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Red Days

The publishers blurb…

Challenges the conventional narratives about English popular music and
the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s

“The passion, intensity and complexity of the popular music produced in
England between 1965-75 is the work of an extraordinary generation of
working class and lower middle class men and women (in alliance with a
handful of middle-class men and women) who saw in the new music the
remaking of something bigger than themselves, or more precisely,
something bigger than themselves that they could guide and shape and
call their own. In this the ?use-values? of popular music underwent an
unprecedented expansion and diversity during this period. Red Days
presents how music and action, music and discourse, experienced a
profound re-functioning as definitions of the popular unmoored
themselves from the condescending judgements of post-1950s high culture
and the sentiment of the old popular culture and the musicologically
conformist rock ?n? roll seeking to displace it. The remaking of the
popular between 1965-1975, accordingly, is more than a revision of
popular taste, it is, rather, the demolition of old cultural allegiances
and habits, as forces inside and outside of music shattered the
assumption of popular music as the home for passive adolescent

Bio: John Roberts is Professor of Art & Aesthetics at the University of
Wolverhampton. He is the author of a number of books, including /The
Necessity of Errors/ (2010), /Photography and Its Violations/ (2014),
/Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde/ (2015), /Thoughts on an Index
Not Freely Given/ (2016) and /The Reasoning of Unreason: Universalism,
Capitalism and Disenlightenment/ (2018).

PDF available freely online:

Ordering Information: Available direct from Minor Compositions now for
the special price of £ 10 + £2 P+P.

Minor Compositions is a series of interventions
& provocations drawing from autonomous politics,
avant-garde aesthetics, and the revolutions of everyday life.

There is great local work that is done all around the country in UK and probably everywhere that needs more support to get through the local bureaucracies to get out into schools, libraries and inform cultural events. Here’s  a sample from my area led by Sean Creighton.

“Musical Heritage. The recognition of the importance of Croydon’s heritage is recognised (Plan. p.15). However, this section is flawed and superficial. I urged the Cabinet of 20 June 2016 to ensure that the report Towards a Cultural Programme for Croydonshould recognise ‘heritage as a major component of culture and as a stimulus to cultural activities and tourism’.  The Plan report is particularly weak on the history of the musical heritage. The fact that famous performers like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones performed at venues like Fairfield Halls, is important and interesting, but they were just passing through. It ignores the rich classical and folk scenes. There is no mention of the classical composers Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and William Hurlestone who grew up in Croydon and ran musical events involving local musical talents like the Petherick sisters. Nor does it mention other residents such as Ralph Reader (Gang Shows),  Kathy Stobbart (jazz saxophonist), and Ewan McCall and Peggy Seeger (folk singers nor the musical importance of the National College of the Blind. Nor does it mention the rich music hall history or the way in which music was central to the social and public activities of the wide range of faith, charitable, labour movement, friendly society, and faith organisations, and of campaigners such as the suffragists and suffragettes. There is no excuse for this, given that some of the detail has been written about in Croydon Citizen, given the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor year long Festival in 2012 organised by Jonathan Butcher with the help of Surrey Opera and the Borough based Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, and the Petherick family exhibition at the Museum.

Of course there is also much recent EDM  and Grime history relating to the area, especially Thornton Heath, where I live that is not yet recorded…


I’ll start by saying that I am an ideal reader for this book – its like it was written for me. Whether it’s down to my teenage empathy with country blues, record collecting, the hi-fi enthusiasm, the field recording fetish, or the suburban childhood. I’ve read some William Burroughs, idolised Brion Gysin and heard Bob Cobbings perform concrete poetry in a small room in London. Then there was the work of Pierre Schaeffer and R. Murray Schafer that I was in awe of at a distance.

The obsession with the ‘authentic’ black solo blues musicians from the first half of the C20th was a huge part of my UK early Sixties Mod culture and through people like John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers, it led to the volcanic rise of British R&B that proceeded to world dominance. The old blues singers got almost nothing – perhaps a European tour if they were the later generation and in good health. I saw Sonny Boy Williams 2nd close up in a pub in Chertsey c 1965. 

This book provides a critical analysis of what was going on with that. Simplistic conclusions there are not. Relief! My own rationalisation of our blues obsession is based on my British history, which is not Seth’s in this book. Mine was that British working class culture was wiped out in certain aspirational sections of the population, to the point at which many of our families stopped singing, and into that terrible void, blues expressed something deeply felt but un-articulated by bodies such as the Labour Party, about cultural oppression. I’m not saying there was an equivalence or anything. And it does beg the questions of the crass exploitation of the labour of those bluesman. (even if they got to cut a disc of their song, they might have been the lucky few as Kunzru points out… young American Negros were being regularly forced into labour and arbitrarily killed during the period in question.)

