From Socialist Review, No. 173, March 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Edgar Broughton Band reformed recently, as their publicity puts it ‘in answer to a nation’s cries’. The band established itself in the 1970s, playing uncompromising political songs at all the major festivals of that decade. Here, Rob Broughton talks to Lee Humber about music and politics
Why have you decided to get the band back together now?
Fourteen years ago my son was born and I didn’t want to miss out on him growing up.
Politically the world has changed so much since then. Now there are bands out there doing stuff but if they’re with a major record company they’re tied. There are tremendous pressures on bands to compromise once they’ve signed. We never did, perhaps to our cost in terms of big money backing.
Today there’s a whole industry which a band with our politics can drop into. We want to unite a few people to oppose what’s happening politically. If you’re going to do a gig you might as well also start a debate about why are we fighting on our own, why don’t we do things together?
When the band first started we had similar sorts of ideas. Musically we were very primitive and kids came along and said, ‘Hey, we could do that,’ and they could. We were very like punk in that respect. In fact we’ve often been described as proto-punks.
How would you characterise the band politically and musically?
We’re very much left of centre but tinged with a slight disillusionment, from disappointment with the official opposition to what’s happened over the last few years, with the Labour Party. That’s where I’d like my political home to be, but it’s a long way from that.
Musically, I’d describe the band as a mix of grungy, heavy metal and old fashioned English folk. Some of the stuff is very serious and tries to tackle important social issues. We do a song called ICI, for example, about the Olaf Palme scandal in Sweden some years ago. One of our posters has on it, ‘What’s the connection between Olaf Palme, Margaret Thatcher, Bofor’s, ICI, England, Iran, Iraq? Answers on a postcard to MI5, Vauxhall.’
What originally got you into music in the early 1970s?
We were working class lads in the car belt, near Coventry. We were drawn by anything from Hank Marvin to the young Buddy Guy. We were purists originally, into the ‘real’ down home rural blues before we got into the more urban Chicago electric sound. Pretty soon after we got started, and especially after Hendrix, we got into writing our own material. We’ve never lost the blues roots.
Were you affected by the political developments?
Definitely. During the 1974 election we did this tour where we had this red and blue poster with the words ‘kiss my arse’. On one cheek there was Heath and on the other was Wilson. We did so many benefit gigs it wasn’t true.
We had all this paid work so we thought we should put something back. The first gig of our free tour in 1976 was in Redcar where about 3,500 people turned up, largely through word of mouth. The cops said we couldn’t come into the town, so we pulled on to a football pitch. People came out to listen, but the cops ended up bundling us into a van and arresting us. Exactly the same thing happened in Brighton and we spent another night in the nick. It was like being in America in some deep south state.
Our first taste of that sort of thing was in the wake of the killing of four students by US state troopers at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970. We were invited to play at a protest at Keele University. Students were in parts of the building they shouldn’t have been, communicating with American students via computers they shouldn’t have been using. It was a real fun day. We used to carry boxes of spray paint to give out to the audiences and they’d spray ‘Out, Demons Out’, the title of an early song of ours, or ‘Its All In Your Mind’, or anything they wanted. The students graffitied out the new refectory, so we ended up in court again.
What is the main difference between the protests of the 1960s and 1970s, and today?
People did things and protested with an optimism and a naivety which is now gone. But it’s important to remember those protests and how they affected people. The hippy revival today tends to write out that edge to those years, just leaving the ‘peace and love’ image which is only half the story.
Some of the most openly political comments in music today come in rap music. What do you think of it?
Rap is like modern day folk music. I have my criticisms of some of it – the misogynist, homophobic stuff – but the bulk of it is really interesting and exciting, and it gives people a voice. A lot of it is bedroom produced stuff which is also exciting. I’m working with a rapper called Shadow at the moment. His music is good and he’s got really good politics.
What were your impressions of the punk era?
I loved a lot of it. I worked with punk bands early on. One band had a lyric that included the line ‘coshing old ratbags’ and I thought no, that’s not for me. But then there was the much better stuff attacking the queen and hypocrisy. When punk started it was all over the place in its attacks. It was just full of hate. But as the music took off, more and more people got drawn into the melting pot, all sorts of people no longer felt excluded from making music. That mix of ideas can be incredibly creative, so that you get people coming in saying, ‘You know when you’re talking about an old ratbag – don’t you think they’ve got enough to deal with? Let’s attack the monarchy or the government.’
And that happened only because punk was totally open. Rock Against Racism had a massive influence on the type of stuff the bands produced.
The Edgar Broughton Band is playing at venues throughout the country in March
Last updated: 8 March 2017