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Musical politics

In the past week, it’s been almost impossible to escape the political uproar as the boosterish Boris finally tripped over his own mendaciousness in Westminster and delivered a carefully worded statement which may, or may not, have signalled an end (sometime) to his Prime Ministership. The comfortable Britishness of Henley Royal Regatta and the delights of Wimbledon tennis which featured so strongly in my life in the previous week, were replaced by an altogether edgier Hoorayism. Ah well. Variety is the spice of survival – or something.

Now, I have proclaimed many times, here and elsewhere, that I am not a political person. I certainly do not adhere to or align with any of the UK political parties – at least, not on any sort of consistent basis. I try to refrain from rising to any clickbait on social media, ignoring some otherwise very good friends’ Facebook posts if they are clearly party-political. I even avoid taking a stand on many ‘issues’, although I’m slowly coming round to that in some cases: for example, I could almost campaign for walking and public transport over gas-guzzling car journeys – although this remains potentially awkward whilst I still own my offensive diesel vehicle. Who’s going to believe that we purchased it precisely because we were advised at the time that diesel was better for the environment? Or that I don’t drive it very much?

But maybe the endless politicking on the news has rubbed off a little. The folk-singing group to which I belong has reinstated its monthly singing session in the pub and this month’s theme was protest songs, in recognition of July being the month containing the anniversaries of American Independence and France’s Bastille Day. I initially decided that I could sing Bread and Roses which I have sung before and which featured in the wonderful film Pride. I am usually at a loss as to what song to pick for these sessions, not being a folksong aficionada, but this was a gift. I cheerfully sent a note to the organiser who wrangles the list of suggested songs to ensure we don’t get two renditions of the same offering on the night. But I got no reply and I worried that this would be a popular song. What would I do if someone more organised had already nabbed it?

So, of course, I sat down and wrote a song of my own. Two hours passed cheerfully away as I wrote about how my imaginary alter ego (well, more probably my actual self) would avoid joining any protest – be it a march or a sit-in or a self-gluing to public transport – essentially in favour of a quiet night in. All good. I mangled a few well-known choons together to get a rousing, if somewhat unoriginal, shouty melody and was quite pleased how the words flowed. Yes, this would do. I just needed to find a concluding few lines so I could end on a comedic flourish, or at least a resolution of sorts.

And it was here that my flippancy failed me. Perhaps it was because it was easier to conform somehow and demonstrate to the world (well, the people in the pub at least) that my alter ego (ok, probably I) was less shallow or apathetic than it would otherwise appear. I wrote a final verse which detailed how many of the climate change and feminist and free-speech fears had come true because I hadn’t been sufficiently bothered to take a stand. I think this may in fact be populist laziness on my part: this was perhaps a surrender to social media norms of outrage and doom. Or just possibly, a surrender to the nagging fears in my head – who knows?

As I rehearsed in the hours before the pub session – rehearsal involving sporadic bursts of singing behind closed doors when my nerves got the better of me – I realised I needed to sing this final verse more slowly than the rest, for dramatic effect. I then decided I could schmaltz it up even more by singing in a minor key (well, I think that was what I ended up with, having challenged myself to have a go at ‘minoring’ it and deciding that my first attempt sounded fine). Of course, I then panicked that I’d overdone it, which I most probably had, but I needed to stick with it now. Lay it on thick, why don’t you.

The performance went fine and was well-received. Phew. As usual, I felt a bit of a fraud, especially as my musical influences derive more from the Two Ronnies than, for example, Bob Dylan or Joan Baez as more commonly offered by my fellow pub-songsters. But I was still proud of myself for bothering I suppose … and certainly glad it was over!

I later sang the wonderful Bread and Roses with two others. And I confess, I had goose-bumps throughout. Far more so than singing my own silly song, this was completely uplifting – not just the words, which of course were part of it, but the passionate singing of all three of us together. There’s something about harmony and maybe also the fellowship it brings – a truly magical experience which surprised me possibly more than it should have done. 

Maybe I am becoming more of a political animal.

And then, two days later at a friends’ catchup dinner, on hearing during the conversation that one of the conservative party leadership contenders once managed to deliver a speech in the Commons containing the word ‘cock’ multiple times for a dare, I heard myself proclaiming to the table that this was something I could actually vote for. Hmm – no comment and some rather confused glances. 

So maybe not, then.

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