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Last updated:23 April 2015


Music: an introduction

Songs at gatherings, chants on demonstrations, the massed voices of street choirs - the labour movement has been always had music and song at its heart. With stories to tell and thoughts to spread it has been song rather than music which has been to the fore, though Gustav Holst was a keen Clarion Cyclist and was seen going off to meets with his trombone strapped on his back.

Cover of the National Agricultural Labourers' and Rural Workers' Union Song BookThe WCML has a good collection of songbooks and songsheets with items from a wide range of sources including the Labour Church, the Young Communists and the International Workers of the World.

James Connolly, famed for his political thought and activity, was also a songwriter. In his lifetime he published a book of lyrics, and more than fifty years after his death many were collected into the James Connolly Songbook.

Only a year old when Connolly was executed, Jimmy Miller of Salford changed his name and became world famous as Ewan MacColl, writer and singer of hundreds of songs. Here you will find several pages on his musical career.

The Library has more recent songs too, such as material by Chumbawumba.  And our building was full of song one winter afternoon recently:

Click on the button below to listen to Ben Harker and Emily Weygang perform a song about Stalybridge socialist councillor and community activist Leonard Tilsley, with an introduction by Maxine Peake.  Leonard was apparently very passionate about educating people for a better world.  His grand-daughter Lesley Wade found his army records while researching her family - on his record card was written 'very intelligent, for a working class man'; which tells us a lot about the attitude of the army at the time.

 Song about Leonard Tilsley

The song is by Aidan Jolly and the tune is from a traditional song about a deserter called the Rambling Royal. The last verse, which is not on this recording, goes:

So come on all you working folk
When slaughter is your school
When next they ask for cannon food
Don't heed the butcher's call.
You serve your fellow workers best
With ploughshares not with swords
We'll bring down the ruling class
Not with rifles but with words.