On a playlist for the ‘Age of Austerity’
My friend Beth messaged me ask whether I’d heard of ‘Between the Wars’ by Billy Bragg. She had it on a partly tongue-in-cheek playlist about being poor, along with Ill Manors. On this topic, Beth and her wife Liv have an excellent blog The £1.50 Vegan which is full of yummy frugal recipes and other sharings apt for our current age (courgette and apple cake was a massive hit in our home!).
Anyway, ‘Between the Wars’ was a new song for me and I knew very little about Billy Bragg. I had a vague idea that he was political with and sang with a folk/punk style, but had no idea that he was Made in Barking, just down the road from my birthplace.
About the message
When I first listened to ‘Between the Wars’, I was struck by how different the delivery was, especially when contrasted with the rupbeat and rather cheesey Top of The Pops intro. There was just the guitar and the voice, loud and clear with a strong regional accent. The lyrics were not obscured by a fashionable singing-style and hidden behind pop beats. These words had to be heard.
Contrasting Positive and Negative Attitudes
The song is the first-person narrative of a miner working hard and hoping for reward for his labour. Yet it develops into a moving piece where the faith and positive-outlook of the miner is layered with the negative and cynical attitudes of others. We hear this contrast in ‘For theirs is a land with a wall around it. And mine is a faith in my fellow man.’. I only need to say Trump or Brexit…
Bragg also sings ‘Theirs is the land of hope and glory’, followed by ‘Mine is the green field and the factory floor’ Though the former is from a patriotic song, for me this line has connotations of nationalism, power and nostalgia for dominance. The latter links with the concepts of care for our environment (the real world, the earth), hard work and unity.
Following the Cycles of History
Much of the song is moving, but perhaps what gets me the most are the following:
‘Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we know
Between the wars’
These three lines almost suggest an inevitability of the 50/100 year cycle referred to in this article History Tells Us What Will Happen Next After Brexit and Trump. Whilst it doesn’t make comfortable reading, it does give some suggestion as what can be done… Along with the reminder that ‘This too shall pass’.
Back to Billy Bragg’s song though, it is the last two of those three lines that hold the most power for me. In the peace, between the wars… That’s where I choose to dwell too…