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Peace Songs
The Movment For Peace.


Giving Peace A Chance By Richard Purden

The concept of peace songs often conjures up images from the flower power movement of the late 60s, John and Yoko’s bed-in or spaced out hippies at Woodstock. A new survey carried out by Scottish peace organisation Roots2thefuture, Spirit Aid and BBC Radio Scotland has yielded some fascinating results. Between them they have compiled a Top Fifty Peace Songs which includes a dazzling array of artists, updating the whole idea of what the peace song represents. They discovered the nation’s favourites with some help from the world of the arts and media. For the last three weeks The Janis Forsyth Show has been playing the top three selections by guests and various artists from Primal Scream to The Proclaimers, what followed was a hugely successful public response via email and telephone calls to the show.

The initiative was the brainchild of Phil Ferns, director of Roots2thefuture. The organisation is involved with various music and arts community projects in Scotland, including The Matt McGinn Awards, which works as a vehicle to bring new Scottish talent to the fore. Ferns has spent the last month organising a benefit concert for Spirit Aid at Glasgow’s Universal, while rooting out celebrity voters for the peace top 50. He said. “David Hayman asked us to organise a fundraiser for Spirit Aid. The biggest problem we face is charity fatigue from the artists, so asking them to contribute their top three peace songs was a way to grab people’s attention. The Janis Forsyth Show has been playing various people’s choices from Primal Scream to Michelle Mone. It’s encouraged the public to call in with their favourites and from the response we compiled a very eclectic top 50”.

David Hayman, the actor currently on our screens in Trial and Retribution, spends ten months of the year as head of operations for Spirit Aid. The Festival this year also saw the actor organising a comedy night, an anti sectarian football match and a debating evening involving the likes of Elaine C. Smith, Neil Lennon and Peter Mullan correspondingly. Already he has successfully arranged aid trips to Afghanistan (where he returns in November) and has been helping to integrate and provide for refugee and underprivileged children in Scotland. Hayman is delighted to see people getting involved from all walks of Scottish life. He said. “The combination of music and lyrics is very powerful; Phil’s idea of getting various celebrities and doing the peace songs was wonderful. Janis Forsyth had the biggest response to her programme ever, in terms of phone calls and emails from the public, so it’s obviously working. Since 9/11 and the war in Iraq, it’s a much more fearful world and anything is possible. We all want peace and we all just want a quiet life. It seems the ordinary people of the world are standing up and saying “No!” The peace protest against the war in Iraq was the biggest in the history of the human race. Hopefully we can be a small part of that change with projects like this”.

Nick Lowe the producer on Radio Scotland’s Janis Forsyth show was pleasantly surprised that it was a home-grown songwriter that came out on top. “We have been overwhelmed at the reaction and the support for Scottish song-writing in general, they have also come up with some real gems that we were unaware of such as The Kinks Some Mother’s Son but I’m pleased to announce that Eric Bogle has been recognised as Scotland’s number 1 song smith with the track And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Bogle, who immigrated to Australia in 1969, made a return to his hometown of Peebles recently, playing a triumphant homecoming gig in the high school where he was expelled from as a teenager, he also played three sell out shows at the Edinburgh Festival. Currently on an extensive UK tour Bogle was “chuffed” at being voted Scotland’s number 1 peace song. “It’s great and very humbling-in my genre you don’t get huge financial rewards but it means the song has reached a lot of people, I wish I could retire on it. I wrote the song in 1971, the fact that it’s still relevant is disappointing”. The piece was written as a tribute to the 50,000 Austrian soldiers who died in the Great War in Gallapoli. It was also aimed at Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. “I got the idea while I was on an Anzac day remembrance parade, there was a band playing the actual tune of Waltzing Matilda. It was a statement about Australia blankly following Americans in Vietnam but I was on a bit of a cleft stick because the veterans of Gallipoli were men I always admired, I knew and had read a lot about them. The wars are never the fault of the ordinary soldier, they just do what they are told and get killed in their millions for doing so. I wanted the song to be anti war but also a tribute to the courage of the Anzacs. I wanted the song to work on two levels which is greedy. It’s hard enough getting a song to work on one level. I hope I succeeded, when people listen to the song I hope they see it’s a sad personal anti war statement about a poor unfortunate squady. I think people accept the song on the two levels I sing it at”.

