffle and expressing her grave concerns about the suitablility of our current government. Well, it probably went a bit deeper than that – she talked of the ideological incompatibility between her and them – particularly in the education sector which is obviously close to her heart. In fact, she used the hate word. I think it’s fair to say she was in good company in the room. I don’t like hating people – although I can hate ideas and ideologies readily enough.
Anyway, the first music of the evening was King of Rome – they were in a bit of a country mood, which suits Martin’s gravelling voice to the ground. Both he and Ian kicked off with guitars – starting with Steve Earle’s Johnny Come Lately before kicking into Jesse James (research shows first recorded in 1920’s America by Bascom Lamar Lunsford – but probably known more readily as being sung by The Pogues). Honey was up next which was credited by one of the band to follow – Hagg Farm Conspiracy – which slowed the pace down a tad.
Sons and Lovers was next – familiar to me from the DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show album. Ian had switched to mandolin at this point, it was interesting to hear a familiar song with a different voice at a lower register – it worked well though! Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys gave the crowd a singalong opportunity before The King of Rome by Dave Sudbury made a necessary appearance given the name of the band. Roman Roads finished off the set – a song about trucking in Lincolnshire! Ian this time switched to his bouzouki-esque instrument which I’ve forgotten the name of.
Lovely set to open the night. Louise returned this time to focus on the NHS and call for folk to support the junior doctors in their stand against the government, and also the shameful erosion of the pension fund of some 200,000 former miners and their families by successive governments since 1994 – taken control of and essentially robbed of billions of pounds to half its value. Not only is that a travesty in its own right, it’s something other public sector workers really need to take heed of as a future warning. She then introduced the first speaker Colin Burgon.
Mr Burgon (who I forgot to take a photo of, sorry Colin!) is a former MP from Elmet near Leeds, also ludicrously close to one of my workplaces offices in Scarcroft. He gave an impassioned speech inviting debate on the forthcoming EU referendum – I’ve made lengthy notes as I was getting a bit lost through my own lack of knowledge more than anything. Fundamentally the issue he felt was that the Labour party and Trade Unions hadn’t really fully grasped the subject nor had been able to come to any kind of real conclusion – Labour mostly tends to ‘in’ – as did most of the room when he invited an initial vote.
His agenda was to state the case for Brexit – exiting the EU – from a left wing socialist perspective. He was emotive, and rightly pointed out that both sides of the debate were bandying around whatever statistics they could find (or make up) to back their position. Of course, the numbers he used could well have been doing the same for all I know – but he was concerned about Labour being too like the Spanish Inquisition, although rather than being more Catholic than the Pope they were on a mission to be each be more European than each other.
I wouldn’t say he left me entirely convinced either way – but certainly convinced that I need to understand more before June. Of course, where to acquire that knowledge without fear of bias or misinformation is a more tricky proposition, but with issues like TTIP looming large it is something that really the general public need to have a much more informed position on. Serious food for thought, leaving me in truth with more questions than answers – that was certainly true of Karen and Bev too as we chatted whilst waiting for the queue for pie and peas to die down.
Suitably nourished with pie and pea goodness (including mint sauce!) it was Hagg Farm Conspiracy on stage comprising of Al, familiar from DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, on guitar and vocals, and Nick on fiddle – they introduced their set as ‘traditional folk songs where horrible things happen.’ Much like with King of Rome I love the journey of discovery their plucking of largely obscure-to-me songs from tradition takes me upon and today most certainly didn’t disappoint.
Copshawholme Fair opened – a traditional wimbling folk song that perfectly fits Al’s vocal style, followed by The Outlaw – a Hungarian folk song of all things. Al picked up on the introduction calling for hate by describing Sinnerman as a song about someone who hated – it’s a traditional African American song about a sinner trying to evade divine judgement. Next up Nick swapped out his fiddle for a guitar and took lead vocals for a lovely rendition of Buttermilk Hill (Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier).
