From the tragic consequences of US gun laws to the UK’s ongoing debate around inequality and low wages as well as worldwide debate around the plight of refugees fleeing war torn Syria, it’s been another year where political songwriters have had lots of inspiration.
Here we take a look at our five favourite political songs. All can be loosely called protest songs, but also offer more than that, often looking at the real lives of those affected by the political decisions taking place.
Darren Hayman – Down Among the Dead Men
Chants for Socialists is a rare political album from Darren Hayman. As you would expect from the former Hefner frontman it carries none of the bombast of Chumbawumba. Instead he has taken the lyrics from Victorian socialist William Morris, set it to music and given it a modern take with a choir of friends and those living nearby Morris’s former London home.
On this, one of the album’s standout tracks, Hayman successfully conveys a comforting sense of comraderie among the hopelessness of a world of social injustice, all sounding like a mix of The Kinks and a Victorian pub singalong thanks to co-writing duties from frequent Hayman collaborator Robert Rotifer.
Villagers- Little Bigot
A few years it would have been inconceivable that Ireland, with all the atrocities its Catholic society forced on women and gay people would allow same sex marriages. In the year Ireland really came of age Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien penned the album Darling Arithmetic, which is as much about Ireland’s attitude to gay men like himself as it is a wonderful collection of songs about love.
He is keen that this shold be seen as a love album first and a protest album second, but on Little Bigot he rejoices as finally the old way of thinking is cast aside. “So take the blame, little bigot. And throw that hatred on the fire,” he sings.
Belle and Sebastian – Cat with the Cream
Politicians and the banking elite are the smug cats here on Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s bitter take on British politics. Written after the Tory led coalition came into power in 2010 it was not released until this year when the Conservatives won an outright victory and looked to lap up even more cream. ‘Tory like a cat with the cream’ sums up many of that party’s politics wonderfully, but Labour and their ‘grubby little red’ MPs and the Lib Dems ‘flapping hopelessly’ also come under fire.
John Howard and the Night Mail – Tip of your Shoe
This is the second mention in this list of protest songs for Robert Rotifer, who in between fronting his own band Rotifer and helping Darren Hayman out, also collaborated this year with 1970s singer songwriter John Howard as part of the Night Mail. Here Rotifer’s lyrics and Howard’s wonderful voice and music take on xenophobia and right wing media commentators, especially ones of the likes of Katie Hopkins, who spout all sorts of vile political rubbish on their “21st century toilet wall” of social media.
Southern Tenant Folk Union – Slaughter in San Francisco
It seems incredulous that the US government still allows gun ownership to go unchecked in yet another year of horrific shootings. The school shootings are particular tragic and provide the sad inspiration for Slaughter in San Francisco, among the best songs on Southern Tenant Folk Union’s album The Chuck Norris Project, which is packed full of protest at a range of issues from bigotry to gun laws.
Here singer Rory Butler provides genuine emotion as he shows the horror of such incidents through the eyes of one of the frightened young victims. It’s one of the year’s most heartbreaking songs that sadly is set to have resonance for years to come until the US legislature finally sees sense on gun crime.
Compiled by Joe Lepper