And of course folk and blues songs were passed around and changed before the rise of printed music copyright laws. So it seems fine for Kunzru to mix lyrics from the rebel versions of songs such as the classic John Henry;

“John Henry told his captain,

A man ain’t nothing but a man.

Before I’d let you beat me down,

I’d die with the hammer in my hand.”

Or Jim Jacksons recording of:

‘I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own’ 1927

“This song is at least as old as 1900; Billy Cheatham, who is not known to have recorded, was performing it live in that year. If the 1930 census was right, Jim was 24 years old in 1900.” Brazilian Atlantis from comments. 

The background is heartless profiteering – capitalism. Transmorgrified from brazen slavery and forced labour into industrial scale incarceration.  The children of those slave/bourgeois prison owners choose between a heartless existence as family firm executives or to ‘rebel’ as whimsical artists on a parental leash – here shown as without much talent.

Kunzru’s insight into the  discordance of inter-class dialogue is unnerving. The picture of how powerful are the forces that appear out of the social ether if you take a path of non-compliance dramatises something that is usually only inchoately felt. The class analysis is incisive in instances such as the way the captains of industry use the legal system to produce seamless class separation, And to deadly effect!.

I gave up writing this review at this stage, after going on Goodreads I realised there is no chance of anyone reading it at this stage with over 1000 other reviews! But in case your wondering I’m recommending this book its serious literature mind, its gets tough, the language goes through some choppy waters, but that is all in the cause of wringing a deeper truth from the subject matter. This book is about my experience.

This looks like a hip one. Interestingly, it includes a Cornelius Cardew composition. He was a big part of my life and is central to my latest book ‘Improvisation Rites’ . I also learnt new people, like Heiner Goebbels, and I looked up Red Krayola, and listened to them for the first time. The question marks indicate that I don’t know the track because it is in Japanese (Japanese readers can see photos of pages below)

01 ? (2007)

02. Heiner Goebbels/ Alfred 23 Harth – ‘Berlin Q-Damn’ (1981)

Evokes, for me, the horror of Kristallnacht 9-10th November 1938

03 ? (1991)

04 Cornelius Cardew and Scratch Orchestra ‘The Great Learning Paragraph 2’ (1971)

05 Charlie Mingus ‘Orignal Faubus Fables’ (1960)

06 Frederic Rzewski – 36 variations on ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’. Variation 13 (1975)

I nearly heard this in Athens in 2017 … but lost my iphone in a taxi on the way there. Earlier I had been having a meal with Federic and other members of Documenta 14 in a wonderful cafe in which he was frank in his views. Interesting to hear a US communist!

07 ? (1971)

08 ? (1968)

09 ? (1973)

10 ? (1994)

11 ? (1971)

12 The Red Krayola with Art & Language – ‘Keep All Your Friends’ (1981) from Kangaroo? album

Art & Language are a leading English Conceptual Art group. The Red Krayola experimental US rock band, who remind me of the ethos of the Scratch Orchestra, were formed in 1966 by Mayo Thompson. In 1996 They/he provided the soundtrack for a short film Japan in Paris in L.A.

14 Archie Sheep – ‘Attica Blues’ (1972)

15 Happy End – ‘Turn Things Upside Down’ (1990)

Now here’s an interesting one. This is a Robert Wyatt song done by an English 20+ person left-field political band formed by Mat Fox in the area of London I was squatting in at the time (1983). Their name is taken from the title of a 1929 musical play co-written by Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann, with music by Kurt Weill. They played over 150 benefit concerts for miners during 1984 strike. Their last concert was in 2000.

BUT it is also the name, I learn, of a highly influential Japanese band 1969 – 72. Even known as the Japanese Beatles. They are credited with bringing the use of Japanese back into Japanese pop songs (from 2000?). So ‘Happy End’ is quite evocative to Japanese people.

Any Japanese readers who could translate items 01, 03, 07 – 11 please let me know!





“Darcus Beese OBE, President, Island Records and son of prominent British Black Pantheractivists, Darcus Howe and Barbara Beese, explains why music was critical to this movement and shares a selection of tracks which reflect this.”

This is what we used to call recuperation; notice the TATE branding! Its pretty full on though and in the context of a show that many people admire as including the most political work of the time. The w word oppression is used… I guess the Tate wouldn’t see themselves as ‘oppressors’ and it will be interesting to see if reviews bring class into the analysis.


Jamala has just won the Eurovision with a protest song about the Tatars in Crimea ‘1944’ its about ethnic cleansing and Stalin but with obvious relevance to the situation in Crimea since the Russian takeover.

It seems like the mainstream music world has been won over to agitdisco and is trying to take the reins and make the running. How is it that certain ‘political’ statements are OK whereas most are not?

