Can We Save the World with Songs? Glastonbury Holds a Lesson for Bob Geldof about Pop and Politics, Writes Billy Bragg. the Truth Is, It's the Fans in the Audience Who Will Set the Agenda, Not the Men on Stage
Bragg, Billy, New Statesman (1996)
The mood at Glastonbury Festival on the morning of Flash Flood Friday was subdued, but backstage at the Leftfield we received news that warmed our hearts and lifted our spirits. The British National Party had lost its only seat in London, decisively defeated by Labour at a by-election in Gores-brook, a ward in the borough of Barking and Dagenham.
I got the news via text from the official who is co-ordinating the trade unions' efforts to defeat the BNP across the country and I immediately passed it on to the senior organiser of the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council, who is also head honcho of the Leftfield stage.
What we have in common, apart from our opposition to the BNP, is that we are all fans of the Clash, and as such can trace the first stirrings of our political activism back to the late 1970s and Rock Against Racism.
The three of us were united two days later on stage at Glastonbury for an impromptu performance of our heroes' punk anthem "Garageland", backed by members of the Specials and assorted Leftfield luminaries. It was a fitting climax to a weekend during which huge audiences had gathered before our stage to mix pop with politics.
The Leftfield is the Labour movement's own corner of Glastonbury. Funding from the Co-op, CWU, PCS, Amicus, Unison and the RMT has provided us with the second-largest marquee at the festival, a 4,000-capacity double big top with its own floor to keep out the elements. Large numbers turned up this year to take part in debates on issues such as US policy towards Cuba and the threat of the BNP, listening and arguing with speakers including Tony Benn, Mark Steele and Jerry Dammers. But let's not kid ourselves about what is going on here--and why it is relevant to the somewhat bigger music events about to happen over the weekend of 2 and 3 July.
The Leftfield relies on musicians to draw a crowd, and not just polemical artists like myself and the anti-Bush activist Steve Earle. The Saturday-night headline act on the Leftfield stage was the hotter-than-hot Babyshambles, led by the tabloid bad boy Pete Doherty, who turned up with his supermodel girlfriend Kate Moss in tow--the antithesis of that caring Coldplay couple, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow. …