The full list itself makes for fascinating reading, with Scottish entries making up over a tenth of the poll. They display a varied wealth of song writing from Donovan’s Universal Soldier at number 2 to roaring anthems of the 80s by Big Country and Simple Minds, further down the list. Of course all the obvious ones are in there such as Give Peace A Chance (which one of Forsyth’s listeners described as a mere nursery rhyme) and Imagine along with Motown classics War and What’s Going On. The 50 songs neatly document most wars, social upheavals and points of conflict in the 20th century. Two World Wars, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the threat of a nuclear Armageddon , the plight of the native American Indians, black segregation in America, The Spanish Civil War, The Falklands and Vietnam are all present among the songs complied on the list.

The line between a peace or anti war song and a stance against an obvious iniquity could explain certain omissions such as Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong or Vera Lynn’s White Cliff Of Dover. Technically both songs involve a protagonist standing up to an obvious evil, respectively apartheid and fascism, so therefore they are technically not peace songs. What the top 50 list does reflect is a mindset influenced by recent world events. There is a flourish of songs from the new century by a clutch of politically active British rock bands such as Travis, Coldplay and Blur along with traditionally good time American band the Beastie Boys reflecting on a war hungry post September 11th world . There’s even a change expressed in the more commercial pop world with the current UK number 1 by Black Eyed Peas, Where Is The Love?(43), Madonna’s number 2 hit American Life(30) and the controversial b-side to Robbie William’s recent single Come Undone, Happy Easter (War Is Coming) at number 24. With the ending of The Cold War at the end of the 80s, the 1990s don’t throw up as many songs as you would expect, the only high entry being If You Tolerate This by the Manic Street Preachers at number 12, perhaps one of the most political bands of the era.

Phil Ferns, Janis Forsyth and David Hayman managed to include a number of well-known voters who each contributed a varied top three selection. While not all of them could perform at the concert, they want did want to be involved at some level. The selections of Shane MacGowan, Primal Scream and The Proclaimers are revealed alongside the top ten. Various John Lennon songs were popular among the celebrities, community figures and the public alike, but there was also a various assortment of genres and unlikely tracks being unearned by the likes of Ian McCulloch, who picked the Dad’s Army theme-Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Hitler. Glasgow pop songwriter John McLaughlin, the man behind the hits for Westlife picked Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire and Bobby Bluebell opted for Bring The Boys Back Home by Freda Payne. Choices by Jim Kerr, Horse and Gary Lewis can be found on the Spirit Aid website.

The Top Ten Peace Songs along with various nominations

1. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda - Eric Bogle (Voted for by Shane MacGowan)
2. Universal Soldier-Donovan (Voted for by The Proclaimers)
3. Shipbuilding-Robert Wyatt (Voted for by Phil Ferns, roots2thefuture)
4. Give Peace A Chance-John Lennon (Voted for by David Hayman and Janis Forsyth)
5. No Man’s Land/Green Fields Of France Eric Bogle/The Furies (Voted for by Jim Devine, Unison)
6. Imagine-John Lennon/Eva Cassidy (Voted for by Ian McCulloch, Echo And The Bunnymen and Liz Cameron Lord Provost Glasgow))
7. War-Edwin Starr (Voted for by Mani, Primal Scream)
8. Chimes Of Freedom-Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen (Voted for by John McLaughlin)
9. What’s Going On-Marvin Gaye
10. Oliver’s Army-Elvis Costello (Voted for by Michelle Mone)

Top 10 courtesy of roots2thefuture

To see the full top 50 << click here>>
to see how the various celebrities and public figures voted <<click here>>


Related Links

Spirit Aid go to


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