View From The Side: The Joyful World Of Brexit Ballads
In February 2016, The Guardian was asking just who was left willing and able to fight the good fight. “Where have all the protest songs gone?” asked Jonathan Luxmore and Christine Ellis in a column that despaired at the lack of rock n roll rabble rousers in our benighted age. Over a thousand or so words (which were, if I’m honest with you guys, depressingly narrow in what they conceived of as protest music) Luxmore and Ellis wheeled out expert after expert to reach the same conclusion:
“’Protest songs are no longer seen as an effective form of communication,’ says Malcolm Taylor, a folk music expert … Taylor believes all forms of protest music have eventually been ‘appropriated by the establishment to make money’.”
If only Luxmore and Ellis had waited a few months. Had they done so they would have instead been able to write about a blossoming protest music scene bubbling up from the UK’s digital underground. A DiY movement taking place away from the elitist narratives of mainstream radio, it’s made by passionate folk who won’t let a lack of traditional musical skill get in the way of their desire to blow up your ears with musical truth bombs. These are artists with the purist of creative intentions – while they may have some small urge to make money from their music, this comes as a major, major second to the thing that drives them; the compulsion to howl their message of injustice across the land.
Seeing as you’ve already read the title of this piece, you already know where this is going. Whilst previous musical protestors have gone wide and railed against such nebulous concepts as poverty, war and hate, this new movement have honed their anger to a white hot fury and directed it at a single be-suited Goliath of an enemy; the unelected bastard bureaucrats of the EU.
Welcome to the rebel world of Brexit Folk.
Loving this new Morrissey album…
Prior to Brexit, Peter Parsons was apparently happy to churn out whimsical ditties about regional Britain. With videos made on some sort of home blue screen set up that have allowed Peter’s imagination to soar, he tried his hand at everything from praising the gentle beauty of Sunbury on Thames to belting out anthems dedicated to the wonder of the Geordie soul. Whether knocking out tales of Robin Hood over a thudding house beat, or performing – and I don’t wanna be mean here but facts – a basically useless ventriloquist rendition of Nessun Dorma, Peter is one of those souls possessed with a creative muse that won’t allow him not to perform – he just needed the right subject matter. Now Brexit has come along and Peter has scored his biggest hit to date.
Aside from being the only tune ever to exist to squeeze a hook from ‘we’re leaving the European Single Market’ (a remarkably hummable hook tbf), The Brexit Song is most notable for the deep, deep sorrow that lies at it’s core. When Peter sings “we’re on our own” I assume it was meant as a triumphant statement of British sovereignty – instead the vibe is more weepy schoolkid who’s parent hasn’t shown up at home time. The caretakers locking up the gates, the other kids have gone skipping off home, and there’s Peter fighting back tears and waiting for mummy. MUMMYS NEVER COMING PETER! WE- ie YOU- ARE FUCKED!
Having watched The Brexit Song far too many times, Youtube’s algorithm now knows me better than I know myself, and has been serving up a steady stream of Britain’s best Brexit folk. There’s reams of this stuff. People who never, ever wrote a political screed in their lives have been raising hell with Argos guitars and shitty GarageBand pre-sets, taking back control one querulous pun heavy number at a time. Imagine a world where Billy Bragg was raised on Daily Express headlines, Nigel Farage on LBC and pictures of Jean Claude Juncker gobbling down babies. Throw in a love of Alan Partridge ready radio bangers and you’ve got a revolution stirring in the shires.
Don’t let the chirpy xenophobia of Peter Parsons or (failed UKIP councillor) Mandy Boylett & her mate fool you – it’s not all blue screen hijinks and Union Jack apparel. My favourite bit of Brexit Folk is this truly despondent lament from leave voting brothers Gary and Terry Piper. Dedicated to ‘Cameron and other traitors’ Brexit Song (Wegot To Get Out) – and they’re very particular about that weird lack of spacing in Wegot – sounds like a Jesus & Mary Chain covers band serenading the UKIP conference. How good is that? The Piper’s namecheck the New World Order, have some killer lines about unelected rulers, and close with an extended outro detailing all the countries that they definitely don’t want to have anything to do with, but it’s OK, because they still ‘like’ them. It’s the musical equivalent of one of my best mate is black, and it’s delivered in a ludicrously bullshit transatlantic drawl that aims for Lou Reed but ends up more Lou who works in Greggs. All of this genius is slightly over shadowed by one small point – the video is uploaded by one of the Piper brothers under the name MrBritam. And I’m not too sure lads, but I can’t shake the horrible feeling he’s misspelt Britain.
I mean it just goes on and on. Most of the Brexit Folk fraternity have one sad reality adding poignancy to their work; they’re definitely going to die before they get to see all the great things Brexit will bring. Pity cheery sack of leathery hate Ron Wyatt, here to be seen singing a catchy pub rock number about the millions of immigrants poised to over run our borders unless we listen to Nigel Farage and ‘protect our way of life’. I doubt Ron’s going to see much beyond the fruitless two year Brexit negotiation period, and precious little of our inevitable slide into nationalist fervour and virulent recession that will follow, which is a shame because he looks like exactly the sort of mean spirited shithead who’d take grim satisfaction in the younger generations being denied every single luxury that he’s happily taken for granted for fucking decades.
And while we’re on men with free bus passes who should know better, man like Richard Fordham knocked out a video filmed on the White Cliffs of Dover with all the usual suspects name checked (migrants/ Juncker/ some shit about sovereignty – we live in a monarchy you dunce – and a bit of flag waving) all sung in the supercilious tones of a retired geography teacher who refuses to accept that Rhodesia has been called Zimbabwe since 1979. My favourite part is the guitarist wearing a featureless union jack mask, giving a cute insight into how Rochard might like a future neighbourhood watch immigrant round up squad to look.
Christ there’s only so much you can take. It’s easy to take the mick, but the fact remains (lol – I said remain) that there’s a whole chunk of the UK that are roused from years of bored stupor to finally express themselves about something. Loving Brexit has become their personality, like listening to Pink Floyd or supporting Southampton or, I dunno, being a virulent racist who thinks all immigrants are acid pissing nonces called Mohammed. People pretend that identity politics is confined to the left, but the rise of Brexit Folk shows the right can do it just as well. As I’ve pointed out, most of the artists featured in this column will have shuffled off to the great Eric Clapton gig in the sky by the time the Brexit shit show truly gets rolling, but the sensation they represent– that finally they can speak for a British identity that is perceived to have been steam rolled over – can grow and grow until it pushes us right off the cliff and into the wild nationalist dystopia that's lying in wait just after we emerge from negotiations with no deal. Let's sing!