“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard travelling. … I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what colour, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”
– Woody Guthrie
Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores is an informal collaboration between Gail Something-Else and a variety of other musicians who as the name implies meet and often jam together on the festival circuit; all the songs start out as poems, then lend themselves to different instrumental arrangements, but can be read as they stand. This is actually Gail’s second album, the first being credited to Ms Something-Else and the Reverend Phil Dread, who also crops up on this one.
The album can be ordered online or, conscious of the fact that many of our class do not have money for food let alone entertainment, downloaded on Pay What You Can for anything or nothing. Of course Woody gave his music away and the Clash encouraged people to tape their records, they just wanted you to hear what they had to say.
First up is an acoustic version of the magnificent ‘Beat the Rich’ my favourite track from the last set. It has morphed from a sort of electro reggae beat to what might actually be a tango, played by Tony Hopkins. Must admit I’m still stuck on the electric version, but this does emphasise the vocals.
Gail’s voice is sweet and haunting, with a strange inflection that seems to combine toughness and vulnerability in a way that’s hard to pin down, the mood shifts constantly, ice and fire, rage and graveyard humour. The voice comes into its own on ‘Silent screams’ recorded with Fool’s chaos; a catchy and finely crafted pop song that reflects Gail’s growing musical sophistication.
‘Status’ is much more my line, a jolly Latin tune with witty lyrics about alienation, commodity fetishism and reification, ending in an exhortation to smash the television.
‘Old time’ is mellow and atmospheric and reminds me a little of Nick Drake, so I just had to check who played guitar on it and it seems it was Gail herself!
There follows a new version of the well-known ‘Parody’ with a simple piano accompaniment which focuses the mind on the absurdity of consumer culture, then the old live favourite ‘Fascist Fuck Train’ featuring the legendary Doozer on guitar.
‘Poor little rich boy’ is socially conscious filth as only Ms Something-Else can dish it up; I’m not going into it, you’ll just have to listen to the bloody record! The tune by Bellicose is jazzy dub, with some muted trumpety bits going on*. ‘The Dress’ with Lee Bowers is vintage psychedelia, which takes me right back to, er, somewhere I’ve been.
* You’ve probably gathered by now that I know more about dissident politics than I do about music.
An abrupt change of mood follows; ‘Dear Riot Copper’ is a true story and very personal. Just one tale from the 26th of March 2011, the TUCs ‘march for the alternative’ a day few of us will ever forget; the cops having been shown up all afternoon by a cheeky black bloc tried to redeem themselves by battering some kids having a party in Trafalgar square. The lyrics are spoken evenly over the Rev P’s electronics. This is for all those who still think the police are just workers in uniform doing a very difficult job. Their job is of course impossible, as their masters would have them confine the entire economy into an ever-tightening kettle. It also begs the question: what kind of person would see fit to bash someone as eminently reasonable as Gail Something-Else over the head? I’ll leave that one with you.
The answer lies with the next track, which opens an older wound and goes back to the source of the violence; ‘Warren James’ has the makings of an English rebel classic. A contemporary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, James is the folk hero of the Forest of Dean; transported for riot in 1831 after an abortive attempt by several thousand forest Freeminers to return the land to commons, his name is still invoked in social struggles locally. Like the Swing rebellion, this incident has largely been written out of popular historical narrative.
Two centuries ago, in the tumultuous 40-year period between the enclosure acts and the poor law, modern capitalism was born hand-in-hand with the present-day concept of law enforcement; the people having been dispossessed of the land were forced into wage labour and the police force was founded to keep them there. Only the pious Tolpuddle martyrs and the rowdy Luddites have made it into the schoolbooks – and our illustrious leaderless army that tied up 16,000 troops for 3 years is misrepresented as a mob of backward superstitious yokels – this is our history and we want it back!
What would Woody Guthrie be doing if he were still around? ‘For the when’ has a menacing beat and an eerie woodwind motif with contrasting voice clips from Tony Benn and David Cameron, it contemplates the rollercoaster of doubt and certainty, isolation and comradeship, which is the activist’s path. ‘Weirdos in my inbox’ is a humorous talking blues over a techno beat; a side-splitter with sinister overtones, watch out for the punch line! The title track closes the album, stark and minimal, the poem is chanted over a simple war drum, and it works extremely well.
Buy the album or listen to it free, share it around, sing it on the barricades; it’s what Woody would have done.
Mal Content 2013.