This is an American take on an old Irish lament Siúil A Rún, a woman’s lament at her man opting to go to war. Next up with Al back on vocals one of their own songs – I didn’t catch the title but it charted the demise of the coal mining industry with a chorus of “I remember when coal was king.” Next up we were promised a sing along – to a song we wouldn’t know, ha! I think I’ve heard this one before and I think it’s called Protest at the Protest but I could be wrong. It was suitably catchy to sing along to though!
Next up on stage was Jim Kennedy – an NEC member and an unashamed cockney geezer. At one point he joked that he’d neither played a gangster in a Guy Ritchie film nor was a Harry Hill impersonator. He opened with a speech penned by Jeremy Corbyn for the event and went on to reflect on his rise to leadership of the Labour Party and ramifications that had. A credible and differentiated alternative – something I must admit has re-energised by limited engagement with mainstream politics.
Whether you like him or not – he has a mandate to put clear blue (or red) water between Labour and Conservative again, and that has to be healthy for politics. Jim was under no illusion as to the challenge ahead – both from the Blairite factions still within the Labour party and the merciless smearing and power-maintaining measures the Tory party are desperately flinging around. The parting anecote of Corbyn getting a standing ovation just from walking into a pub in Glasgow elicited at least a partial one in that room in Hucknall. Stirring stuff.
An interlude for a raffle draw was a bit of deja vu – I remember sitting at a table in Chesterfield with Bev and Karen looking at raffle tickets and not winning anything, sure enough, that’s what happened here too! Martin from King of Rome at least won a tray of meat – I hope there was no pigeon in there! After the raffle was an auction for a hat once own by Hugo Chavez – after a bit of competition between a few bidders it was eventually sold for £95 towards the cause.
Then t’was time for Ferocious Dog in the two-piece guise. Ken sporting a very fitting We Shall Overcome t-shirt – they started off with Gallows Justice in what was inevitably a selection of their more overtly political songs. Dan improvised a version of the Ellis-intro with his violin, and despite his protestations earlier Ken’s voice was holding out pretty well. Poor Angry and Young was up next before a quick thanks from Ken to the organisers who’d donated twenty tickets to the event to be sold for funds to Lee’s fund.
The Glass of course followed this – there was a bit of a lyrical slip and as often seems the case for acoustic sets it was a case of this world’s not good enough for Lee rather than for me. After a welcome inclusion in Aberdeen it was nice to hear Blind Leading the Blind – written Ken said for the Tory party, followed by a historical political visionary paid tribute to in Freeborn John (with a decree to me to behave myself, which I did despite being goaded on from my table). I decided just to sing along instead, ha!
After this there were pleas for sympathy from the crowd for Ken’s man flu – Dan missed a prize opportunity to literally do the ‘sympathetic violin’ thing. Ruby Bridges was next, a great response from the crowd, and then the inevitable homage to the devastation wraught by Thatcher on the mining industry that is Slow Motion Suicide – Dan was overlaying fiddle in different places to the full band version for my money at times, when it came to the solo at the end when he hit the final section with his orchestral pedal it was really noticable as the strings started booming bassy richness. Nice!
Marikana Massacre took the political gaze further afield before Criminal Justice brought it right back home – dedicated by Ken to the veterans of Orgreave. Still suffering he announced Freethinker as the last song, and he wasn’t really letting himself go on the chorus like normal, a reedier improvisation working strangely well I thought! Another quality set – a chance to chat with Martin, Ian, Al and everyone else – Al kindly handing me a shiny DH Lawrence CD as I’d reviewed a promo copy of it before, how lovely!
Probably the revelation of the day though was that Dylan – playing a Star Wars game on his PSP – managed to get himself killed by an Ewok whilst playing as Darth Vader. How embarrassing! A evening of thought-provoking speeches and excellent music, with great company to boot – with Dan on an early shift and Ken, despite wanting to rest off his illness, with tattoo appointments I hope they both get the chance to rest up a little before Saturday’s trip to Bridport!