Chris Guiton

Chris Guiton

Chris Guiton is a project manager, writer and Co-managing editor of Culture Matters.

Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award
Tuesday, 17 April 2018 08:57

Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award

Published in Music

The Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award was launched by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Culture Matters in November 2017. It closed in February 2018. The aim of the new Award was to encourage songwriters and spoken word performers to write material meaningful to working class people and communities, and to encourage those communities to engage more with songwriting and spoken word. The Award was open to all, regardless of trade union membership.

We are very pleased at the success of the Award, which received a range of high quality submissions, often from people who might not otherwise enter competitions. The entries were judged by Chris Webb (CWU, Head of Communications), Boff Whalley (songwriter, fell-runner and formerly of Chumbawamba) and Chris Guiton (Culture Matters, Co-Editor). The judges were very impressed by the entries.

Dave Ward, General Secretary of CWU, said,

“I really welcomed this new partnership with Culture Matters. The arts and culture generally are vital to the labour movement and working class communities across the country. Proper access to the arts, sports and other cultural activities are important for all of us. State support needs to be re-balanced so that working people everywhere can enjoy cheap, accessible and good quality provision. We sponsored this Award because we wanted to encourage our members in the CWU, and working people everywhere, to express themselves creatively on themes that matter to them as workers. I think the results speak for themselves!”

Boff Whalley commented,

“There’s so much bad news in the world that it was inevitable that many artists would sing and speak predominantly about the bad stuff. But there’s also hope, pride and optimism out there. I was really encouraged that almost all the entries sounded like they were proper regional working class voices, and not just middle class writers/singers voicing working class concerns. There’s some brilliant stuff out there being sung and played and rapped and spoken.”

And Chris Webb said,

“I was taken aback by the quality of all of the entries. The level of understanding of the issues of our time mixed with the ability to turn this into the written word or song was inspirational. Music and creativity has a huge role in changing society and particularly engaging young people – it’s brilliant to witness it alive and kicking.”

The five, equal winners are:

  • Bloque Capitals – ‘That Pebbledash Finish’ 

  • Maddy Carty – Crying At the News (Justice For Grenfell)

  • Maria Ogundele – ‘Scallops with Terry and Stan’

  • Seonaid Stevenson – ‘Funeral For A Socialist’ and ‘School Pride’.

  • Warlord Baker – ‘Escape’

We are exploring the viability of producing a CD featuring the winners and a selection of the runners up. Culture Matters is very grateful to CWU for sponsoring the Award; to the judges, for all their hard work; but, most of all, to the songwriters and spoken word performers who sent in such wonderful entries.

The Things Our Hands Once Stood For
Thursday, 08 March 2018 16:40

The Things Our Hands Once Stood For

Published in Our Publications

The Things Our Hands Once Stood For - by Martin Hayes

£6 (plus £1.50 p&p). ISBN 978-1-907464-32-4.

Culture Matters, an imprint of Manifesto Press, has published an oustanding new collection of poetry by Martin Hayes.

Martin Hayes is the only British poet who writes consistently and seriously about work, and about the insanity of a society where employees are seen as mere ‘hands’ whose sole role is to make money for the employer.

Alan Dent, a publisher and poet himself, who writes an illuminating introduction, says, “Hayes speaks for those whose lives are supposed to be not worth speaking about. He is intent on revealing the significance of the lives of ordinary people in the workplace. When current employment relations are consigned to the dustbin of history, and are viewed as we now view the feudal relations between lord and vassal, will people wonder why so little was written about it?"

Martin’s poems are direct and simple, and full of black humour. Like the grainy black and white images that illustrate them so well, they expose and express the simple, terrible truth – that the human relation on which our society is based, that between employer and employee, is morally indefensible. The clear message of his poetry is that those who do the work should own, control, and benefit fully from it. They should, in the last words of the last poem, ‘start the revolution that will change everything’, and show that ‘all of our fingertips combined/might just be the fingertips/ that keep us and this Universe/ stitched together’.

 

Joe Solo - Fight the Good Fight!
Wednesday, 28 February 2018 15:17

Joe Solo - Fight the Good Fight!

Published in Music

Joe Solo is an award-winning musician, writer, poet, activist, broadcaster and washing machine engineer from Scarborough. He has a growing reputation as both a performer and political raconteur. Chris Guiton interviews him about his music and his politics.

CG. Who are the main musical and poetical influences in your life and how has your music and poetry evolved over the years? What was the spark that got you interested in the first place?

JS. I can remember the exact moment the spark ignited me. A friend of mine dropped the needle on 'Go For It' by Stiff Little Fingers and 'Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae' blasted out. This was 1983. My whole life just went BANG and I knew there and then that what I wanted to do was give people the feeling that record had just given me. It's strange because I've never been very good at being an academic, so my politics tends to come from experiences of people and circumstances rather than dry tract. If I'm really honest, if you stripped everything down, the words to that song are probably still the basis for my entire belief system....."Equal rights and justice for one and all...." or "Comfort the afflicted and keep them from harm. Let age be protected and the infants be strong" or "Pass the bowl to make the food go round" or "Don't fight against no colour, class or creed cos on discrimination does violence breed". It's all in there. I think sometimes the headline a lyric gives you becomes a foundation to build on. That's important when you're a kid, or when you're a little lost. Politics can seem really daunting from the outside, but songs give you confidence and a little courage. They give you a place to start.

