Dylan once wrote
You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
And you Dylan was usually right.
It doesn’t matter who is your master. Whether you are an employee or a freelancer, eventually someone pays you and with that money you pay someone else who serves you.
Today, May 1st is the International Workers’ Day, and we’re here to talk about that. Workers and middle class.
James Watt was the father of the modern steam engine, who revolutionized this progressed (for the 18th century) technology. The invention led to a huge industrial revolution. Aside for the amazing progress of humanity, this revolution brought the diversity of social and economic classes, a system we can’t get rid of ever since humanity started, but this revolution exaggerated.
In the early nineties, this blog’s hero Richard Thompson was already enjoying a successful career, over 30 years of respectful albums alone, with Fairport Convention or with Londa his ex-wife.
While Richard was playing in Fairport, Danny Thompson (no family relation) was playing in the twin new-folk band Pentangle (with another great hero of mine Bert Jansch).
Fairport were more into folk-rock, while Pentangle were more into the folk-jazz.
The two never collaborated in the 60’s folk revival days (aside for Nick Drake’s Time Has Told Me) but Danny started playing double bass with Richard in the early 90’s. So it only made sense that a couple of years later – they’ll make an album together.
In 1993, Richard heard about a coal mine in Grimethrope that was shut down. He wrote a song about it, one of his most beautiful songs, called Last Shift. It wasn’t the only coal mine to shut down, there were others and yet it was a symbol, and thousands of English workers became unemployed.
Richard and Danny Thompson – Last Shift
Put the business in the black
And they stabbed us in the back
With old school ties and little white lies
They left our town for scrap
Last Shift was the song that started this project called Industry – an album by Richard and Danny that draws the picture of the workers’ world.
Hard work, engine, coal, steam and sweat. Richard writes in the album liner notes that you can’t write about 300 years of industry in a three minute song, but you can get a sneak peak.
And indeed we got a glimpse. The songs deal with sad issues like loneliness and desperation of a one worker facing the changing world. This world replaces him with a machine that can do everything hundred times faster, causing the worker to lose his job and stay at home.
Richard’s songs, like always, are written in a simple and direct language. Of course there’s always the Thompson subtext that you need to discover, but you can enjoy the songs even if you don’t go diving into the deeper meanings. Danny’s pieces, however, are the real surprise, as we don’t know Danny the composer that much, not as much as we know how brilliant of a double bass player he is.
The five pieces Danny wrote combines various of musical elements that repeat themselves in various forms. It’s always a changing jazz style, sad, full of a longing feeling, like an obscure forgotten 1963 Beatnick movie soundtrack.
Richard’s songs move from the Big Chimney rock-n-roll, nostalgic contemplative folk like Drifting Through The Days and the usual jazzy sparks we all know and love.
Richard and Danny Thompson – Drifting Through The Days
So this album is very special. First because of its obvious concept that everyone, except for Warren Buffet can relate to. Each of us feels the powers and hierarchy in our workplace and society, when just a few go back to read Marx’s ideas and see he talked about it long ago.
But also the variety of music styles, that somehow blend together to produce a coherent musical statement by these Thompson twins (sorry, it had to appear somewhere in this post) – sad, but somehow not depressing and even spiced with the Richard Thompson dry humor.
The industrial revolution is long time gone. The workers are now working in cubicles and they all have iPads and they get their depression with an app of shooting birds or pigs or whatever the game inventor thought was funny.
The working class is still pale, tired, most of them don’t like their jobs, hate the boss, get the money, going to the supermarket, have sex. Routine like the machine’s routine in Chaplin’s movie. Most of them will raise their children to contine the system and won’t teach them to stop and think about choices, most of them won’t help the kids leave the mine.
And since it’s a repetitive system, Industry will be the perfect soundtrack of 300 years ago, but also today’s, and 300 years from now. In the end of the day, like Dylan, you really have to serve somebody.
Richard and Danny Thompson – Big Chimney
Happy May 1st.