Saturday 19 September 2015

Singing For His Supper: Chris Trotter Recalls Labour In The 1980s.

Ready, Aim, Sing! Bowalley Road's proprietor, with more hair and less weight, singing up a storm at a 1981 anti-tour rally in Dunedin.
IN MY LAST CONTRIBUTION to The Daily Blog I described an incident involving myself and two friends drinking coffee in the University of Otago’s student union caf’ way back in 1983.
“Naturally we were talking politics and, as the conversation progressed, it turned out that all of us were working on the campaign committees of Labour candidates. That wasn’t so odd in my case, I’ve never been anything other than a democratic socialist. But one of my comrades used to be an anarchist and the other a Trotskyist. It inspired me to pen a little good-natured satire (set to the tune of Cliff Richards “Summer Holiday”).”
I even supplied the chorus.
We’re all working for a Labour victory,
No more Trotsky, no more Lenin or Mao.
We’re all working for a Labour victory
I’m glad the comrades cannot see us now!
It occurred to me that there might be some interest out there in the whole song. Such ephemera often serves to enliven the larger historical picture.
Before proceeding, however, I’ll share with you an interesting story connected to this little ditty.
The 1983 Otago/Southland regional conference of the Labour Party was held in Invercargill. On the Saturday evening of the conference weekend, seated in a bar (the name of which I cannot now recall) I sang my song to the clutch of left-wing comrades I was getting drunk with. They all seemed to enjoy it, singing along lustily at every chorus. What I did not realise, however, was that the Editor of the National Business Review, Colin James, was also in the bar – listening in.
The following Monday, I was back at work at the University Book Shop in Dunedin when who should drop by but the same Colin James. He was there to collect his promised copy of the lyrics – which he proposed to use in his reporting of the conference. (Yes, Labour was such a powerful political force in the early 1980s that even its regional conferences merited serious media attention!) Tucking his copy of the song into his coat pocket, he then informed me that his current ‘By the Left’ columnist, Alf Kirk, having just secured a position with the State Services Commission, would no longer be able to write for the NBR. Would I be interested in the job?
Thus did my career as a political columnist begin! Never let anyone tell you that writing and singing satirical songs is a waste of time and energy!
Just a few contextual notes before we get going. The “David” mentioned in the song is, of course, David Lange. Elected leader of the Labour Party in 1982, he’d lost little time in warning members against public shows of disunity and dissent. This was intended as a shot across the bow of the Party President, Jim Anderton – who was already sounding warnings about the Caucus’s rightward drift. Undaunted by Lange’s rebuke, Anderton urged Party members to be “ambitious” for Labour’s cause. This, I hope, will make the third verse a little clearer.
Anyway, here’s the song in its entirety. Enjoy!
“We’re All Working For A Labour Victory”
(Sung to the tune of Cliff Richard’s “Summer Holiday”) 

We’re all working for a Labour victory,
No more Trotsky, no more Lenin or Mao.
We’re all working for a Labour victory
I’m glad the comrades cannot see us now!
Oh, we all used to carry placards,
We all used to hurl abuse.
But now the Marxist vanguard
Just murmurs, ‘What’s the use?’ 

We all used to think that the workers
Would follow our clarion call.
But we’ve given up the Revolution
To go canvassing door-to-door.
We are told that ambition is a good thing,
But we’re warned that dissension is a sin.
So we’ve learned to turn the rhetoric down
When David’s listening in.
But it hasn’t all been plain-sailing,
The conservatives shook their heads,
When we forced through a remit requiring
Retirement homes for Reds. 

As Mike Hosking would say: “Happy days.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 19 September 2015.


greywarbler said...

Good song Chris. There was a feeling of hope and possibilitities then. Life was a car one could hop into, press the starter and it would go where you wanted. Now we have moved backwards in time, still in the modern age, but the car has to be cranked. We are moving back, yet still have to prepare for a highly complex and unfelicitous future. We need the songs, hope and vitality of the past. I suggest that we have a national song-writing contest that each town performs near a central polling booth on election day. No Party slogans, but like the one by Woody Guthrie - This land is your land, this land is my land. A few ecological changes and it will fit NZ.
According to Joe Klein,[7] after Guthrie composed it "he completely forgot about the song, and didn't do anything with it for another five years." (Since there is a March, 1944, recording of the song, Klein should have said "four years".)

Original 1944 lyrics
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Optional? -
One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief Office I saw my people —
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
This land was made for you and me.

The first and last verses could be altered for NZ:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From Cape Reinga to Stewart Island
From the Kauri Forest to the southern waters
Aotearoa was made for Maori and Tauiwi.

Anonymous said...

Chris, not entirely off theme, but maybe I should have lodged it in the response section of one of your Jeremy Corbyn columns. Anyway just thought you'd find it very interesting:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The song completely ignores the original inhabitants though - both versions. I do remember someone doing a NZ version years ago.

Chris Trotter said...

Original inhabitants? Two versions? A NZ version? Mate, you're on a different page altogether!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm pretty sure that someone produced a New Zealand version of that song sometime in the 1950s or 60s, the same as they did with "I've Been Everywhere Man" but I'm maybe misremembering or more likely maybe I just heard it in a bar but it was never recorded. And I somehow doubt if Woody Guthrie – sound though he was on class war and all – was actually singing for Native Americans.I give the man some credit, he did change his stance on race in the late 1930s after his rendition of I think something like "run nigger run" brought a letter from a young black man explaining why he shouldn't sing it.I thought he remained a Stalinist a bit longer than he maybe should have though :-).