As far as influences go I'm not really sure. All kinds of things inspire me, from music and books and films to ordinary stuff, the way people find a path through hard times, the stories you never hear; the silent struggles of millions of people too ordinary to grab headlines, but all poignant and heroic in their own way. As a songwriter those are the stories you want to tell, because those are the stories that ring true in ALL our lives. They have a magic that is universal.

And how has my writing changed over the years? I think I just got better at it. I'm older. I understand stuff on levels I didn't as a kid. That helps.

CG. There’s a lot of passion and commitment in your music. What inspires you and how do you go about writing your songs lyrically and musically?

JS. I usually grab hold of a phrase and play around with it while I'm driving. My job gives me a lot of hours behind the wheel and I use that time to beat ideas into shape lyrically, then work them out on the guitar when I get home. They always start like that. I can't remember the last time I picked up a guitar to write a song, they always come formed in my head first. The passion comes from the writing. It's important that you work out what you are trying to say before you start trying to make it fit together, that way you aren't crow-barring lines in just because they rhyme; if you start doing that the song stops being believable and you can't then sing it with conviction. If you've written the song properly the emotion should be in every word right there waiting for you when you start to sing. There's no need to force a good song when you perform it, everything you need is there already. It has been written in to every line.

And as for commitment, you have to have that. If you haven't you don't stand a chance. Not just in music, in anything. As an old friend of mine used to say: "Stand up for what you're standing up for".

CG. The great singer and activist, Nina Simone, famously said, “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” How do you define your politics – and what do you think the role of musicians and poets is in society today?

JS. Ms Simone is bang on there. Art defines our culture. It gives us signposts. We have a responsibility to tell those who come after us of our times. Sometimes we speak of them directly, and sometimes we just create a mirror which reflects what is going on around us. It's all a part of the same process. That doesn't mean everyone should be writing politics, far from it, sometimes it's what you don't say; and sometimes a 'bling and bitches' rap, for instance, tells you all you need to know about the artist and their cultural and sociological viewpoint. That does the same thing, just not in a positive way. In years to come people will hear it and think 'Could people REALLY have thought that?' and that in itself is a reflection of the times; rather like a statue of someone who history has redefined. It reminds you of your folly.

As for defining my own politics, I always describe myself as a man of the Left. As I said, I'm not an intellectual so I have arrived at this point through reason and experience, and through seeing firsthand what happens to people when bad politics are inflicted on them. I'm a Socialist, not because a book told me to be, but because shaking a stranger's hand means more to be than counting the money in my wallet. If you have that part clear in your mind, the rest is just details......and in my opinion, people get FAR too caught up in those details. That's why we always spend more time fighting each other on the Left as we do our real enemy. We forget the basics.

CG. What are your thoughts about the political situation at the moment, in particular the hope offered by Jeremy Corbyn and the dramatic shift in the position of the Labour Party?

JS. I think Mr Corbyn's arrival was both necessary and inevitable. I was 100% behind him from the start. The Labour Party had deserted the Centre Left and allowed itself to drift after an increasingly right wing Tory party. It deserted not only its traditional place on the political spectrum, but its core vote too and that part is unforgivable because it became a catalyst for apathy and alienation, and worse still, a breeding ground for far right parties who moved on to our estates and began spreading their bile. This, backed by the Murdoch press, fuelled an anger which has divided our communities along lines of race, colour, creed and class. I'm sure that wasn't the INTENTION of New Labour, but it was certainly the result; and they should have known better, they should have looked after the people who form the very backbone of the Labour movement. When Mr Corbyn arrived he proved something beyond all doubt, that if you offer people nothing but more of the same they will not lift a finger. The fight goes out of them. They get tired of being angry. But while they won't get out of their chair for more despair, they will march a million miles for hope. There was a vacuum on the Left of politics which Mr Corbyn walked into, and having witnessed the same explosion with our We Shall Overcome movement over the Summer of 2015, it was absolutely no surprise when he became leader with a landslide. People want something to fight FOR, not against. They want to feel a part of something again.

CG. At Culture Matters we are very interested in what an incoming Labour Government would do to develop arts and culture policies that reverse the impact of austerity, make the link between progressive culture and progressive politics, and support culture for the many not the few (to coin a phrase!). What are your thoughts on what a socialist arts and culture policy should contain?

JS. This isn't really my area of expertise. I think art is instinctive rather than something you can plan. I think if you set out what you want culture to look like it will rebel, that's what it does. But, on a mechanical level, I think it is vital we get funding into the arts because otherwise people are put off taking part, and there is no doubt that being involved in music, or drama, or creative writing, or whatever, enriches us as human beings and changes our perspectives on the world around us; and it does this in subjective ways, each of us sees something slightly different while sharing the same experience. This broadens our minds and opens us up to possibilities, while giving us an appreciation and respect of others. These are Socialist emotions, that is why Tory governments always try to crush the Arts. They see no commercial value in it, and the last thing they want is people thinking for themselves. They want individualism, not individuality. People get those confused, and they really shouldn't.

