Here’s a man who knows a thing or two about protest songs, and mixing music with politics. Released just before the end of the 84-85 Miner’s strike, the proceeds from Billy Bragg’s “Between The Wars EP” were donated to the miner’s fund. During the strike Bragg had played at the coalfields and been given a lesson in the folk protest ethic by his then more radical co-performers: it was fellow performer Leon Rosselson’s song “World Turned Upside Down” - Bragg’s version of which ended up on the EP - that gave Bragg the inspiration to dig further into history, beyond punk’s year zero for his own anti-war, pro welfare state song “Between The Wars”. It takes in imagery from as far and wide as the Spanish Civil War, the Beveridge Report, and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.
The miner’s strike was a catalyst for the formation later that year of Red Wedge, a confused and many-headed collective, with musicians such as Bragg and Paul Weller acting as a vocal spearhead. The main aim was straightforward: Thatcher out, Kinnock in. And it might have been more successful if it hadn’t also waded into other areas such as gay rights and the legalisation of cannabis. Although independent from Labour, Red Wedge kept an office at Labour Party HQ, just down the corridor from Peter Mandelson, who seemed keen to share his thoughts with the Wedge. A decade later, symptomatic perhaps of New Labour’s glossier approach to mixing politics and music, when the party started to work its way into the music rolodexes once more, Blur were approached first, on the basis that they were pretty popular and probably could be relied upon for left-leaning views. On that occasion, Mandelson vetoed a meeting between Tony Blair and Blur’s Damon Albarn because, thinking he was soft focus, some Tory MPs had already started to referring to Blair as Blur.