Out of the Shadows

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

A one-off concert by The Carnival Band celebrates the culmination of a project cataloguing 400 years of English protest songs

The Carnival Band
The Carnival Band

On Friday 23 September 2022 at Cecil Sharp, the Carnival Band will be presenting a one-off celebration of protest songs across the ages to mark the completion of the Our Subversive Voice project. Our Subversive Voice, a collaboration between the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the universities of Reading and Warwick, catalogues 400 years of years of English protest songs, and the concert will feature protest songs against inequality, demands for suffrage and opposition to nuclear weapons, alongside music calling out modern-day injustices.  An exhibition displaying more information about the English protest song and context and analysis of individual songs will accompany the concert.  

 Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project has catalogued 750 English protest songs from 1600–2020. These feature in a website, www.oursubversivevoice.com, which includes the 250 most distinctive songs along with case studies and interviews with musicians (Billy Bragg, Peggy Seeger, Chumbawamba and more), academics and others.  Selecting the title of any song on the website leads to its individual page, which includes information such as the lyrics and, where possible, a recording. Case studies look at everything from what motivates writers of protest songs – structurally, socially and personally – to legendary venues and women’s protest song writing.  

UEA’s Prof John Street, the project’s lead researcher, said: "When people think of protest songs they probably think first of American music, and then perhaps of the great tradition of Irish or Scottish protest songs. We wanted to find out what things would look like – and sound like – if you focus just on England, especially given the current attention given to ideas of Englishness."  Complaints at the behaviour of the political class were as common in 1600s England as they are today. The researchers found lots of songs about religion, war and poverty, as well as a 17th-century environmentalist protest about draining the East Anglian fens. Recent songs include one protesting Amazon’s working conditions. 

Full details about the concert from the English Folk Dance & Song Society's website.

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