Reflections from the Lantern Society, Hastings’ Candlelit Acoustic Club, by Trevor Moss

Among the host of sensational performers who gathered at this month’s club, was the returning Lantern Player, Michael Prochak.

Originally hailing from the Rust-Belt, USA, he is a veteran of the legendary Greenwich Village folk scene having played the Café Wha and Gaslight in the 1960s, at the time the favourite haunts of Karen Dalton, Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and many others.

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the 60s folk movement is the protest song. The image of Joan Baez singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ to a congregation of hundreds of thousands demanding social change at The March on Washington in 1963 will be emblazoned upon history forever.

When introducing a new protest song of his own, concerning the 2017 violent clashes in Charlottesville between white supremacists and anti-fascists, ignited by the removal of a statue of General Lee due to his connections with slavery, he cites Ochs, and also Dylan ‘to some extent’, as great protest song writers, and suggests that the art of the protest song, that stands the test of time, seems to be diminishing. I have a tendency to agree. So why, in a world with more conflict than ever, is this so?

‘We Shall Overcome’ was the anthem of the civil rights movement. At the same rally, Dylan sang, ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game,’ a song of his about the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers by the white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith. The song drew agitation from the crowd as it suggests that Beckwith is absolved of some responsibility for the killing: that he had been manipulated by those in power to serve themselves; been taught to hate; he is a pawn, and also a victim of the system.  This song has more recently been applied to Charlottesville.

It is rare for a protest song to be performed to anyone but the converted. These great protest songs did not create movements, they reflected them, and thus became the soundtrack to history. In a world of so many conflicts and a constant bombardment of diverse social campaigns, a unified culture-defining movement on this scale is probably a thing of the past, and so therefore may be the great, enduring protest song.

If I introduce a song as a protest song, I will see more than a few eyes roll before a note has been struck. The over-broadcasting of personal opinion has left many of us suffering from opinion-fatigue. The rise of individualism has dissuaded us from seeking representatives for our thoughts and feelings, so there is a meagre appetite for musical statement.

The protest song was once a powerful weapon in the armoury of the people. Maybe rather than being taught to hate, we modern pawns have been taught to yawn. Maybe this was all part of the power game.       

The next Lantern Society is Thursday 5th July, and takes place every first Thursday of the month at the Printworks on Claremont Road.

Tune in to the Lantern Society Radio hour on Conquest Hospital Radio and online. 

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