CG. The ‘DIY culture’ that emerged with punk is still going strong. A grassroots approach to music and poetry is a great way of empowering people who might otherwise feel excluded from society. What are your thoughts on this, and how might the trade union and labour movement best support this?

JS. Totally agree. If anything it has only grown in the age of the internet. These days you can see something on the news in the morning, write a song at lunchtime, record it on your phone in the afternoon and have it trending on the internet by teatime. There has never been a better time for using music or poetry or video blogs to spread opinion and dissent....and they know it too, that's why they will come after the internet sometime soon. It is the new mass media and it's ours.

I see the start of new relationships between the Labour movement and culture. I see unions and local Labour Party branches going back to what we used to call 'socials' and recognising the value in all getting together and talking over a few beers and a band; not only in cementing relationships between the members, but in the shared experience of the gig atmosphere there is an energy that we have missed for many years. I play a lot of these events and witness it firsthand. There is a growing sense of solidarity out there, a sense of community, and it is inspiring.

CG. You’ve been involved in some really interesting campaigns such as ‘We Shall Overcome’. What do you think are the best ways of setting up these campaigns, engaging with audiences around the country and getting people involved in the political struggle?

JS. There is no magic formula. I wish there was. A LOT of these things start up and a lot of them flounder. All you can do is put your ideas out there and hope they catch on. And don't let it defeat you if they don't. It is nothing personal. It just wasn't the right time. With We Shall Overcome we wanted to create an umbrella movement, a banner to march under. There are thousands of benefit gigs all over the country in any given year, and they all raise money for either the major charities or local causes. What we wanted was for people to march under the WSO banner while retaining the individual nature of their own events. That way you create numbers, and more than anything that is what politicians fear. If we could all march together we would demonstrate a truly mass movement against the way the world is being run. People can engage with the wider politics as little or as much as they want, but if you are running events to help people who need assistance then it is a political act in and of itself, you are recognising a need which a failure in politics has created, you are already protesting. We hoped people would see the value in standing together under the one banner and demonstrating the scale of our problems at street level. It's still a work in progress, we fight on. 

 


CG. Can you tell us something about your new album, Not On Our Watch, and how it builds on your previous albums?

JS. 'Not On Our Watch' is probably best summed up by the closing paragraph of a review on the Yorkshire Gig Guide site:

"It leaves us with the certain conviction that we owe it to those who came before us, and, indeed, to those who come after, to continue to fight oppression and inequality in all its many forms and to make the world a better place in whatever way we can."

That's what I hoped people would hear in it.

CG. How do you combine music, poetry and writing in your life?

JS. With great difficulty. Even when I'm not gigging I'm straight in from work (where I've often being writing and honing ideas while driving) and in to the other side of it all. There's rehearsing, there's booking gigs, there's promotion, there's website updates, there's Hull Pals research, there's We Shall Overcome, there's May Day Festival of Solidarity.....all on top of a wife and two teenage sons. It's often midnight before I close my laptop.....and that's a day off!

Luckily I'm good at multi-tasking and I have a high threshold for pain.

CG. It sounds like 2018 is going to be a busy year for you! Can you tell us a bit about your plans?

JS. More of the same really. As many gigs as I can fit in, as much support for Labour and the unions as is asked of me, writing, recording and We Shall Overcome. There are two new albums in planning, the first a look at how the First World War changed class politics, and the second is still circling around in my head, but the songs are coming thick and fast so watch this space.

One thing's for sure though, 2018 will not be dull!

Joe blogs at: joesolomusic.com, where you can also find information on his upcoming gigs, other news and where to buy his new album, Not On Our Watch.

 

The Mouse and the Milk
Tuesday, 05 December 2017 10:51

The Mouse and the Milk

Published in Our Publications

The Mouse and the Milk – by Mike Quille, with illustrations by John Gordon

£8.00 (plus £1.50 p&p). ISBN978-1-907464-29-4

Culture Matters, an imprint of Manifesto Press, has published a new version of a classic folk-tale from Sardinia, The Mouse and the Milk.

The story was written down in 1931 by Antonio Gramsci, the Marxist philosopher and political activist, in a letter to his children. The letter was smuggled out of one of Mussolini’s prisons, where Gramsci had been imprisoned ‘to stop his brain from functioning’. (In fact, as we know, his brain functioned all the more powerfully!) The story was later re-told by John Berger.

Mike Quille said, “Folk-tales are, by their very nature, metaphorical. They can be re-shaped for a contemporary audience and show the children of today how we can we make the world a better place by working collectively and respecting the environment.

“The Mouse and the Milk is a simple but very profound story. In just a few pages it expresses how practising natural human generosity and caring for the world around us leads not only to material abundance but a kinder, more just and peaceful society. At a time of growing child poverty and threats to the environment, this message could not be more relevant.”

 

JD Meatyard
Wednesday, 15 November 2017 09:15

JD Meatyard

Published in Music

Chris Guiton interviews jd meatyard, who describes himself as a left field artist much favoured in his Levellers 5 and Calvin Party days by the late great John Peel, with albums such as ‘Lies Lies & Government’ and songs such as ‘Tell Me About Poverty’. June 2017 saw the release of ‘Collectivise’ the 4th album in his current guise as jd meatyard - featured on BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe show. 

