Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Fun: "English Civil War", c.1979

This may be the first time the words punk and puritan have ever shared the same blog-space.

Even though it's thirty years old, punk rock continues to exert a strong influence on pop culture today (cf. Goth culture, Green Day and David Beckham's hair). The Clash was one of the first groups to introduce this dynamic and sometimes jarring style of music to the world.

But their message was not one of nihilistic hedonism, like that of some other groups. The Clash were thoroughly political. Frankly, I don't agree with many of their leftist lyrics, but I do commend them for advocating something other than than illicit sex and drug use.

Take this song, entitled "English Civil War". It's about the threat of a second Puritan Revolution, which they felt was real in the late '70s. (Speaking of unexpected attacks, our hats are off to all Allied veterans this Pearl Harbor Day.) As Wikipedia, that quasi-reliable information resource, explains:
The song is derived from an American Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", written by Irish-born Massachusetts Unionist Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, which is in turn derived from the Irish anti-war song Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. The American Civil War song was popular with both sides of the conflict.

Having learnt the song at school, Joe Strummer [R.I.P.] suggested the band update it. Those on the left saw the rise during the mid-1970s of far right groups such as the British National Front as alarming and dangerous omens for Britain's future. The song is about this state of politics in Britain and warns against all things uniformed and sinister - shortly after the song was first performed live at Rock Against Racism Joe Strummer said in an interview to the music newspaper Record Mirror:
"War is just around the corner. Johnny hasn't got far to march. That's why he is coming by bus or underground" (as in the song's lyrics).

Complete lyrics:

When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
He's coming by bus or underground, hurrah
The woman's eye will shed a tear
To see his face so beaten in fear
It was just around the corner in the English Civil War

It was still at the stage of clubs and fists, hurrah
When that well known face got beaten to bits, hurrah
Your face was blue in the light of the screen
As we watched the speech of an animal scream
The New Party Army is marching right over our heads

All right

There you are ha ha, I told you so, hurrah
Says everybody that we know, hurrah
But who hid a radio under the stairs?
Who got caught out on their unawares?
New Party Army is marching right up the stairs

Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah
Nobody understands how it happened again, hurrah
The sun is shining and the kids are shouting loud
You gotta know it's shining through a crack in the cloud
The shadows keep on falling when Johnny comes marching home

All right Johnny
OK Johnny
All the girls go whoah oh oh oh
Whoah oh
Get his coffin ready
Cause Johnny's coming home

A trivia question: Of what actual military corps is the term New Party Army reminiscent? Leave a comment if you know the answer.


Bridges said...

Am I allowed to answer?

Oliver Cromwell

Chris Ross said...

Hey, it's a punk post ... just follow your own instincts. Who am I to stifle you, man? That would make me a fascist.

Bridges said...


The New Model Army.

Power to the People,

Oliver Cromwell
Lord Protector of Punk

Mike said...

Punk and Puritans. I love it. Believe it or not, there are a few of us out there who wear Doc Martins with a black Genevan gown in the pulpit!

On another Puritan musical note, I have never been much of a Led Zep fan, but you have to admit there is some uncanny resemblance between England's greatest theologian and (arguably) England's greatest guitarist:

Hieronimo said...

It depends, of course, on how one interprets the English Civil War(s). From a Scottish or English (or American) perspective... from a 1630s or 1680s (or 2008) perspective...

If you think of the English Civil War as a battle between a small group of religious extremists and a small group of authoritarian/monarchical extremists, with the vast majority of people caught in the middle of a war not of their own making and that they didn't ask for, well... Joe might have gotten it more right than he knew.

Ian said...

Thanks for this. Nice to be re-affirmed that one can be into the Puritans and punk.
The Clash were amazing.


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