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Big World of Rock: It's all quiet on the music front.

Byline: Andrew Cowen

Like many people who were 15 in 1977, every so often I have the uncontrollable desire to sit down and listen to some good old punk rock.

Those 25 years since the Pistols' debut album have simply flown by. A quick blast of New Rose by The Damned and I'm straight back in the fourth form.

This week I have mostly been listening to Discharge. This band of forwardthinking anarchists from Stoke formed in the foetid breath of punk's last gasp - disillusioned suburbanites who felt utterly betrayed by the movement's sell-out to the capitalist pay-masters of the stinky music business.

Discharge released three absolutely astonishing albums, just re-issued by Castle Music, and suddenly found themselves spearheading a new wave, unknowingly influencing a whole new generation of rockers. Nirvana's late Kurt Cobain is just the most high profile of the band's admirers from a pool that includes skate punks, heavy rockers and techno shamans.

I'm not for a moment pretending that this is beautiful music. Discharge began as a close-to-incoherent primal evisceration of rage and finished their career, bloodied but proud, as a highly-charged, turbo-powered, speed metal machine.

Discharge's songs rarely strayed far beyond the 90-second mark and followed a rigid template. The songs start in a flurry, reach a peak of indignation and stop. No time to hold a conversation with melody or finesse, just long enough to make a mental scar and then leave like a cat leaves its litter tray.

Lyrically Discharge have but one theme, yet it's a good 'un. War, they say, is an abomination and governments, they add, are evil because they declare wars. With no sense of linear time, plot or narrative, each of Discharge's 60 or so songs simply adds layers of stark imagery to create a cumulative Bosch-esque vision of hell. Children burnt by napalm, widows and communities ravaged by man's inhumanity - it's not a pretty picture.

With the unholy trinity of Discharge, the more poetic yet equally extreme Conflict and the daddy of them all, Crass, this is some of the most far-out music ever to have stemmed from these sceptred isles. But to say that it's without precedent would be folly. The political anarchopunk scene was basically serving up the same message as young Bobby Dylan on A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall orDesolation Row. It's the same story as Barry Maguire's Eve of Destruction or REM's It's the End of the World As We Know It.

We're talking about a revolution, or at the very least a decent protest song.

Last night I had a wonderful dream. A whole generation of rockers had volunteered to become human shields at Saddam's bidding in Iraq. Tied to a railway sleeper close to some command and control centre in downtown Baghdad were Sting, Bono, George Michael and Ms Dynamite. They looked worried. I just thought I'd share that with you.

Whether you think of this imminent war as a just cause, a vile travesty or a mild inconvenience that gets in the way of that well-deserved Bali holiday, what can't be denied is the lack of a decent protest movement.

Can somebody please tell me who's responsible for lighting the fire in the belly that turns our very British notion of protest into the inferno that brings down governments? The recent peace march, at least on the TV, looked more like a massive queue than a spontaneous show of civil disobedience. Sure, everybody's dead eloquent but there's something typically British in the soundbite 'Not in my name'. The phrase sounds almost apologetic - typical of our burgeoning blame culture.

Not in my day would we tolerate such whimsical behaviour. Still tucked up nicely in the cold war, organisations like CND, Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League seemed to wield a bit of clout. No doubt we're getting used to being ignored but I feel we need to make our presence felt with a bit of internet chain-mailing or sloganeering in Centenary Square. But who's writing the soundtrack?

Where are today's equivalent of Robert Wyatt singing Shipbuilding, Crass's How Does It Feel to be the Mother of 1,000 Dead, Tom Robinson's Power in the Darkness or the Clash's White Riot?

With socialism and the working class all but confined to the history books, we're left to rely on the opinions absorbed from the media which in turn has a symbiotic relationship with the State's spin machine. The arts seem quite unequipped to deal with the new reality of globalisation and blatant profiteering. There's no overt opposition at all.

If the war happens and it goes as the Americans would have us believe, it may well all be over by the time I come to write my next column and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find those strangely mute characters from my dream claiming a moral victory for the forces of liberation. It's a funny old world.

CAPTION(S):

Come on Bob, sing us a protest song
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 13, 2003
Words:830
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