Music

A gift of sound and vision

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Salvador Dali is alleged to have proclaimed, when asked if he took drugs, “I am drugs!” And so, for some of us in the mid-1970s, David Bowie was music.

Bowie was a glamorous break with a music scene that had become dominated by the ponderous dinosaurs of rock music. The uniform of long hair and double denim had become stale and the music had become overblown, no longer reflecting the life of kids on the street.

Rock and Roll against racism

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Notting Hill in the 1950s

A pioneering anti-racist organisation was founded by musicians in the aftermath of the 1958 Notting Hill riots. It's time that the Stars Campaign for Interracial Friendship got its due.

In the late summer of 1958 racist violence broke out on the streets of Notting Hill, west London. At its origin were many complicated social, economic and political factors. Against a backdrop of slum housing, concerns over employment and “interracial marriage” was a nascent racism against the newly arrived African-Caribbean and Asian communities. This had been exacerbated by a renewed fascist movement around the Keep Britain White campaign orchestrated by the White Defence League and Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement.

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

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Krautrock is rather an offensive term. It certainly isn’t one that any of the bands that emerged out of the West German 1968 generation would use to describe themselves.

The term came from the British music press, which greeted the avant-garde groups with headlines such as “Can: They Have Ways of Making You Listen” and “Kraftwerk: The Final Solution to the Music Problem?”

But the long, slow fallout from the Nazi period is precisely the situation which generated a radical new cultural scene.

Northern Soul

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Northern Soul

Many of us grew up in a town like Burnsworth. “Burnsworth is a shithole”, says the graffiti put there by John, the main character, who moves from a no-hope school to a dead-end job with a grim inevitability.

But thanks to a chance encounter at the decidedly uncool school disco, he discovers Northern Soul and a new world of black music, dancing, record collecting and amphetamine fuelled all-nighters.

When will we be paid for the work we've done?

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A band leader reveals how musicians are exploited and kept down by capitalism and the celebrity system.

I have been a professional musician for 20 years, running bands in Perth, Sidney, Liverpool, Manchester and London. The "inner city scene" is basically the same everywhere in the UK. Musicians on the "original showcase circuit" don't get paid. The carrot is "exposure" as sold by "promoters".

Pete Seeger: A song for every struggle

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Pete Seeger died in January aged 94. His life was dedicated to making music for left wing progressive movements. He was a principled brave musician who always stood by his beliefs, whatever the cost.

Seeger composed famous protest songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and helped make "We Shall Overcome" an anthem of the civil rights movement. He sang at the 2012 Occupy Wall Street protest just like he had at anti Vietnam War and civil rights rallies.

Lou Reed 1942-2013

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The media have been full of praise for Lou Reed now that he is dead, as is the norm for the hypocritical press. He would have hated it. Lou Reed hated the press in general but especially loathed the British press.

He was loudly and openly scornful of celebrity culture and fame. He saw himself as a rebel poet who sang rather than as a pop singer. One of his last public gigs was at Occupy in New York reciting a poem against Wall Street.

Wagner: ring of change

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The musical dramas of Richard Wagner, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this year, are among the most popular works of classical music today. They are regularly staged at all the major opera houses, and tickets sell out fast.

Yet he remains a deeply problematic artist. For a great many people he and his music have become indelibly associated with anti-Semitism and Nazism. His works remain largely banned in Israel. Almost any documentary about Hitler and Nazi Germany will at some point mention Wagner as a cultural inspiration, and Hitler's devotion to the composer in particular.

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