Anonymous said...

Get a haircut!
And a real job!

greywarbler said...

That's irrelevant GS. I am not interested in the whys and wherefores of Woody's thinking and progress through his culture, I'm just introducing his good song as an idea for some of our own that could be produced about our country, people and our hopes around next election time. I'm not on the purist analysis path at the moment, I'm in the expansionist ideas moment. Perhaps you could join in and think up some good verses to popular tunes as Chris did.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Er... Get a professional to do it FFS. Most political songs are banal enough already. Maybe the songwriter for Redgum would do it.

jh said...

In the light of "the government is coming under increasing pressure to increase it's intake of refugees" I was wondering who the pressurers are that out rank Joe Public?
I was interested to read about HART and CARE. I recall that when labour decided to redefine New Zealander the changes were "long awaited" while the public were unaware of what the changes meant?

jh said...

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.
"But I also believe that the free movement of working people across borders is a progressive principle. Closing borders and making lists of people of certain ethnicity to blame them for society's ills has never come to any good - ever"
Josie Pagani
“Chinese economy we all know about…
Chinese government says it’s time to grow offshore…..
Let’s take a good selection of New Zealands “products” over….
“We’re all New Zealanders, we all love the country so I think it’s healthy for us to have the debate and make the right decisions for our country…. but hey!…. young people coming through see it as “our planet” rather than “our country”

Nick J said...

Grey and Guerrilla,
I maintain the most visceral political songs of the last 40 years were written by John Lydon (aka Rotten).....and the good thing is that you need neither to sing in tune or strum a guitar like Chris. "God save the Queen and the fascist regime...that made you a moron"...marvelous anger and critical observation of reality. Lydons song Rise was pretty much onto apartheid and the hot wiring of Steve Biko's head. I remember "Give Me Hope Joanna' about apartheid from Eddy Grant, so cool about such a crime.
Then on post Thatcher Britain perhaps The The's Homeland..."This is the 51rst state of the USA"....

As a member of an LEC in 1986 I can definitely state that we did sing, the lyrics were "The peoples flags a shade of pink, and not as red as you might think"..I also used to hum Psycho Killer when the subject of Roger Douglas or Prebbo was raised.

greywarbler said...

If you had read my original comment you would know that I was thinking of involving the people in producing songs. Not getting a professional to do it while others sit back and write 'smart' replies to comments that they haven't read.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I read about the contest GW and it may produce something good - more likely to produce a load of well meaning banal rubbish. So I actually disagree with you. This is allowed yes? And you're reading 'smart' where it doesn't exist.
JH - only you could turn a discussion on songs into one on immigration.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick. Rottens songs were visceral. Bragg's would be OK if he could sing. But Redgum's are closer to home and have both passion and (essential) humour. I have long wished we had someone like them here. Also that they would re-form. They're needed more than ever now.

greywarbler said...

Thanks songs to search out.
Your comment is full of thoughts containing gold, just have to run them over the old sluice box.

Nick J said...

GS JH songs about immigration....Paul Fuemana (Otara Millionaires Club) wrote that wonderful song Land of Plenty

And my father used to say
"Oh, we came to this land of plenty
And we came to this land of hope
We came to this land of good times
And we came to this land of love
Oh, we came to this land of love"

I have always found the message haunting, what brought Pasifica and the rest of us immigrants here, now sadly thinned of hope, love and good times. It says what we need to be, what we should be for ourselves and for any new Aotearoans.

J Bloggs said...

GS - Some of the main components of Redgum have gotten back together:

And political songs are still being written and performed - go to any folk club in NZ and you'll hear them being done....:)

In fact - If anyone in the Auckland region wants to hear a good leftie folk singer in full voice, then go to the Devonport folk music club on Oct 19th - Paul "Bolshie" Brown is well worth hearing

greywarbler said...

To talk about meaningful musical. This on the nuclear ploy.
Chains from Che Fu.

Che-Fu - Chains Lyrics (Worth reading all - see link at bottom.)
Artist: Che-Fu
Album: 2b S.Pacific
Genre: Hip Hop/Rap

Come break my chains come help me out living in
The sity ain't so bad

Come test me like a bomb straight from murdera
How comes i got cyclops fish in my water,
A Nation of Pacific lambs to the slaughter
three Eyes for my son and an extra foot for my daghter,

Gifts from a land that i don't even know i was
To slow to see that s-car-go you say i'm all
blow no cash exchange i didn't lie there's a
Picture of me in the dictionary under "French Fry",

no racism i'm out for who's in charge, I'd
like to lay a fat cable, in their bckyard to
Far they've gone now i'm radioactive strong I
Just walk past the switch and all the lights
Turn on,

no "last dragon" just left my bones
Exposed didn't reach no final level yet my body
Still glows, why do you wanna annoy,
nuclear Boy with your toy

Wa Pihia neke mase a koe

Feel the light of one who stays over come some
Day set your sights and chip away
Come break my chains come help me out living in
The sity ain't so bad (x4)....

Come break my chains come help me out (picking up the reigns in the south),
Tell who's gonna buy who's gonna sell?



This is not the type of song I was thinking of - the amateur song about NZ to be sung at election time particularly - but it is a great song, along with those about nukes from Herbs.

Others that come to mind are Nature Enter Me, and fun songs like Taumarunui. The object though is to have a music-fest, a karaoke, a talent quest with locally devised words and music, not having to be polished presentation or judged against such.