Courtesy of eBay - and of the eagle-eyed Alan Dein, historian and broadcaster, who spotted it there - here's a wonderful 1954 book of what Ewan MacColl termed industrial folk ballads. It has a catching cover design (the artist simply signed as 'Brooke'), and was published by the Workers' Music Association - an organisation founded in 1936, when the CP was in its "popular front" stage, and which is still going.
'Few of these songs have ever appeared in print before', says Ewan MacColl in the preface, 'for they were not made with an eye to quick sales - or to catch the song-plugger's ear but to relieve the intolerable daily grind.'
The songs inlcude 'The Colliers' Rant' and three others from A.L. Lloyd's Come all ye bold miners, one song gathered by the legendary Alan Lomax, and several gleaned from weavers, miners and rail workers.
'There are no nightingales in these songs, no flowers - and the sun is rarely mentioned; their themes are work, poverty, hunger and exploitation.'
The Royal Court is staging a wonderful production of Arnold Wesker's breakthrough play, 'Chicken Soup with Barley' - first performed there in 1958.
The set, the production, the performances - particularly of Samantha Spiro as the Communist matriarch Sarah Kahn (purportedly based on the author's activist aunt, Sara) - are spellbinding. It's the story, spread over twenty years, of the dissolution of a Jewish East End family, and the disillusion with the communism that they once shared. And the sharpness of the dialogue, often comic, is chicken soup for my soul.
The programme was - I've never come across this before - the play script. Remarkably good value for £3.
The play opens on October 4th 1936, the day of the 'battle' of Cable Street when communists and left-wingers stopped Mosley's fascists marching through London's then largely Jewish East End. The 75th anniversary of that landmark event will be marked later this year.
I hadn't quite appreciated how much political song there is in the opening scenes of 'Chicken Soup with Barley'. The 'Internationale' sung off stage. The household all signing Edward Carpenter's 'England Arise' - once the great English socialist anthem, but now distinctly obscure, so much so that I don't think I'd heard it sung in the flesh before. And there was another song I can't find anything about, with the chorus line of: 'For you are a worker too' - I can see why that didn't survive beyond the 1930s!
What do curators do? It's a bit like asking what musical conductors do. If you are outside the specialism, you don't really know. But you can tell that it makes a difference.
Richard Thompson's curating of the 'Meltdown' South Bank festival has been much applauded. But the evening of political song was a flop. He didn't get that political song is something very different from social commentary, protest, satire. It's about mass movements, and needs to energise - it's about anthems.
Rude Britannia at the Tate Britain has a range of guest curators - lots of great material - but add it all together, and, sadly, you get less than the sum of its parts. The absurd, the erotic, the satirical ... ok, but what's the common thread?
If you want to enjoy it, do what I did - go with an eleven-year-old. His sense of wonder and delight that farting, bums, bad words and bawdiness can be celebrated in the hallowed walls of an art gallery was wonderful. His favourite? The slightly hidden away ante-room of sexual vulgarity. And above all that tin of beans from which a frankfurter kept popping out. Kenneth Williams (who was on a nearby video screen, his dialogue from Carry On Up the Khyber dubbed into Pashto profanities) would have approved.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!