Shake the Chains
The Britten Studio, Snape Maltings
Saturday 25th February 2017
As a child of the 60s – possibly the best decade for the protest song, I often ask about the protest songs of today. They are buried, it seems, under the plethora of instant fix, talent-less shows which spawn the ‘hits’ played on national radio and TV to salve the advertisers and increase the ever-important social media likes and followers that many crave so badly.
Crack the sheen of trivia that prevails in our media and you will find rich veins of protest songs being sung up and down the country by ordinary, real people. ‘Shake the Chains’ is a project commissioned by ‘Folk by the Oak’ to shine a spotlight on these songs. Some new, some old but all of which record our history far beyond the sound bite.
The Britten Studio at Snape Maltings was the venue for the third of five touring shows that have brought five of the finest musicians and song writers in the land together. Opening with Pete Seeger’s ‘If I Had a Hammer’ the simple stage was set for a powerful evening of beautiful, thought provoking songs.
None of these was more striking to me than Nancy Kerr’s rendition of The Dunnes Stores Apartheid song. I was living in Dublin in 1984 otherwise wrapped up in the birth of our first child and plans to emigrate. I had always believed that the song was written by Christy Moore but now I know I have Nancy’s mum Sandra to thank for it. Not only did the lyrics leave a lump in my throat but so too did the quite spectacular accompaniment of Tim Yates on double bass.
In truth, all of the songs had an effect, as so they should. For what is the point of composing songs if not to tell a story, to highlight an injustice or to make us question why. There was precious little in the way of ‘fake news’ in the Britten Studio last night.
Findlay Napier’s songs of shipbuilding in Glasgow, Hannah Martin’s concern for nature and the land – all issues that have shaped and will shape the world for our children. Greg Russell, whose dissertation on protest songs sparked the project, is to be commended for his role in bringing everyone together.
There was one other present. At each show there is a special guest, at Snape it was Chris Wood. Chris doesn’t think of himself as a protest song writer and I would tend to agree. He is a pragmatic observer of life, gifted with an ability to effortlessly play and sing – and thank you for dedicating one to Jo Cox.
Each of the five shows are being recorded live. At the end of the tour, according to Mr Napier, the show with the best audience backing will become the live CD! So in order to purchase a copy you needed to buy an envelope for £12, write your name on it and wait until July. An interesting merchandising concept lacking any of the instant gratification of the download button – and yes, there is an envelope in a box on a tour van somewhere with my name on it.