Music and Protest Conference Day 2: University of Limerick


Due to simple lack of time today, I will not be posting any real detail about the conference today – but I have had time to include some brief notes below

Firstly, the conference opened with a reading by Joseph O' Connor


After the reading, Panel 1 included 'protest in the music industry in Brazil', 'protest in British newspapers' and 'struggle and protest in Folkways Records'. Regarding paper 1, I was reminded of the beautiful music that has often accompanied a protest narrative in Brazil. I have copied a few of the artists discussed below – and it is interesting how the musical backing is so different to a style like Punk – although the message can be broadly similar.


Paper 2 initially focused on how the pervasiveness of rock music can Potentially make it problematic as a form of protest. How can it be protest when it is used to sell goods in supermarkets? Although I don't necessarily agree with this, the paper proceeded to discuss newspaper coverage of the sex pistols during the mid 70s. It also included the famous Bill Grundy interview – which typifies the clash of cultures that was so important to the band


After the paper, one of the audience members outlined how the Sex Pistols were in fact a constructed group – put together by Malcolm Maclarin. He also noted how by becoming part of the Establishment, they defeated their original purpose – an interesting point. Another audience member also noted how memes of the band have transferred, across to places such as China – and he wondered if this had transferred across to Eastern Europe. I would be interested in seeing any images and learning more about this.The final paper focused on protest song in Folkways Records – a label so associated with political comment in the 60s – including the spoken word of Martin Luther King. What was particularly interesting, was the linking of the visual images of the recordings – with the music – in other words the agency of the record covers. The album discussed was Pete Seeger's 'songs of struggle and protest 1930-50' (1964).


What was deemed interesting about the album, is that Seeger is deemed to be challenging the dominant historic narratives of the period 1930-50 via both the music and visuals of the album – this was a great paper to finish panel 1!

Panel 2 included papers on 'Empathy – the quality of the protest singer', 'Otherness in Scottish traditional song' and 'Structures of feeling in industrial song poems in Nova Scotia, Canada'. The first paper presented an analysis of Sinead O' Connor's song 'Famine' (1994)

Unusually for O' Connor, the song is a rap – quoting the Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby' in the chorus. The song deals with the Irish Famine (1845-52)- the devastating historical event which claimed up to 30 percent of the population. The presenter discussed how the song challenges the status quo, dealing with how the Irish have lost their memory, consequently losing their history as a result of what was described as post traumatic stress disorder. The song is read as providing a 'treatment plan' for the nation – including advocating forgiveness in the song's refrain. My question is, are narratives such as this the new form of history? Music certainly has the capacity to bring these histories forward into the public eye. Paper 2, by Simon McKerrell dealt with Scotland's position as 'other' in the UK. After discussing how the UK is arguably in a state of 'disunion', he presented the following elements of analysis


  • Rhythm as a category for textual understanding
  • Composition – how the different modes are articulated in space
  • Inter textually – relationships between texts and images
  • Dialogues – the narrative exchange of communicatio

He then presented an indicative example of what he described as a border ballad


The song discussed in the analysis was 'Proddy Dogs and Papes' by Mick West


The central narrative of the song was reported as being related to how Scotland is to busy arguing with itself – to notice being dominated by English policy. Simon then proceeded to present an interesting account of how the 'Scottish self' is engrained with a strong 'tonal gravity' of chords 1 – 4 – 5, while the 'English oppressor' consists of the weaker harmonies. Really fascinating stuff – which seems to mix content analysis with musicology. I asked the following question at the end of the presentation: Has he considered the vertical dimension of the melody's relation to the chord? – So chord tones would be strong and colour tones weak? This produces inherent tension and release. Simon's response indicated that we are thinking along similar lines – so this is a conversation I will aim to pick up. Paper 3 outlined an overview of the dying coal and steel industry on Cape Breton Island – Canada – where does that remind you of! It is an island with a profound class consciousness – which led to his question – how can we understand the 'structures of feelings' of the people of the 1930s-60s? As part of a recording project, where he has recorded over 120 folk songs, his project has used music as a means of understanding these questions. What were the songs used for? What are their principal narratives? How can they be re arranged? I asked the question regarding the extent these songs can be regarded as part of a universal meta narrative – with William Blake's ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’ (1804) coming to mind (those dark satanic [flour mills) – which became the hymn Jerusalem. This is also apparent in popular music songs such as '16 Tons' and 'Dark as a Dungeon' by Merle Travis, and also ‘New South Wales’ by Mike Peters and the Alarm.

You can access Richard's web site here – well worth the visit

The final panel also consisted of three papers – African American Protest Song, protest songs and the African-American experience, and the history of the song 'kumbaya'. I ran out of time to discuss these sessions in detail – but I have posted some videos below that were used.


If you want to access the conference programme – you can access it here.

I am off to see this guy now!



About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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1 Response to Music and Protest Conference Day 2: University of Limerick

  1. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.


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