A jokey cake graphic suggests that the votes are 90% ‘political’ in the sense that people vote for countries they ‘like’ or feel allied to.

“The country scored 534 points with its song 1944, about the deportation of Crimean Tatars under Josef Stalin.” BBC

This is more than a simple playlist; it’s a podcast programme with its own artistic value. Beautifully put together. Transpontine says: “Mix based on DJ set at  Housmans Radical Booksellers benefit at  Surya a while ago with  Stefan Szczelkun Paul Jam  Stewart Home Martin Dixon.  A mix I did a little while ago of music from the 1984/85 miners strike, with ChumbawambaNocturnal Emissions , Test Dept, Style Council and more…”

Revolution 05: The Catapult Club Archive
Thu 18 April, 6.30pm & Fri 19 – Sat 20 April, 12-5pm

Photograph of cassettes from The Catapult Club archive

Vivid Projects unravels Birmingham’s music history with a very special collection of cassette demos to celebrate Record Store Day 2013, in partnership with Birmingham Music Archive and The Catapult Club.
Since 1989, Catapult Club founder Arthur Tapp has been in the business of championing music in Birmingham. As resident promoter at Brummie institutions including the Hare & HoundsThe Jug of AleThe Actress & Bishop and Birmingham Academy/ O2 Academy he has acquired a vast collection of band demos, posters and flyers in the process.

Join us Thursday 18th – Saturday 20th April as we delve into Arthur’s vast archive, documenting Birmingham’s local music scene in analogue – from cassette tape demos to cut ‘n’ paste posters.

Full Programme Click

The book is so bulky with its 843 pages that it almost needs a lectern. Is it worth the weight? I had a week in bed after a hospital operation and I still found it difficult to get through it, as well as hold it. What it does achieve is to talk a lot about the context within which political musics happened and in that it does achieve a magesterial sweep of history within a particular geography. And what I thought might bore me with banalities in dealing with the obvious candidates, the biggest hitters, the overplayed anthems, actually works because you don’t have to hear anything and yet many of the tunes mentioned are probably in the back of your head. And he can write well enough.
On the other hand such a sweep by a young writer must inevitably mean that the selection of a path through the thickets of the history the English speaking Northern hemisphere is both gauche and somewhat random (inevitabley bumped in directions by his own deep history or subject position which is nowhere evident.). There’s just enough nice quotes to keep the reading running down a slope:

Allen Ginsburg: “National politics was theatre on a vast scale, with scripts, timing, sound systems. Whose theatre would attract the most customers, whose was a theatre of ideas that could be gotten across?”

But apart from that there is little in the way of cultural or political theory to help us to think more clearly about what was going on. No position taken, bar a vaguely leftfield journalist who can be sage with the benefit of hindsight. He seems to think ‘free everything’ is an absurd demand and yet it was a realistic political demand to the unmentioned SF Diggers and a broad hippie programme with roots in the political theory of anarchy – which is so central to so much of this counter cultural era that the first 271 pages are centred on.
Social Class. Although there are some nice anecdotes about class aspects of music (eg p.131) it was class antagonisms as much as race, which he deals with in some detail, that was the generator of much artistic rebellion. The complexities of being withdrawn from your class by the exigencies and alienation of becoming a pop star, or as with Huey Newton being wined, dined and seduced by the glamourous elite do not seem to be appreciated. Generally it seems to lack an understanding of any class analysis of culture, His treatment of Lennon is unsympathetic about his inner turbulence. Whilst he is better at gently deflating James Brown’s undoubted ego. The same is true with ideas about the relation of oppression to music.
Still there is lots of interesting stuff for someone like me who does not read music books as a rule, like Motown being run like the Ford production factory at Detroit. Like the idea that ‘Ball of Confusion’ was written by Motown’s hack/genius Norman Whitfield who seemed only motivated by commercial criteria. p.194
A lot of it also hit on or paralleled my own life. Country Joe and the Fish and ‘Fixin to Die Rag’ was one of my own protest song favs in the late Sixties and I’d hadn’t realised just how big it was in the States.
There are the odd insights that are like gems that can get lost in the pure mass of words: Quoting Georgia activist Vernon Jordan on p. 57

“The people were cold with fear, until music did what prayers and speeches could not do in breaking the ice.”

