Academic Music protest

on the 75th anniversary of the dropping of nuclear bombs, some anti-nuclear scholarship

Crass single, 1980

Who can say how much [the Bomb] changed all of us … our music … our art? Crass

Marking a sober (though perhaps also positive) anniversary, 75 years since the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, here are some links to mostly open access (ie, free) copies of some of my research over the past 20-25 years on the broad field of cultures of peace, and specifically anti-nuclear culture and activism. It has always been a key area of my writing. Do please just click to read. Peace. 

‘Rethinking the cultural politics of punk: anti-nuclear and anti-war (post-)punk popular music in 1980s Britain.’ Chapter forthcoming in McKay and Arnold, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Punk Rock (Oxford UP).

This chapter is a reconsideration of the contribution punk rock made to anti-nuclear and anti-war expression and campaigning in the 1980s in Britain. Much has been written about the avant-garde, underground, independent, DIY and grassroots (counter)cultural politics of punk and post-punk, but the argument here is that such scholarship has often been at the expense of considering the music’s hit and even chart-topping singles. The chapter has three aims: first, to trace the relations between punk and cultures of war and peace; second, to reframe punk’s protest within a mainstream pop music context via analysis of its anti-war hit singles in two key years, 1980 and 1984; third, more broadly, to further our understanding of (musical) cultures of peace. Punk was a pop phenomenon, but so was political punk: the vast majority of the many pop hit songs and headline acts with anti-war and anti-nuclear messages in the military dread years of the early 1980s were a lot, or a bit, punky. This chapter argues that a wider and at the time significantly higher profile social resonance of punk has been overlooked in the subsequent critical narratives. In doing so it seeks to revise punk history, and retheorise punk’s social contribution, as a remarkable music of truly popular protest.   

This article explores the links and tensions in Britain between a musical subculture at its height of creative energy – anarcho-punk – and the anti-nuclear movement, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It identifies and interrogates the anti-nuclear elements of anarcho-punk, looking at its leading band, Crass. At the center is an exploration of the sounds of Crass’ music and singing voices – termed Crassonics – in the context of anti-nuclearism: if the bomb changed music and art, what did the new music sound like?

What happens in social movements when people actually move, how does the mobile moment of activism contribute to mobilisation? Are they marching or dancing? How is the space of action, the street itself, altered, re-sounded? The employment of street music in the very specific context of political protest remains a curiously under-researched aspect of cultural politics in social movements…. By looking at the marching bands of different socio-political and cultural contexts, primarily British, I aim to further current understanding of the idea and history of street music itself, as well as explore questions of the construction or repositioning of urban space via music. Includes CND, trad jazz marching bands, Aldermaston marches. 

In times of war and rumours of peace, when ‘terrorism’ and ‘torture’ are being revisited and redefined, one of the things some of us should be doing is talking and writing about cultures of peace. In what follows, I ask questions about the place of culture in protest by considering the cluster of issues around the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) from its founding in London in 1958. I look at instances of (sub)cultural innovation within the social and political spaces CND helped make available during its two high periods of activity and membership: the 1950s (campaigning against the hydrogen bomb) and the 1980s (campaigning against U.S.-controlled cruise missiles). What particularly interests me here is tracing the reticence and tensions within CND to the (sub)cultural practices with which it had varying degrees of involvement or complicity. It is not my wish to argue in any way that there was a kind of dead hand of CND stifling cultural innovation from within; rather I want to tease out ambivalences in some of its responses to the intriguing and energetic cultural practices it helped birth. CND was founded at a significant moment for emerging political cultures. Its energies and strategies contributed to the rise of the New Left, to new postcolonial identities and negotiations in Britain, and to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. In what ways did it attempt to police the ‘outlaw emotions’ it helped to release?

‘”Just a closer walk with thee”: New Orleans-style jazz and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1950s Britain.’ Popular Music 22(3) (2003).

This article looks at a particular moment in the relation between popular music and social protest, focusing on the traditional (trad) jazz scene of the 1950s in Britain. The research has a number of aims. One is to reconsider a cultural form dismissed, even despised by critics. Another is to contribute to the political project of cultural studies, via the uncomplicated strategy of focusing on music that accompanies political activism. Here the article employs material from a number of personal interviews with activists, musicians, fans from the time, focusing on the political development of the New Orleans-style parade band in Britain, which is presented as a leftist marching music of the streets. The article also seeks to shift the balance slightly in the study of a social movement organisation (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND), from considering it in terms of its ‘official’ history towards its cultural contribution, even innovation. Finally, the article looks at neglected questions around Americanisation and jazz music, with particular reference to power and the past.

Glastonbury: A Very English Fair. Victor Gollancz, 2000. Chapter 6. A Green Field Far Away: The Politics of Peace and Ecology at the Festival.

… The main political focus for funds at Glastonbury started as the peace movement, and later embraced environmental campaigning more widely. In this context, the long-term relationships have been with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1981-1990), Greenpeace (1992 onwards), and Oxfam (because of its campaigning against the arms trade), as well as the establishment of the Green Fields as a regular and expanding eco-feature of the festival (from 1984 on). The radical peace movement and the rise of the greens in Britain are interwoven at Glastonbury. The festival has offered these campaigns and groups space on-site to publicise and disseminate their ideas, and it has ploughed large sums of money from the festival profits into them, as well as other causes….