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David Ferrard interview: ‘Singing for change and standing up against war’

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Folk singer David Ferrard spoke to Socialist Worker about making political folk music effective
Issue 2101
David Ferrard being arrested at an anti-Trident protest at Faslane
David Ferrard being arrested at an anti-Trident protest at Faslane

Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter David Ferrard’s first album Broken Sky is winning rave reviews from the music press.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper and BBC Scotland both named it as the album of the week when it was released in March.

Many of David’s songs deal with the issues arising from the “war on terror”, and he sees his music as part of the resurgence of political and protest songs over the last few years.

“There is a real appetite for protest songs at the moment,” David told Socialist Worker. “The Iraq war has disturbed people, and they are looking for material with a political and social nature.

“Although it never went away, there is a bit of a revival in political songwriting. I put together an album called Not In Our Name last year about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It included songs by Leon Rosselson, Roy Bailey, Amy Martin and David Rovics.

“The intention was to create a historical document from an anti-war perspective that reflects the artistic community’s engagement with the issues around the ‘war on terror’.

“I have also set up the Songs For Change website, which collects grassroots songs mostly to do with the war, but also other issues.

“The idea is to put them up so people can download them for free from the internet. It’s a very good resource for musicians and music lovers. Most of the people whose songs are on the website are not professional musicians, but people who are inspired by what’s happening in the world to produce songs.”

David’s sensitive and intelligent lyrics about war, love, asylum and other issues help him to connect with people on a number of levels.


“Nobody wants to be preached at,” said David, “So it’s often better to approach issues through a story, which I have done in the songs ‘Dmitri’s Pocket Radio’, about an asylum seeker in Britain, and ‘Hills of Virginia’, about an American who signs up for the US army and the Iraq war.

“Using these artistic devices can help you reach out to an audience.

“But with some audiences you have to be careful. You can be easily

pigeonholed as a political songwriter. Some people might think you’re too political and others not radical enough. So you’re treading a fine line.

“To be effective you have to appeal to people who are on different levels.”

Many of David’s songs have been inspired by his active involvement in the anti-war movement in Scotland, which in turn has meant that many people see his music as an authentic expression of the movement.

“The song ‘Visions of Our Youth’ came out of the anti-Trident nuclear weapons Long Walk for Peace march in Scotland, which I took part in,” said David. “I was inspired by the march to write this song.

“If you present a song as coming from an experience, as something you’re involved in, then audiences relate better to you even if they don’t agree with you.

“It helps prove you’re not just an armchair songwriter, and I do like to talk about the origins of the material and what inspired it, which is not always political.”

Folk was the ideal form of music for David to take up. “Folk music has a history of being an expression of the people’s voices,” said David. “It is deeply rooted in England, Scotland and the US.

“It was the music that most attracted me because of its ability to express social and political issues within the lyrics. It’s a music that can appeal across the spectrum.

“Folk music has a bit of a reputation for being for older people, but I feel that’s a little unfair. At festivals you find that a lot of younger people are drawn to the music.

“It’s not seen as being as rebellious as something like punk, but as a more sit down and listen to it form of music.”


David is now busy promoting the album and working on other projects.

“I’m now preparing for a show at the Edinburgh Festival with the singer Roy Bailey called Songs for Peace and Justice. It will be two generations of folk singers playing together that will explore the traditions of peace and protest music. That takes place at the Acoustic Music Centre from 13 to 17 August.

“I have also spent some time in the Woody Guthrie archive in the US reading his journals. He wrote about the social and class system when he was in Scotland in 1944 and I’m hoping to get that published.”


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