Protest plunker Russ takes some time out from trying to find where his wife has hidden his banjo to write about an extracurricular project he’s been working on…
This summer marks the hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles in military history it cost more than a million casualties and achieved precisely nothing.
For many years the Somme, and the first world war in general, have been symbols of the waste and pointlessness of war. And especially how it’s the ordinary working folk who bear the brunt of the brutality and deprivations of conflict but never seem get very much out of it at the end. The Kings and Queens, the Generals and the rich folk play their games for high stakes one way or another but life for the ordinary folk just rolls on the same win or lose, just with less limbs and more broken hearts. Lions led by donkeys.
Protest Family pal Steve O’Donoghue has written a powerful song recounting how his grandfather would refuse to wear a poppy because he refused to accept that the lions who fought in the trenches should have to stand side by side with the donkeys who sent them. I thought the song was direct and strong enough to make a real contribution so I took it to the No Glory campaigning group and to my delight they picked it up and are including it in their Somme centenary campaign to remember the truth about what happened in the so called Great War.
No Glory gave me a modest budget to turn Steve’s six minute unaccompanied folk song into something with a broader appeal. It was a fascinating process to develop the song. To songwriters every verse is like a child and it was a nerve wracking moment when I showed Steve how I’d edited the song to be half its original length, but he took it quite well!
When the Protest Family record we go into the studio with a pretty well rehearsed set and play more or less “live” in one go. With Dandelions I put together a super rough Garage band demo but didn’t have time to rehearse or work on the arrangements with the musicians I’d recruited. So we recorded the song by getting everyone to play as much as they could in the time available and then assembling the song in the final edit. So for example we got John on the drums to run through the song playing random rolls and fills so we could pick them up as needed at the end. I’ve never worked like that before and I was glad to have PF producer Steve Honest to hold my hand and take care of the studio wizardry.
If I’d had the time I would have liked to have got my Protest Family comrades involved a lot more, but in the end I had to settle for Lol who put some superb mandolin down with the absolute minimum of fuss as he always does. One day he’s going to realise quite what a good musician he is and we’ll all be buggered.
I was really delighted that the entire ensemble that we did end up using, myself, Lol, John Davis on drums and the wonderful Eleanor Firman who is a respected classical composer and who took care of the orchestration all live within about a mile of each other. What astonishing talent there is behind every front door!
No Glory put a great video together to go with the song and you can see the end results here…
The song will be performed in a cut down acoustic setting at the No Glory commemorative concert in Hampstead on June 19th.
I wish we could sing it so loudly we wake those fallen lions from a sleep that they have slept too long. Then the donkeys would have something to be frightened of