August 08, 2009

Musicians fight to keep politics out of folk

The British National Party is using English Folk songs on its website but the musicians are not happy with the association. Paul Moss, from The World Tonight, reports on a scheme to keep such politics out of folk.

The first Steve Knightley knew about it was when one of his fans sent an e-mail to tell him what had happened.

"It's a betrayal of your invention," he says, "you feel violated."

What prompted this reaction was Steve's discovery that one of his songs was being used on the British National Party (BNP) website. "Roots" is about his love of English traditions and English culture. But he insists he has no sympathy with the BNP.

"We try to make music that's inclusive. And when organisations like the BNP come along and say 'this music is ours, this isn't for black people or Jewish people or whatever' - that's a betrayal of what you've been working for."

Steve Knightley is not alone. Guitarist and singer, John Boden, recorded several tracks for a folk album he was told would be sold through gift shops. But he then found it was on sale through the BNP, helping to raise money for the party.

"The CD was titled 'a place called England'," he says. "But suddenly when you see it on the BNP's website, it takes on a darker significance that you never imagined."

The problem faced by Steve Knightley, John Boden and all the others is that they have no control over who sells their CDs. And they have only a limited say over how and when their recordings are played. So they have now resorted to a new approach to manage the way their folk music is used.

At the Sidmouth Folk Festival last week, a new organisation was launched "Folk Against Fascism." It is a slogan they will try to persuade musicians to put on their CDs. Founder Joan Crump hopes this will make it awkward for what they describe as far-right parties to sell the music or to use it for promoting their causes.

"Music has been a very powerful political tool, usually for the left," she says. "What concerns me is that the BNP could do the same thing from a far-right perspective."

In fact, according to the anti-racist campaign group, Searchlight, the BNP is very much on the look out for a "political soundtrack". Its predecessor, the National Front, was supported by a clutch of heavy rock bands like Skrewdriver, with albums like "Blood and Honour" and songs like "White Power." But these are no longer appropriate, says Searchlight spokesman Matthew Collins.

"The modern BNP no longer has angry white teenagers in big boots. They have people between 35 and 55 years of age. So folk music with its ideas of land, tradition - the BNP are trying to get involved in that."

The BNP's affection for folk is embodied in its leader, Nick Griffin. Griffin claims to be a life-long folk music fan and hopes to present his own folk music programme when the BNP launches an internet radio station. And the party's spokesman, John Walker, insists they do not have any obligation to ask permission from the musicians whose recordings they play.

"We use a product to raise funds for our party," he says. "Whether the musicians like the BNP is irrelevant."

He also threatens folk musicians that if they speak out against this, the BNP will react by playing even more of their music.

"There's absolutely nothing they can do about it," he added.

But Folk against Fascism are determined to prove him wrong.

"What we are trying to say is yes, we love Englishness," says Joan Crump. "But our vision of England is an open and inclusive one, as opposed to the BNP's white's only Englishness. If you love English folk music, it belongs to you. You don't have to have been born in England."



Singer said...

Nice logo.

Anonymous said...

Just a little info on Skrewdriver , they are punk/skins not rock . you dont want to be labelled liars do you for posting false info

Anonymous said...

Good song roots is.

But maybe the silly BNP havent paid too much attention top the lyrics which say indians, asians and africans are right and we, the english are wrong!!!

"When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?"

And its a bit disparaging about Rule Britannia too.

Wonder what makes the BNP think its a good song for them?

Anonymous said...

The song is lamenting the lack of traditional culture amongst the English due to Americanisation and political correctnes, not saying the English are 'wrong'. Silly.

Anonymous said...

Wonder what makes the BNP think its a good song for them?

Cos they're as thick as you know what?

Anonymous said...

Skrewdriver, the white power version, was never punk. The original non political band did put out a couple of punk singles on Chiswick records although Ian Stewarts rock influences were revealed by his choice to cover a Rolling Stones song, and there rock. Besides there is no such thing as "skin" music. Some skins like ska and reggae and some like punk. Or rock.

Nick Griffn said...

Can anyone, just someone show me and my nazi pals some love? please?
I'll beg...

JSB said...

Amazing how the BNP will lie under any circumstances despite the facts being evident. Simon Darby has written this on his bloody boring blog:

"detailing how a small minority of anti-Nationalists are trying to use their musical standing to politicise their genre"

I thought the whole point of Folk Against Fascism was to keep politics (and the BNP) out of folk.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new. Bela Bartok didn't want his music played in Nazi Germany.

Anonymous said...

Is it because the far right have been ALLOWED by the liberals to hijack our Union Jack and St.Georges cross to a point that it makes me shameful to see one of these flags flying, whereas to see a Stars and Stripes/Tricoluer/Draig Goch flying from an American/French/Welsh house is somehow okay and positively patriotic not racist.

Anonymous said...

Too little POSITIVE patriotism that comes from people like Show of Hands, of which Steve Knightley is a member - and too much negative patriotism from the BNP.

Folk music has never been about far right, or even centre right/Thatcherite politics, neither has it been about inciting hatred. If anything it is left wing, mirroring the struggle of English/whoever peasantry against the ruling classes. The BNP as a far rightist organisation seeks to DIVIDE the working classes and our country, England along racial religious and other parameters.

I was at a concert by popular Welsh folk singer/harpist Sian James, who was born, raised and still lives in Llanerfyl, Powys (Griffin's base) a few years ago and I was lucky enough to speak to =her and ask her just what it was like having a fascist as a neighbour. She and her musician partner Aled were equally disgusted. So here's one Folkie against fascism - from Griffin's backyard!

The guitar logo reminds me of Woody Guthrie's guitar - with THIS MACHINE DESTROYS FASCISTS! written thereon, and Victor Jara's songs against fascist dictator and mate of Maggie Thatcher's, General Pinochet.

Anonymous said...

Could any chavvish BNP member tell me the name of the poet who wrote the words to Rule Brittania, the composer who wrote it, and the full text of the poem.

Britons nevernevernever shall be slaves. All Britons of all creeds colours and classes, you shall never enslave us Mr.Griffin!

John P said...

Has anybody got a contact for this group. I'm doing something similar at the moment.

Joe Chapman said...

Easy way to fight back on this:

The artists need to write some overtly anti-BNP songs and make sure they are publicised well enough.

Then watch the BNP try to shift their existing stock.

Anonymous said...

John P, you rock!