CG. Can you tell us something about your new album, Collectivise, and how it builds on your previous albums?

JD. Collectivise is a return to guitar, bass, drums…lo fi as a production bonus. The previous album ‘ Taking The Asylum’ was influenced by ‘songwriters’…like Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’… Jonathan Richman…Elliot Smith. For Collectivise the mood was different, darker, christ just walk out in the streets and see the despair…and the recording of the new album coincided with a family bad thing, a dreadful loss…with the personal and political in such a state the ‘tone’ of the recording added much to the songs themselves…‘songs I’d play everyday with songs painful to listen to even though I share the politics’ says one. So all in all, the songs on Collectivise reflect of course the crazy place we are now in - the horror show that is the every day for so many people… and the personal to, as ever. I couldn’t have an album with such a narrative lightened around the edges with mandolins and such - ergo guitar, bass, drums.

CG. You celebrate a diverse range of influences. Can you tell us a bit about how your music has evolved over the years?

JD. Well, with Levellers 5 (NOT Levellers!) back in the early John Peel days it was just pretty much a manic rant at times, 'like drunk kids let loose in a music store' said the MNE (true, as in we were like drunk kids…) held together by a great band. Then with Calvin Party we played the indie style of big guitars n' stuff…hey, all in all a pile of Peelie sessions n album releases, it was all a life to live. I headed over to live in Holland and packed in the ‘band thing’ as I wanted to just write songs - not songs for a band, just songs, any which way they came. So started jd meatyard…Ralph Eugene Meatyard was a photographer whose work I liked, interesting stuff for sure, and I needed a ‘name’ to be a solo singer songwriter sort of guy. It worked, we formed a 3 piece in Rotterdam, me and Johan and Nina, sparse - two guitars, a floor tom and snare…but what it opened up was the variety of song - the light n' shade maybe, loud quiet loud. It’s worked well on the albums, the eponymously titled sort of nervous solo debut, then ‘Northern Songs’ with the much demanded ‘Jesse James’ song on through to the new release…we got many indie radio show's support, and plays from Gideon Coe on BBC 6 Music…the new Peelie, which really helps!

CG. Brecht famously said, 'Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.' How relevant do you think this is now as we face a continued neoliberal assault on the 'cultural
commons', those elements of art and culture that rightly belong to all of us?

JD. ‘Art is all’, I used to believe. Problem is ‘culture’ is now a tool that we’re controlled by, there’s no argument to this…Edward Bernays pioneered such control of the masses at the behest of the New York/U.S elites early 20th Century. 'The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society'… keep us all in the mall whilst they go about screwing the planet. I do think that there is hope, the dumbing down of all culture, the collapse of the popular into little more than corporate funding is I think coming to an end…gotta say, social media has had a big part in this loosening of the reins, there is now an emerging culture of radical attack, of questioning, of challenging that hasn't been around for a long time…social media, the great channel for leaks that they can no longer control…the other day with the Paradise Papers tax stuff…no wonder they’re so frightened of Jeremy Corbyn! 

That I get hammered, and I do, for my tiny contribution - songs for Palestine, ‘4 Kids on a Gaza Beach’, for the left, ‘Jesse James’, ‘Blow it Out yr Arse’, 'St Peter at The Gate’, ’Collectivise’… people in Sheffield walking out of the show, others rolling their eyes ‘oh not more politics’, underlines the problem…the attacks I get are pretty severe at times.

CG. What are your thoughts generally about politics at the moment, in particular the hope offered by Jeremy Corbyn and the dramatic shift in the position of the Labour Party?

JD. JC has done something that I’d completely given up on, he’s energised so many people - people that had given up hope - many on the left/humanists that had walked away following Blair's band of closet neo-libs…the feeling now that there is a real possibility of success for a centre left government is astonishing given recent history. We now have a Labour Party fit for the name, a leader that matches many of us in historical choices - aye, we did play anti-apartheid shows, and shows for the miners and he/we never wore ‘Hang Mandela’ T shirts like some of the tory toffs. Yes, there is a wee political frisson about now with JC attracting crowds like never before…just as the Tories are chewing themselves up with the tax dodging and abuse charges ripping round the ether - good times…hopefully great, honest, progressive times on the way. There needs to be big changes globally. The corporate governance of the planet, profit is ALL, has worked for the elites but it has, no doubt, fkd the planet. The poor and the immigrants haven't fkd the planet the rich have.

CG. There’s a lot of heartfelt anger and honesty in your music. How do you combine the personal and the political in your songwriting?

JD. Thanks. Its easy, no? What’s the old one - ‘the personal is poltical’? I don't know how songwriters can avoid being political! Of course I get it, Ed Sheeren and the like are ‘business’ artists - they write flatlining songs for a flatlining audience - formulaic, high production and a marketing plan to suit. We don't expect anything from such artists…however, I am surprised that so few ‘serious’ artists that have the opportunity to comment don’t bother to do so - each to their own. However, for Morrissey, Radiohead and the rest who play the ‘non political’ card as an excuse to pocket the Netanyahu $$$…well, what can you say, sick. It’s my naivety I guess, I expect more from artists. For me, what else is there? The pain, the tragedies, the loves and losses…fk, it's all there in the everyday of life, to seperate politics from personal is to artificially divide reality. So, for me, there’s no contrivance, it's life.

