Music Notes – February 2012

Three songs for Bradley Manning

 Several well-known songwriters have rallied to the cause of U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old soldier facing court-martial for releasing 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, including videos of heinous war crimes commited by U.S. troops. Outstanding activist songwriter David Rovics released “Song for Bradley Manning” early last year. The broadside ballad effectively describes the soldier’s courageous response to learning that he possessed evidence about war crimes, and it explains the motives of the powerful forces persecuting him. Last December Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Graham Nash released “Almost Gone: The Ballad of Bradley Manning.” Timed to raise awareness of his December 17th pre-trial hearing, the seventies-style rock song’s title alludes to Manning’ precarious mental state as he suffered under a long solitary confinement. The youngest of these songwriters is Cass McCombs, 34, whose poignant song “Bradley Manning” explores another dimension of the case: that Manning was bullied for being gay. These songs can all be found on YouTube.  For more info visit

 PJ Harvey’s anti-war album

 English singer-songwriter and composer PJ Harvey, 42, is receiving accolades for her 2011 anti-war album “Let England Shake.” In this powerful and bitter work Harvey draws largely upon the human experience of the horrors of war (most notably on several songs relating to the disastrous British campaign at Gallipoli in World War I), and she links those images to an equally bleak portrait of her “glorious” homeland. Without overtly mentioning England’s most recent imperial wars, or the ruthless austerity being imposed upon its working class, or the resurgence of popular protest, Harvey has nevertheless created a disturbingly contemporary album. While her unflinching take on militarism and nationalism is sober her music is brilliantly evocative and often strangely uplifting. In the ephemeral world of pop music where PJ Harvey works “Let England Shake” appears to be that rare thing: an album that people will return to again and again. Visit YouTube to see some of the videos Harvey made for this album with filmmaker Seamus Murphy.

 Woody Guthrie centennial update

 The International Folk Alliance is planning a special Woody Guthrie centennial celebration at its conference in Memphis February 22-26. So far 23 Canadian musical acts have been invited to perform at the annual North American folk music gathering. Canadian participants include Annabel Chvostek, Rose Cousins, Dave Gunning and The Sojourners.  They’ll be joining 200 other acts and 2000 registered conference attendees. Meanwhile Oklahoma, the home state of Woody Guthrie, has finally got around to recognizing its great folksinger, despite opposition in some quarters to his communist sympathies. The Woody Guthrie Archives will soon be permanently housed in an exhibition and study centre in Tulsa, where a March 10th “Midwest Gala Tribute” featuring Woody’s son Arlo, will be followed by a Woody Guthrie conference. Other major centennial tribute concerts are planned for Los Angeles (April 14), Brooklyn (September 22) and Washington, DC (October 14). For info on these events visit and

 Raffi calls for muting Don Cherry

 Reknowned children’s singer and long-time hockey fan Raffi Cavoukian has started a Twitter campaign to mute Don Cherry’s “Coach’s Corner” segments on “Hockey Night in Canada.” Raffi is anti-fighting and anti-violence. Cherry, of course, is an unabashed promoter of violence in the sport, seeing himself as a defender of the so-called manly virtues. Raffi has more than 3800 Twitter followers, and many times that number will have picked up the story from the mass media. The singer calls upon parents to set a good example for their kids. Describing Cherry’s style as “loud, dismissive, bordering on boorish,” Raffi  says he’s looking forward to the post-fight era of the sport when”we’d all enjoy hockey more because there would be so many good plays.” A Toronto Star poll held shortly after Raffi’s statement declared that 64% of respondents supported Raffi while only 27% supported Cherry. Follow Raffi at While you’re at it check out “Hockey Fans for Peace” on Facebook.

 Tribute concert for Cornelius Cardew

 The 75th birthday of British composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was observed December 17th with a London concert that featured pianist Chisato Kusinoki’s interpretation of Cardew’s “Thälmann Variations” (dedicated to German communist leader Ernst Thälmann). Cardew first made his mark as a disciple of then-controversial German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Later he founded The Scratch Orchestra, an inclusive group that used innovative methods of musical notation and saw itself as much a social forum as a musical ensemble. In the decade before his untimely death in 1981 (he was killed by a hit-and-run driver) Cardew became a Maoist-oriented communist and developed a tonally-based music that included revolutionary songs as well as instrumental works. Cardew wrote often about the meaning of his music, and this too remains an important part of his legacy. For more info visit

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