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Monday, 4 November 2013

Big Country takes the money, refuses to endorse the Yes campaign for Scottish independence

The Today programme had a piece a week or so ago about the campaign for Scottish independence and, soaring in the background, I heard one of the sounds of my adolescence, One Great Thing by Big Country. Oh glory... it's the Yes camp's campaign song.

Ah, I thought, that makes sense. Half the band was, if I recall, at least half Scottish, their guitars sound like bagpipes and they are identified with Scotland in my mind. It makes sense that they'd come out in favour of a Yes to Scottish independence, referendum on 18 September next year. 

I called the office of the Yes campaign and asked whose idea it had been to use the song as their anthem and whether they'd got an official endorsement from the band?

"It was suggested by Jim Downie and Will Atkinson, part of the creative team," said Sean Lafferty in the press office at the Yes campaign. But I understood that permission to use the song was given by the record company rather than the band.

I guess it's possible that they didn't know that Big Country are back on the road with two of the original members - Mark Brzezicki and Bruce Watson - and will be touring next year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of their magnificent album Steeltown. I emailed them via the band's website...

In return I received a message from someone signing him or herself "J" who first asked whose idea it had been at Scottish Independence HQ to use the song. And when I told them I got this reply: "If you read between the lines the use of the song is not overly appreciated at this point."

Oh dear. You'd think that political campaigns would learn... I'm thinking about Ronald Reagan and Springsteen's Born in the USA, which Reagan - along with a lot of other people - misunderstood as a patriotic anthem when in fact it was about an angry Vietnam vet. There are also inherent difficulties in co-opting music and therefore musicians for political causes, not least because several band members amounts, inevitably, to several political points of view.

To clarify, I contacted Big Country's management and asked whether allowing the music to be used by the Yes campaign amounted to an endorsement from the band?

"I've been in touch with Bruce Watson and he doesn't want to make any political statement," said Colin Black.

Does it matter? I guess that  depends how seriously you take your music. Or your politics...

* Here's a version of this story I wrote for the Spectator

* If you enjoyed this post you may also be interested in this, about how to get your band on Later with Jools Holland.

* Or this about Bob Dylan in Crouch End.

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  1. When you think about the wealth of choice of songs for the Yes campaign, you'd have to suspect both their judgement and their taste. And since it was the SNP who got the voting age lowered to 16, one would think that they might be a bit more sussed about youth culture. It all smacks a bit of beer and circuses.

  2. This post reminds me of how the B.N.P 'hijacked' a number of Folk songs to use as part of their propaganda a few years ago...I saw footage of a gathering of them with a Manic Street Preachers song playing in the background...Manic Street Preachers being as anti-Fascist as you can get...Oh the irony!


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