CG. At Culture Matters we are very interested in what an incoming Labour Government would do to develop arts and culture policies that reverse the impact of austerity, make the link between progressive art and progressive politics, and support culture for the many not the few (to coin a phrase!). What are your thoughts on what a socialist arts and culture policy should offer us?

JD. Financial backing for creatives, right now there’s little or no support unless you’re already making $$$…I beg PRS now and again for support - nada, nothing, nunca. We need targeted support for those with a catalogue of, let's say, meaningful music. Sad thing is that in music particularly there’s a real dumbed down practice - the mainstream now is the aural equivilent of Enid Blyton, kids read EB, no probs, however adults listen to the aural equivalent. Little from the left field gets through…Sleaford Mods bravo. Support for ‘alt’ venues would help, this would include ‘hands on’ support in terms of creating a culture of arts/music clubs aimed at that very real alternative audience…funding for progressive ideas is what we need.

CG. What's it like working in the music scene at the moment? How has it changed over your life? What do you think of other bands and musicians these days?

JD. See above, ha. Since John Peel left us its been a struggle for many bands, JDM is lucky. I get support from many independent radio shows and Gideon Coe on BBC 6 Music has played songs from all my albums as JDM. But when Peel was around it made a difference with others who used him as a marker - so we’d get better gigs then and plays from other network DJs - it's noticeable how so may doors shut when the great man died.

CG. The DIY culture that emerged with punk still appears to be going strong. A grassroots approach to music is a great way of empowering people who might otherwise feel excluded. What are your thoughts on this, and how might the labour movement best support this?

JD. Like many, music was my door to everything else. The house as a kid revolved around C & W, played on the record player and also live by my ma n' da, brother and sister …great singalongs until the dreaded introduction of Lanliq - those days ‘buckie’. Then dub and reggae got me asking how come so many Scottish names…slave history and nasty empires entered my vocab, Lou and the Velvets blew open my eternal love of New York, and introduced me to Warhol and 3 hour long screenings of looking at the Empire State Building - the very notion of ‘alternative’ in the arts and of course in life too. Punk was such a break, the sheer bravado and ‘fk you’ attitude was so liberating and yes, empowering, as it blew away so much deadwood in music and beyond, for a moment it terrified the establishment. This is what I mentioned before - the government can, if it wants to, fund street level creativity through music and the arts by encouraging people with ideas to create spaces, small venues with real spirit, progressive places that encourage participation with artists and the public. Such activity is critical in fostering a ‘knowing’ public rather than a shopping mall mass taught only to, well, shop and little else. We need a mass of people with a critical, intelligent mindset if we are to break the corporate ruling of our lives, our world. The arts, music is central to the creation of a better future for us all - nearly said ‘for the many, not the few’ - phew! Painting, music, photography, all creatives have a critical role to play in saving the world from a
toxic culture that will see this planet drained to an empty shell - as long as they make $$$$$$…we can change the everyday from one of banal consumption at best to something more vital, a life worth living.

CG. I see you’re about to tour the Netherlands, and also live abroad part of the time. How do you find foreign audiences react to your music and does spending time abroad give you a different perspective on life?

JD. Aye, back to Rrrrrrrotterdam, what a place. I never realised the toughness of the Dutch until we moved there for a couple of years and Rotterdam, port city n' all is as tough as it comes. Holland was cool for the music, my music. They got the punk thing, shared like most northern European countries a liking for ‘alt’ stuff - so you get such acts touring these places…unlike Spain, Malaga city where the kids are into either 80s Bronx beats or the most insipid pop you’ve ever heard - ‘rock’ ground to a halt here with Duran Duran, punk never happened down this way…I get back to the UK for recording and gigs, see family. I love being back for the first few days…Pogues Irish bar in Liverool, up to Glasgow to see a game..recently discovered the wonder that is Bristol, recording the new album there...what a great city, now there’s a place that seems to be getting good culture to the centre of  things. But after the first few days I’m sort of looking for my return flight…different perspective, for sure, back to the calm of El Palo.

 “Some People is an epic track – If there was still a Peel Festive 50 it would be in the Top Ten this year”, Louder Than War. For more info and to buy his CDs go to jd meatyard

The Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award
Friday, 10 November 2017 11:27

The Bread and Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award

Published in Music

Closing date extended to 23 February 2018

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Culture Matters are pleased to announce a new Songwriting and Spoken Word Award.

The Award is now open for submissions. The purpose of the new Award is to encourage songwriters and spoken word performers to write material meaningful to working class people and communities, and to encourage those communities to engage more with songwriting and spoken word. There is a £100 cash prize for each of the top five entries. The judges will be from CWU and Culture Matters.

Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU, said,

I welcome this new partnership with Culture Matters. The arts and culture generally are vital to the labour movement, and working class communities across the country. Good access to the arts, sports and other cultural activities are part of the social wage. State support needs to be re-balanced so that working people everywhere can enjoy cheap, accessible and good quality provision. 

