NS06: Hegemony

Well now. In the glorious period just after punk, I wasn’t into folk music. What I was into was the glorious period after punk, when it seemed as if the music scene as we’d known it was being replaced by an upsurge of spontaneous creativity and communication. Anyone who had something to say could say it, by getting 500 singles pressed and sending them out to be sold at 50p a time – and everyone had something to say. It was an exhilarating period, and one with massive potential for both artistic and political radicalism: for a while, the idea of selling out for major label deals and TOTP slots seemed to be irrelevant, and that meant that musicians could start making their own language.

Nobody did more to open up the idea of self-made music than the Desperate Bicycles (more on them another time, maybe) – and nobody did more to follow it through than Scritti Politti. On Scritti Politti’s second or possibly third release you can hear this song: one of the most powerful expressions of the ferociously determined radicalism with which Green Gartside approached his music, and – sadly – the corner into which he painted himself. Spend too long making your own language, after all, and you end up with no one to talk to. As I wrote on my other blog:

Green has dismissed the recordings of this period as “some anti-produced labour of negativity, kind of structurally unsound and exposed, by design and default … evocative of extraordinary times and a bit winceworthy”. For all that he’s the artist, that seems more like a list of symptoms than a description of the condition. I think something like “Hegemony” is best seen as the product of an attempt to fuse three things – the music, the politics, the personal sense of urgency and wrongness – which didn’t really belong together and certainly didn’t fit together.

So what’s this song doing here? Listen to the tune and all will be revealed. The title should give it away: this isn’t a new song at all, but post-punk Gramscian remake of “Lemany”. It turns out that the anxiously self-deconstructing racket of Scritti Politti’s early work was built on a long familiarity with English folk music, the work of Martin Carthy in particular.

After the post-punk project had gone off the rails, Scritti Politti re-emerged as exponents of a kind of machine-tooled white soul; it’s a shame they didn’t go the other way, retracing the bash and clatter of songs like this back to their macrame beat origins and beyond. “Green sings Anthems in Eden” – that I’d pay to hear.

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