Springingtiger's Blog

Sadness In His Eyes (Trail Blazers: Conscience Songs)


Today serendipity had me watch a program on Sky Arts ‘Trail Blazers: Conscience Songs’ about singers and song writers ̶ mostly in the second half of the Twentieth Century ̶ who tried to change society with their songs. Obviously there were the charity singles like Band Aid’s ‘Feed The World’ but the hour long program also looked at modern political music with sizeable contributions from Billy Bragg. The coverage of the Miner’s Strike and The Battle For Orgreave took me right back to those days, however as they talked about charity singles I was getting increasingly annoyed that they hadn’t mentioned George Harrison’s ‘Bangladesh’ and then they did.

When they mentioned ‘Bangladesh’ it took me back to my last summer holiday before leaving school. I stayed with my cousin Barry in London for a couple of weeks. On the weekend at the end of the first week I went on my first demonstration. Action Bangladesh had organised a march through London and a rally in Trafalgar Square. There were thousands of us marching, people of all races calling on the UK government to recognise Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s revolutionary government and the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistani rule. We marched singing a Bengali song Badhe Penge Dow (I doubt very much if that’s how to spell it, it was a long time ago) which translated as ‘Break down the barriers and let the imprisoned soul fly free”. We filled the square and listened to various speakers. At some point we were told that the song ‘Bangladesh‘ had just been released and this was the first British event that would hear it and then over the speakers the song, so much more powerful than a rabble rousing speech or martial anthem, just a sad, quiet, heartfelt plea for help. I spent the rest of my holiday volunteering at Action Bangladesh and in the evenings listening to Trad Jazz except one when I went to the BBC for a private tour and also to sit in the studio and watch the broadcast of Twenty Four Hours with Ludovic Kennedy. The visit had been set up by a friend of my mother so I got to hang out with the cameramen and stage crew. I took along Action Bangladesh leaflets and I was covered with badges from the demonstration. During the program Ludovic Kennedy (called ‘Ludo’ in the running order and ‘Bolshie’ by several of the staff) announced that the Government had recognised Bangladesh. I am afraid I might have cheered because Kennedy glared in my direction, but all the cameramen were giving me the thumbs-up.

Like many Trades Union branches around the country my branch of the Union of Communication Workers provided what financial help we could to the families of the Striking Miners because strike pay is too little for a family to live on and the Tories were intent on starving or beating the men back to work. Billy Bragg’s songs on the television today brought it back. I used to say, ‘I hate no one, but I’m prepared to make an exception for Margaret Thatcher!’ Today I realised that my opinion has not changed. I was in London for the Miners’ Lobby of Parliament, of course as my MP was Jim Craigen of Maryhill I was preaching to the converted so we went off and drank tea. I was working as part of the telecoms team in the Press centre for the London Economic Summit Comference. Mrs Thatcher came to visit the centre, I was told afterwards that I should not have turned my back on her, but I was damned if I could stomach the sight of her. Fortunately my supervisor was a decent Irishman who agreed with me and just asked me to be careful. People keep suggesting Teresa May is a second Thatcher, her postponement of any enquiry into Orgreave seems to confirm that opinion.

I think there could well be a series in the history of conscience songs, particularly if it were to go beyond the borders of the UK. Perhaps for a change presented by someone other than Lucy Worsley (don’t get me wrong, I love her to bits, but she seems to present everything historical!). The program ended with some discussion of how social media is replacing music as the means of engaging people politically. However, as Billy Bragg said, ‘No ones going to invite you tour America and read out your tweets’. I think music will be an instrument of revolution for a long time to come, you only need to look back a couple of years to the Scottish YES campaign to see the powerful role music plays in the revolutionary movement. I expect it will be a feature of the YES 2 campaign as well, we’ll find out soon enough as the marchers for a free Scotland gather in the Botanic Gardens at 10am tomorrow (Saturday) it’s probably today by the time this gets posted.


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