Music Therapy column: Mixing pop and politics

This week, Michael Taylor takes a look at the music which can create a backdrop to politics and election campaigns.

In a previous life I have stood as a candidate in an election. Twice. Don’t worry, this column isn’t going to go off its usual musical script and endorse anyone who is standing in our local or mayoral elections this week. 

But at times like these I do spare a thought or two for anyone who puts themselves forward for public selection and for the intense emotional strain it puts you under.

It was one of those moments in my life where music was a real provider of comfort and solace. 

Traipsing the streets delivering leaflets, knocking on doors and meeting members of the public can be lonely and dispiriting.

Obviously I wouldn’t blast out music from a speaker like that bloke who rides his bike around Manchester city centre with a ghetto blaster, or have tunes pumping out of my car - I genuinely hate that - but I would plug in my earphones for a leafleting session and would often listen to certain key songs to get me in the mood before a debate or meeting.

My report to party HQ in 2015 even reflected this with sub-headings that included: The Jam, The Clash and Squeeze. Not to show off my record collection, but the squeeze on the vote and the clash of the parties.

Music has always had its place in politics. The recent US presidential election seemed to unify the whole of the American music industry against President Trump. The history of that era won’t feel the same until it’s been set to a soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen playing Land of Hope and Dreams.

It’s not only the political left that has the best tunes though. There’s a terrific parody film from the early 1990s called Bob Roberts where Tim Robbins plays a Republican senate candidate who sings conservative folk songs like The Times Are Changing Back and Wall Street Rap. 

The songs proved so popular and catchy that Robbins refused to release a soundtrack for fear that they would become effective anthems.

This weekend on the show I’m going to share with you what I think is probably the best tribute to the political activist ever written – Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards by Billy Bragg. 

The former squaddie turned ‘Big Nosed Bard from Barking’ properly embraced folk protest music, but he was also a prominent Labour Party supporter who created a movement called Red Wedge that toured during the 1987 General Election campaign.

A lot of the pop stars look back on it with a bit of a cringe, including radicals like Paul Weller. And Bragg was advocating a vote for the Liberal Democrats by 2010.

But this song from 1988 is more reflective, maybe of the failure of 1987. I think a lot of the sentiment in the song works for anyone involved in politics. 

It’s actually a wonderful joyful celebration of campaigning and politics that takes you through the lost causes, misplaced optimism and shattered dreams.

Simple maths tells you that most candidates in the elections this week will fail. This column and this week’s show is for them.

“So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away.”

You can listen to Michael Taylor and Neil Summers on Music Therapy on Tameside Radio 103.6FM on Sunday evenings from 9pm to 11pm. Click here to subscribe and catch up on previous shows.

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