We are sponsoring this Award because we want to encourage our members in the CWU, and working people everywhere, to express themselves creatively on themes that matter to them as workers.

So get writing and get performing, and send your entries in!

Submission Guidelines and Award Rules

Entry is open to all, regardless of trade union membership. The submission guidelines are as follows:

- Entries should broadly deal with any aspect of working class life, communities and culture and show commitment to the common people, the common good and the common language of music and the spoken word.

- Entries are restricted to original material, in English, by solo or duo artists/performers.

- Entries must be submitted as audio or video files (MP3/4 format, YouTube link or similar), via e-mail.

- Entrants must be resident in the United Kingdom.

- Entrants may submit up to three songs/performances.

- The organisers accept no responsibility for entries that are incorrectly submitted or not delivered due to technical faults.

- By entering the Award, entrants agree to accept and be bound by the rules of the Award and the decisions of the judges.

- Entries should be sent via email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The deadline for receipt of submissions is midnight on 23 February 2018. When emailing submissions please provide your full name, postal address and phone number.

The winners will be invited to perform at the CWU annual conference in Bournemouth in April 2018. All entries remain the copyright of the entrant but CWU and Culture Matters will have the right to publish them online and in other media.

On Fighting On - An Anthology of Poems from the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017
Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:09

On Fighting On - An Anthology of Poems from the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017

Published in Our Publications

On Fighting On - An Anthology of Poems from the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017

£5 (plus £1.50 p&p) ISBN 978-1-907464-24-9.

Culture Matters, an imprint of Manifesto Press, has published a new anthology of poems from the Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017, sponsored by Unite.

The purpose of the new Award is to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to workin g class people and communities and to encourage those communities to engage more with poetry. Entrants were given the opportunity to deal broadly with any aspect of working class life and culture and show commitment to the common people, the common good and the common music of poetry.

Mike Quille, the Editor of the anthology, said, “We wanted to encourage Unite members and working people more widely to engage with poetry and the arts generally. And encourage the mainstream poetry world to lift its eyes beyond the narrow poetry ‘bubble’ and be more attentive to the labour movement. The poems in this collection reflect a broad range of themes and moods. They show very clearly the collective strength of writing by working people.”

The Award was kindly supported by Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, said, “We sponsored the first Bread and Roses Poetry Award because we believe that our members, and working people generally, have an equal right to join in and enjoy all the arts, and other cultural activities. We believe we should be able to afford them, get to them, and enjoy them, and that art should seek to engage with all sections of the community. Working-class people face a continual cultural struggle to defend our cultural commons, to keep cultural activities open to the many, not the few.”

The booklet is priced at £5 (plus £1.50 p&p), and is available from manifestopress.org.uk, culturematters.org.uk and the usual outlets. ISBN 978-1-907464-24-9.

 

Muses and Bruises
Monday, 06 November 2017 16:10

Muses and Bruises

Published in Our Publications

Muses and Bruises - Poems by Fran Lock, Collages by Steev Burgess

 £8 (plus £1.50 p&p) ISBN9781907464256.

Culture Matters, an imprint of Manifesto Press, has published a new collection of poetry by Fran Lock. The poems are accompanied by collages by Steev Burgess.

Fran lock is an activist, writer and illustrator, and one of the finest political poets around. Like John Clare, Lock evokes the troubling, often agonising effects of capitalist society on personal and social identity. Her feminist and socialist poetry weaves psychological insight and social awareness into themes of poverty, mental health problems, sexual abuse, domestic violence and political struggle. Vivid, lavish and punchy, it combines a deep sense of anger and injustice with vulnerable empathy and compassion.

The poems in this collection revel in richness and in strangeness. They are about the unlikely places where working class women find beauty and meaning, and the unlikely materials from which they are composed. The fragmented yet coherent collages of Steev Burgess complement and enhance those meanings perfectly. The images dance with the poems, singing together about muses and bruises, fantasy and reality – grind and grime with a lick of glitter.

 

Mike Jenkins
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 17:24

Bring the Rising Home!

Published in Our Publications

Bring the Rising Home! Poems by Mike Jenkins, with paintings by Gustavius Payne

£9 (plus £1.50 p&p) ISBN 978-1-907464-22-5.

Culture Matters has published a new collection of poetry by the Welsh socialist poet Mike Jenkins. The poems are accompanied by full colour paintings by Gustavius Payne.

In May 1831, miners and others took to the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, protesting against wage cuts and unemployment generally. The protest spread and soon the whole area was in rebellion – the red flag was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt for the first time. The social and economic conditions which sparked the Merthyr Rising are never far from Mike Jenkins’s poetic imagination, but there are also poems here about drunks, jailbirds, footballers, a mining disaster, and Northern Ireland.

Weaving through both poems and images are themes of individual isolation and alienation, and the urgent need for collective action to change the conditions of working people. Mike Jenkins’s vivid, lyrical poems are accompanied by full colour paintings by the Welsh socialist painter Gustavius Payne, whose bold, striking, and deeply sympathetic paintings complement the poems perfectly.

The message is clear: isolated, people are powerless, but together they are strong. They need to organise into trade unions, join a socialist party and challenge the ruling class. Here is a poetic and painterly union of two socialist Welsh artists who, in their own brilliant, artistic way, are bringing the Rising home.

