Best ever Agit Disco album just republished on SoundCloud in August 2014
It is really great to see this important and little known album re-issued again on SoundCloud after twenty years. It was first issued as a cassette tape for those who frequented 56a Infoshop and its networks in South London. I was struck by its eloquent and radical lyrics and beautiful, inventive instrumental backing when I first heard it. Certainly it was the stand-out album of political songs of the Nineties in South London. I had seen Steve Cope perform his songs solo on a few occasions like at a St Agnes Place squat party, but these recordings of the songs with other talented local musicians frame Cope’s powerful lyrics with a musicianship that makes them works of art as much as heart-felt protest songs.
Each track on Soundcloud now has a carefully chosen image that adds something to the digital presentation that the analogue tape could not of course have. I wondered if this was the result of a particularly magical recording session but Martin says “It was essentially live music, so I never thought of the recording (on Fostex 8 track) as being exceptional, just a different thing.” Also looking at the cassette liner notes it looks like different tracks were recorded at different locations.
The song ‘Animals’ makes me cry every time I hear it. Such a passionate and poetic song. My favourite of the whole album. It addresses peoples in-humanity in a deeply felt alliance with all animals, with nature even, against the violence of oppression and exploitation targeted by the callous few against the majority of people. It also works as a statement against cruelty to all life. For me it achieves a singular artistic statement that sums up the righteous anger that liberation needs. An important and necessary emotion that is hard to express most of the time. Its key chorus-line: “I’m with the animals” is spat out over a rolling and hypnotic bass rhythm. About 4 minutes in there is some brilliant growling trumpet playing by Martin Dixon that expresses the build-up of outrage in a way that reminds me of the expressive power of some of the best modern Jazz playing.
For Martin it is “The greatest piece of music I have ever had the good fortune to be involved with.” That is saying something when I think of all the stuff Martin, now reborn as a photographer, has done in his musical career. So its not just me that rates this track so highly!
The whole album sounds tight like it has been carefully ‘arranged’ but Martin remembers his contribution as coming from improvisations that gave him melodic phrases that might change with each performance.
The other favourite track of mine is ‘Attitude Problem’ which expresses ideas about working class identity at a time when I sometimes felt that I was one of only very few people trying to write about them (e.g. Collaborations, Working Press, 1990). Compared to my attempts this is a concise talking blues that just makes the whole con of there being ‘no more working class’ crystal clear. For many years I fantasised about this song being on Radio 1’s breakfast show and it being a top ten hit for weeks on end in the way that ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was. But this song has clear ideas rather than a simplistic punk pose of defiance. Not maybe as musical or poetic as Animals, nor as emotive, but still it was a powerful message the discussion of which was suppressed for the majority of the population. I still feel that if the whole of the UK working population could have heard this catchy song then politics would have changed overnight. Maggy and her vile follower, Tony traitor Blair, truly would have been: Out! Out! Out!
These are just two of my own favourite tracks. I’d love to hear what you think about the other tracks which are all good.
Annotated track list.
1. Shattering Silence – About taking our voices back from subservient silence.
2. Couldn’t Happen Here – Police brutality with a counterpoint of flute and a nice baseline.
3. Wandsworth Prison – More on bourgeoise jurisprudence which starts with a sample reminding us of “The crime of poverty”. With some good banjo and catchy lyrics: “The worst of the conmen are in your town hall”.
4. Rue the Day – Our current democratic option is ‘voting for the bosses’ – why are we so complacent? We are still free to think! “We pander to the plunders, we got nothing to say.” The suggestion here is that it is mental scars from oppression that limit our thinking.
5. Attitude Problem – “Thought I was working class, but after all that it was an attitude problem”, One of my favs, see above. Open the windows, turn it up LOUD! Who does the jobs that make out lives go well?!
6. Great Expectations – “More of the same”, or “hunger for change”? “I just saw more strength in one drying tear than all of the military shipped out of here…”
7. Viva Zapata! – A gesture of solidarity towards the ongoing postcolonial struggles. Nice flute solos but perhaps the least inspired lyrics.
8. Why are you fighting? – An appeal to stop fighting amongst ourselves and target the real class enemies. “Its the men in suits that are kicking you!” Great rhythm guitar.
9. Animals – My top music track of all time! See above.
10. On The Blade – A plaintive satire on our Queen’s Annus Horribilis (1992) and by implication the exclusivity of our ruling class. Beautiful ending.