So, you’re a bunch of musicians. You’re getting a lot of stick from journalists and commentators of quality (Simon Price, for example). They’ve spotted that you’re the sons of the ruling class, that you were laden with privilege from birth, and that you’re part of a network of remarkably similar musicians, of remarkably similar backgrounds, who are dominating popular culture. Now, no one has to be all about where they’re from. Marx, Engels, Paul Foot, Tony Benn…even GDH Cole went to the same school as Noah and the Whale, a couple of Mumfords, and George Osborne. It’s not where you’re from. Its where you’re at. But if you’re Mumford & Sons the onus has got to be on you to demonstrate which side you’re on. Surely, at a bare minimum, you must be aware that most of the people buying your bland, meaningless, self-indulgent, therapeutic records share neither your background nor your indifference to economic affairs. OK, you watch them on the telly playing the festivals and the front ten rows are populated by punters who look like 2014’s fresher intake at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. But they’re shifting a lot of units, those boys, and they surely feel some responsibility towards the people at the sharp end of austerity Britain who might mistakenly believe that these Mumfords offer a diversion from the crisis. They’re out there meeting people. Are they learning nothing?
‘Cos tonight (14/3/12), comrades, Mumford & Sons are playing the White House. Playing air-banjo out in that audience will be David Cameron, William Hague and George Osborne, proud to see the best of safe, white, ruling class British music on that Washington stage, comfortable that the Brit musicians on the stage will be people they’re easy in the company of, people whose dads are probably friends of theirs. Mumford & Sons playing the White House is the embodiment of the cultural logic of this Tory-led administration, and of British capitalism in general. Musicians are no longer the minstrels the ruling class hire for the occasion. These days they recruit their own. It’s safer that way. They’re part of the racket.
Now you can still choose not to be part of it. These Mumfords fancy themselves as being of the folk tradition. That which brought us Woody Guthrie, say, or Joe Hill. The folk tradition has a long, proud history of facing down power. Is that relevant today? Fucking right it’s relevant today. Just check out Grace Petrie or Steve White and the Protest Family. That’s proper folk music. Mumford & Sons are offered choices. Let’s face it, they’re offered far more choices than most musicians. And they consistently – really consistently – take the wrong ones. In the war of position they had a side chosen for them by upbringing. But they can still choose to change sides. Plenty have. Plenty do. Mumford & Sons don’t.
So tonight they play the White House. While, in July, Grace Petrie, Steve White & The Protest Family and Thee Faction will all be lining up at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. You see the difference? You see why Mumford represent everything that’s wrong?
Does it matter? A bit. But not much. Remember, when you’re looking to change the world, don’t call on rock’n’roll. Call on GDH Cole.