 

Oscar Niemeyer's futuristic civic buildings in Brasilia
Thursday, 13 April 2017 15:01

Architecture and socialism

Published in Architecture

This section of Culture Matters is about architecture, including its role in shaping our collective future. Chris Guiton offers a foundation essay on achitecture and socialism.

Architecture is an expression and a reflection of human society. It has evolved over human history in response to our changing needs, innovation in building technology and design, and changes in the way we view the world around us. Part response to society’s functional needs and part creative expression, it offers the scope to shape our environment for either better or worse.

The practice of architecture provides us with a built environment where buildings function as places of work, as homes and as public spaces. The need for shelter from the elements in early human society took on greater significance as nomadic existence was replaced by a more settled, urban society. The simple requirement for shelter evolved into something that might be a place of work as well as a home, with different rooms developing specialist functions, and where people developed relationships with their family and community.

Hagia Sophia Church

Hagia Sophia Church

We can trace architecture’s lineaments through human history as it provides us with a way of looking at and understanding the past. Monumental structures such as the Giza pyramids, the Parthenon, Athens, the Hagia Sophia basilica and mosque in Istanbul, Il Duomo in Florence, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Chrysler Building in New York all tell a story about the economic and social forces that produced them. And about how that society wished to project its image into the future. This process is also represented in the more ordinary dwellings that were built for people and work, as well as in the public spaces and infrastructure that underpinned the development of cities, and in the very design and layout of those urban spaces.

As a profession, architecture has provided many socialists and progressives with the opportunity to help construct a better future. William Morris, the great designer, novelist and socialist activist, was very conscious of the role of architecture in society. As he put it: "the untouched surface of ancient architecture bears witness to the development of man's ideas, to the continuity of history, and, so doing, affords never-ceasing instruction, nay education, to the passing generations, not only telling us what were the aspirations of men passed away, but also what we may hope for in the time to come."

He appreciated the importance of simple beauty in things, where architecture was an expression of handicraft as well as “a work of cooperation. The very designer, be he never so original, pays his debt to this necessity in being in some form or another under the influence of tradition; dead men guide his hand even when he forgets that they ever existed. But, furthermore, he must get his ideas carried out by other men; no man can build a building with his own hands”. In other words, it isn’t just about the building of a house, but also, at a fundamental level, about the act of construction itself.

The German architect Walter Gropius, inspired by William Morris, but also by the emerging modernism school, established the Bauhaus in Weimar in Germany in 1919. The movement was hugely influential on modern design, with its simplified forms, harmony between an object or building’s function and its design, and focus on mass production. During its relatively short ascendency it produced some remarkable housing, schools and other buildings. Gropius, claimed it was apolitical but also said that his aim was to "to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist."

His Marxist successor, Hannes Meyer, felt that the Bauhaus had lost its purpose and sought to move away from aesthetic considerations towards building designs based on the “life processes” of its future users. His new slogan was: “The people’s needs instead of the need for luxury!” Unfortunately, his politics led to his expulsion and he moved to the Soviet Union, but not before he had designed (with Hans Wittwer) one of the finest examples of functional architecture, the school of the ADGB (Federation of German Trade Unions) in Bernau near Berlin.

Less well known internationally, but no less significant, was the Vkhutemas, the Russian state art and technical school founded by Lenin in 1920. Both it and the Bauhaus were remarkably similar in their focus on modernising design and architectural education to reflect modern needs, under state sponsorship, merging craft traditions with modern technology. Unsurprisingly, the major artistic influences on the Vkhutemas were the constructivist and suprematist movements. Vladimir Tatlin's superb Monument to the Third International is a testament to their vision, with its futuristic ethos and revolutionary symbolism setting the tone for later projects.

CL Tatlins Tower 1919

Tatlin, Monument to the Third International

In the USSR, the ideological drive to forge a new socialist society, allied with rapid industrial development and accompanying migration from the countryside to the cities, combined to create a synthesis between radical art and architecture. The Constructivist movement created a number of highly innovative, large-scale housing developments, public buildings, leisure facilities and power stations, which were designed to create new forms of communal living, with shared spaces for eating and recreation.

A classic example is the Narkomfin Communal House in Moscow, built in 1930, which actually combined self-contained flats and integrated shared living spaces, reflecting the transitional nature of the times. It’s astonishing to reflect on how Constructivist architects created a new visual language in the face of material shortages, under-developed technology and a rapidly evolving political environment. Eventually, Constuctivism and similar experiments were abandoned when they were considered too advanced for the conditions that prevailed at the time. But this shouldn’t detract from the very real sense of energy and innovation that these movements expressed.

CG architecture image002

ADGB Trade Union School

What became known as Modernism synthesised many of these traditions at an international level and is the single most important new approach to architecture and design of the 20th century. It offered an analytical approach to function, innovation in structure and the elimination of ornament. It has produced many visually striking, and diverse, buildings, ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, beautifully integrated with the surrounding forest; Mies van der Rohe’s wonderful Barcelona Pavilion; Oscar Niemeyer’s futuristic civic buildings in Brasilia, which aimed to contribute to a new sense of collective identity and hope for the Brazilian people; Le Corbusier's government buildings in Chandigarh, India; the artistic complex developed over two decades on the south bank of the Thames, the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery and National Theatre; and Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton’s delightful Penguin Pool, London Zoo.

