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Red Folk's favourite lefties chat about their musical and political highlights of 2007 and ponder the prospects for the year to come.
THE new year is upon us, so this month's column catches up with some top lefties to hear their thoughts on the music and politics of 2007 and their hopes for 2008.
Tony Benn is rightly recognised as one of the foremost politicians of his generation, but also for his performances with folk singer Roy Bailey.
When asked for his 2007 musical highlight, he not unsurprisingly chooses the Not In Our Name CD, which was reviewed recently in the Morning Star.
Benn says: "The peace movement in Britain, apart from its huge demonstrations and conferences, has also brought forth some wonderful music which has inspired us and excited us. The latest volume, Not in our Name, has been produced by David Ferrard and one of his songs, Hills of Virginia, is on the album."
Among the other 15 singers on the album are well-known socialist folkies Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson.
It is inspiring to hear the emotion on this collection of songs shine through. The musicians' anger, hopes and aspirations are echoed movingly in the ebb and flow of the music.
The proceeds from sales of Not In Our Name are donated to the Stop the War Coalition. The CD can be bought online from www.songsforchange.com.
Respect MP George Galloway also has a reputation as a lover of good music.
"I'm still getting out my Dylan CDs," he confides.
"I've been particularly taken by the radio shows that he did, DJing for a satellite radio station.
"I don't know if these are generally available, I know that some at least were broadcast on BBC, but they are magical, funny, insightful and revealing.
"I'm totally hooked on Bruce Springsteen's album Magic and I've been playing one of the tracks as a kind of signature on my shows on talkSPORT, it's Radio Nowhere.
"Also, Terry Neason, a Glasgow chanteuse with a remarkable voice and attitude has caught my ear," he enthuses.
People's poet, songwriter, author, musician and peace campaigner Benjamin Zephaniah had his usually busy year in 2007 and took a well-earned break in socialist Cuba over the new year.
Zephaniah had his latest book Teachers Dead published in September and has already been approached by the BBC to write a screenplay to be made into a major programme in the future.
Musically, 2007 saw Zephaniah going back to his roots and listening to a lot of early reggae records by Burning Spear, the Mighty Diamonds and the legendary Lee Perry.
Always eclectic in his musical tastes, Council Estate of Mind by British rapper Skinnyman caught his ear, as well as The Dusty Foot on the Road, an album by Somalian-born rapper K'naan, who is now living in Canada.
With a possible new album in the offing, Zephaniah looks set for an equally busy 2008.
Top US political folk singer-songwriter David Rovics, who is often to be found touring Britain, has a new live album called The Commons, which has just had a British release.
Unusually perhaps for such an accomplished musician, Rovics does not listen to much recorded music. Being based more at home of late while he brings up his daughter Leila, his living room is often full up with friends practising Balkan, Irish and old-time music.
Politically, his highlight of 2007 was the G8 protests in Germany.
He says: "The low point was and is the ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity and the earth being committed daily by the Bush administration and the capitalist world in general."
His message to Morning Star readers is typically forthright. "Capitalism is omnicidal, socialism is inevitable and failure is unthinkable." Here, here indeed.
The Commons was released on the Irregular Records label of another top performer who will be well known to readers of Red Folk, Robb Johnson.
Musing on the supposed lack of new political musicians in the face of so much quality music coming out in this genre, it disproves yet again the popular media myth that "no-one writes protest songs anymore."
"The only time I got on Andy Kershaw's programme was because I was a protest singer," he recalls.
"The DJ had been lamenting the absence of protest singers and I was apparently put forward as one of a dying breed.
"He wanted to ask me what had happened to all the protest songs. Then the Beeb promptly censored one of the songs I did, cutting out the verse that said that the Pope's a nazi."
Such is life for the protest folk singer.
'British rapper Skinnyman and Somalian musician K'Naan caught people's poet Benjamin Zephaniah's ear in 2007.'
