A pleasant change from politics : the musical culture of the British labour movement, 1918-1939
The history of the inter-war labour movement in Britain had an endless, eclectic musical accompaniment. There were sentimental and comic ballads at social events, socialist hymns at meetings and services, massed choirs and full orchestras, soloists with voice and with instruments, dance bands, jazz bands, brass bands and serious composers. Alongside the performance and enjoyment of music there was a great deal of theorising on the subject. Why was music important? What was the source of its power? What was the difference between 'good' and 'bad' music? To whom did music belong? Did it have special usefulness for the labour movement or was it just 'a pleasant change from politics'? This thesis concerns itself with the practical use labour activists made of music in entertaining the comrades, propagating the socialist message and raising funds as well as the formation of musical organisations and societies within the movement and the special place given to music and song during times of struggle. In so doing it attempts to sketch both a national picture and a more detailed look at the musicality of selected local areas. It also examines the intellectual development of labour theories of music. As this period was one of great upheaval and change in both the worlds of labour politics and popular music alike, so important changes in labour music and labour approaches to music are identified. The developments in musical thought, fed by changes in international socialist ideas about music on the one hand and the experience of seeing music used as a 'weapon' in specific struggles on the other, led to changes in the form and nature of labour music as well as its intended function. It is the assertion of this thesis that such changes had cultural consequences stretching far beyond the inter-war British labour movement.