But if these buildings were realised in capitalist societies, what might architecture look like in a future socialist or communist society? Karl Marx was part of a western European cultural tradition which reflected a general optimism in the future of mankind, a belief in progress and the scope to build a better world. However, he said little about the actual shape such a society would take. He did not offer a coherent theory of architecture. But his writings reflect his understanding of the relationship between the country and the city and the effects of industrial urbanisation:

It [the bourgeoisie] has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put into the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society…The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cites, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and thus rescued a considerable part of the population from rural idiocy. - The Communist Manifesto.

The development of human society is inextricably linked with the development of the built environment. Walter Benjamin famously wrote in the The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:
"Buildings have been man’s companions since primeval times. Many art forms have developed and perished . . . [But] architecture has never been idle. Its history is more ancient than that of any art, and its claim to being a living force has significance in every attempt to comprehend the relationship of the masses to art."

In one his conversations with Brecht, Benjamin said, “As a system of connectivity, the metropolis is formed by a boundless maze of indirect relationships, complex mutual dependencies and compartmentations.” The individual’s dialectical relationship with the society around him means that we have to understand modernism, and subsequent developments in architecture, not just in terms of the emergent materials and technologies which enable new forms of architectural expression, for example, reinforced concrete, steel frames and strengthened glass, but also with regard to the rapid urbanisation of populations across the world, which is one of the driving forces of capitalism. This suggest that architects have a clear responsibility to consider how the performance of their role impacts upon the structure and operation of future society.

In his Memoirs, Oscar Niemeyer, a key figure in modern architecture and a lifelong member of the Brazilian Communist Party, said, “Our concern is political too – to change the world...Architecture is my work, and I've spent my whole life at a drawing board, but life is more important than architecture. What matters is to improve human beings." The string of major works he produced over a long and productive life demonstrate how a progressive political vision can be combined with architectural boldness and radical urban planning.

We all have a fundamental right to urban spaces that work for our interests rather than against them. This includes efficient and low cost public transport; access to decent schools and hospitals; plenty of public spaces for recreation; effective distribution of good quality food and other necessaries; andaffordable, good quality housing. To deliver this means taking control over our lives, reclaiming cities for ourselves and implementing radical political changes which enable ordinary people to influence the shape of their urban environment.

This battle for ‘urban space’ is, of course, itself a product of economic and historical circumstances. Self-evidently, this is a class struggle as working class communities find themselves pitched against rapacious landlords and developers. Well-intentioned but often authoritarian and paternalistic attempts to clear slums and create model communities bump up against working class communities’ fight to assert their democratic rights and define urban space according to their needs. The continual search for profit and the capture of land value leads to ‘social cleansing’ as lower income communities are forced out of cities by the ongoing process of capital accumulation. Cities are explicitly redesigned in response to the threat of revolution, as in the rebuilding of Paris by Haussmann, or according to the demands of planners, bureaucrats and architects representing the interests of capital.

Marxist intellectuals and geographers such as Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, have made a significant contribution to the discussion of the relationship between capitalism and urban space. Lefebvre coined the term, ‘the right to the city’ in 1968. He summarised it as a "demand...[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life", where people exercise collective power to re-shape the very process of urbanisation in a way that underpins self-determination, the appropriation of social and physical spaces and the establishment of meaningful social relationships. For Lefebvre there was a dialectical relationship between urban reality and everyday activity (eg work, leisure, education and housing). By contrast with what are sometimes considered to be rather cold, modernist urban visions represented by architects and urban planners like Le Corbusier, his thinking offers a bottom-up approach based on the lived experiences of individuals which offers some useful pointers for the way forwards.
As David Cunningham and Jon Goodbun say in ‘’Marx, architecture and modernity’:

It is useful, therefore, to consider briefly what might be described as the three distinct tasks placed upon architectural knowledge in capitalist modernity. The first is to act as technicians of spatial development. Under capitalism, this is primarily the task of commodifying space. This is what the vast majority of architects spend the vast majority of their time involved in. The second task is a ‘poetic’ or artistic one, and is to do with somehow dealing with, expressing, intensifying or ameliorating the spatial experience of modernity. The third task is an utopian or avant-garde one, and is to do with imagining alternative socio-spatial futures. Although all three are always present in each other to some degree, there have been moments in the struggle over social space and its modes of production where the third task, imagining alternative socio-spatial futures, becomes an urgent part of defining the first task—the work to be done by everyday technicians of spatial development.

In a nutshell, aesthetics married to functionality has to be the cornerstone of a future architecture, where building for human needs and use, in harmony with the earth and not for profit, is the main objective. So, as we seek to advance the struggle for socialism, this leaves us with the following questions. How does architecture respond to global challenges such as population growth, climate change, growing inequality and environmental degradation? How can it embrace social activism and help tackle poverty in the urban environment? How do we ensure that it is not misused by the wealthy and the powerful to erect structures unrelated to the built environment and the social needs of the community as they seek to build monuments, and create icons, to their power?

We hope this article will stimulate further articles on architecture and socialism.

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