Another Irregular Records stablemate is Tracey Curtis, who has had both her CDs out on this label. Asked what music she has been listening to this year, Curtis cites "Belle and Sebastian, Anti-Flag, Chumbawamba, The Fratellis, The Beatles, The Divine Comedy, Leon Rosselson, Robb Johnson, Morrissey, Dory Previn, Inner Terrestrials, The Mekons and Willy Mason."
Her musical highlights were playing at the Raise Your Banners festival and Levellers Day.
And her political highs and lows for the year?
"A highlight was Tony Blair going, but a low point was Gordon Brown taking over," she says.
"Another highlight - two of my friends being granted asylum. A low point - one of my friends being refused asylum. Continuing low points are Iraq and Afghanistan, the thousands of death sentences carried out around the world."
And Curtis's new year's message for readers of the Morning Star? "Keep reading the paper."
Curtis often appears with the mighty Chumbawamba, whose Boff Whalley had this to say on politics and music in 2007.
"Music - the cynical view. Oh what a year that was. Musically, the world was set alight by the antics of a few TV talent show winners, while any old bunch of fogies who had the foresight to rerelease some old crap from 30 years ago was guaranteed a million sales.
"I'm sure I'm not the only person who wished that the gorgeous Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album hadn't been trampled underfoot by the Led Zeppelin reunion," he groans.
"Now for the cynical view of politics. Well, Brown's new Labour were every bit as sleazy as the last bunch and, therefore, yet again, for another year, I can remain as angrily aloof from the everyday politics of white, suited millionaires running the country on lies, lies, lies and more lies.
"On a positive musical note, MySpace is eradicating the need for new young bands to have to grovel to smarmy ignorant upstarts who work for major record companies.
"Downloading is killing the majors. Hooray!
"And to be positive politically, the general public are now against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"The word 'Vietnam' is being talked about in every-day conversation. The country-wide distaste for politicians of every persuasion is taking hold.
"This year is the turning-point," he grins.
"This is the year that people realise that the reason people aren't voting anymore isn't because of apathy, it's because we genuinely feel that we don't believe any of the bastards."
And now for a touch of magic. Let's hear from socialist magician Ian Saville. I first saw Saville performing at a fundraiser for the Morning Star at a Vegan restaurant in Deptford, more years ago than I would care to remember.
The restaurant has long gone, but Saville continues to amaze and amuse with his unique act.
"As a socialist magician, rather than a musician, I rarely sing onstage," he admits.
"I began my most recent Edinburgh show with a parody of That Old Black Magic.
"It went: 'That Old Red Magic has me in its spell/That Old Red Magic that I know so well/Magic tricks to change society/And cause the bourgeoisie anxiety/It hasn't worked yet/But I'll continue to try/Combining card tricks/With dialectics.'
"Not a bad lyric, but perhaps it was a mistake to begin with one of my weaker talents.
"However, last year I sang on a proper CD. My friend Leon Rosselson has a collection of new songs coming out soon and, for one of them, he needed what he described - slightly ungraciously, I thought - as a 'ragged choir' in the background.
"So, in 2008, you will actually be able to buy a commercial product with my voice on. But I think that's just a blip in my career."
So, what is the proper trajectory for a socialist magician in 2008?
"I think I need to get working on that climate change trick," he ponders.
See Saville at work on his website www.redmagic.org.uk or, even better, get along to the The Cock Tavern in Kilburn in London on January 19 and see him perform live.
So, just space enough to let the great Alistair Hulett sign off in rousing style.
"The growing anger in Britain and the US at the criminality of our leaders in taking us into a murderous and illegal oil war based on a raft of lies is thick in the air these days.
"But, for a glimpse of what the 'better world' that we believe is possible could look like, we can also celebrate the struggles of the people of Venezuela and Bolivia as they point the way forward in their struggle to resist the iron fist of imperialism."
So, just a few thoughts at the turning of the year from some of the people who continue to give us all hope for the future. Forward, then, comrades, into 2008.
Red Folk columnist Mike Newman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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