This really gets to the heart of what is crucial about music, and in particular singers, role in liberatory politics. What were limits to singing as a way to deal with the fears of oppression? The above quote refers to singing together, rather than the more isolated activity of writing an recording and even performing on a big stage. Too often people turned to drugs do deal with or suppress these feelings with disastrous effects. The book alludes to but cannot digress to explain, the ways that drugs fucked up creative radical energies and focus.
Another insightful quote that could have done with more follow through is on the idea of what is necessary for a moment of creative condensation to come about: Quoting Neil Young’s writing of the song ‘Ohio’ (1970):

“Things like that don’t happen every day, so you gotta have an artist at a point in his or her life where the artist is vulnerable, open and feels completely what has happened so they can put it into words or some kind of expression. All those things gotta come together.” p. 221

The underlying instinct of the book is commercial and relating the idea or fact that high sales, and hits determines ‘historical significance’. This is a simplistic notion of how cultural influence works and how culture effects politics, but it obviously works in terms of the books saleability in that readers will likely, as I have said, to have heard of many of the songs referred to. The selection is also largely US based (in the first half at least) whilst Lynskey is a UK journalist – is this is because a the US book market is much larger… The second part of the book is more UK orientated for those with great reading stamina. A middle section tries to readjust the West-centric view by doing a section which zooms through Chile, Nigeria and Jamaica. I’m glad I persevered with this because the part on Victor Jara the revolutionary singer for Allende contains Jara’s rough and ready critique of the US protest music. And it is refreshing to have some analysis even if it is borrowed. The segues is via Och’s trip to Chile. Jara is reported as thinking his American (sic) counterparts were at best pampered and trivial and at worse manipulated to sinister ends by two means: First the insidious effect of commercialisation and second the elitism of the star system. These effects ‘neutralise the inate spirit of rebellion of young people’. Jara prefers the term revolutionary song and soon after meeting Ochs dies with many others in Pinochet’s coup p.278.

The stuff on punk has been covered in so many ways… and 340 pages in, it brought the boredom I had feared. The Linton Kwesi Johnson piece that followed was more useful, as although I lived in and near Brixton through the period I’d never read an article about him so, I guess you can pick and choose in a book this rambling. Almost a reference work with sections in roughly chronological order with often arbitrary linkages and shifts of location. I think this sort of book would be enhanced in an electronic format so images and sounds bites could be conjured up at will. This book falls between an encyclopeadia, a genre that is probably now extinct, and a set of more focused articles that have been strung together without an arguement to drive them. A world history of Protest Music is probably an impossible object. There can only be a history within a geography and time limit or strict criteria like ‘protest hits’. And it is the criteria of commercial ‘success’ equated to volume of sales that haunts most of this account.
One of the ways I enjoyed this book, in spite of it taking more than a week of my life, was when it echoed with my current activities. I was preparing a performance of John Cage’s ‘Song Books’ and one of the singers that vounteered her services was an ex-singer in Crass. I’d completely missed out on Crass at the time, and so was happy to have this gap in my knowledge filled in on this band whose success was not on the usual commerical model. Also the chapter ended with the best quote so far was from Penny Rimbaud writer and instigator with Crass, who the author seems to have interviewed himself:

“…That was the viciousness of Thatcher. It wasn’t that she thought coal was a bad idea – she thought working class culture was a bad idea.” p.450

Another project I’m involved in at the moment is a big effort to to activate the archive of a massive open collective I was part of: Brixton Art Gallery 1983-86. Jerry Dammers had just DJ’d for the launch of the project in the Brixton Arcade and Linton Kwesi Johnston was also part of the context in Brixton that led up to the formation of the gallery. So, whilst the early chapters had reflected often distant aspect of my life and musical influences, here, the events of the Eighties in London are still engaging my attention.
In relation to Bono and Springsteen he asks the pertinent question: “Can you become part of the establishment without being neutered by it?” p.470. Then he later dismisses Dead Prez and The Coup as “destined to be niche concerns” (p.566) whilst narrating Ice T’s controversy-chasing at length. Ice Cube couldn’t have had the platform to spout the stylish aggro that he did without ‘the establishment’ wanting to profit from the energy of the scene he occupied and led for a time. As a mainstream journalist Lynskey is party to that establishment, part of the conferment of platforms and publicity. How about if he had dismissed Ice T’s antics briefly and looked more closely at those the system marginalises. Is their music less of a protest or less significant because it doesn’t achieve hit level sales?
Lennon is really the person who felt the pain of this most as his consciousness developed after he was already a myth. As I have said Lynskey finds it difficult to deal with him well. His concept of politics is grandiose and a musician like Ray Davies who is not really dealing with that kind of politics gets reduced to a footnote. Pity.

PS As to a question in response to the book of why women are not better represented Lynsey squirms in answer but provides a useful playlist in response on his blog:


Clear lyrical power and a graphic use of recent footage of Libyan struggle in video. This Thing ain’t going away without a howl of protest from around the world.

Khaled M. hails from Libya but grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Lowkey is from the UK with Iraqi parentage.

Another UK based Libyan is Ibn Thabit. Lots of free/donation only downloads here:

Useful concise history of Libyan music here: