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Some slackers have reached the starry heights of buskerdom, on the latest roving Artangel project – Did you kiss the foot that kicked you?  A tribute to Ewan MacColl (small c big C) and to mark the opening of M15 files on him last year.  This was also part of the Ecstatic Mourning project (songs of sorrow and joy for the climatically changing world – more info here ).

 

Did you kiss the foot that kicked you?

“Give me the making of the songs of the nation, and I care not who makes its laws”.
Andrew Fletcher, 1703

“Music is doing something to everyone who hears it all the time”.
Arnold Perris, Music as Propaganda, 1984

Ewan MacColl wrote Ballad of Accounting in 1964.The lyrics follow a simple structure, considered to be unique among his three hundred compositions. The song offers criticism as self-reflection, repeatedly posing provocative and direct questions:

Did you stand aside and let them choose while you took second best?
Did you let them skim the cream off and then give to you the rest?

Government records released in 2006 through The National Archive show that from 1932, security service MI5 held a file on MacColl. One report claims that he was ‘a communist with very extreme views’ who needed ‘special attention’. The file also states, as a cause for concern, that MacColl had ‘exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser’.

Ruth Ewan’s Did you kiss the foot that kicked you? involves the co-ordination of over one hundred buskers around London. Performing both under and above ground, the buskers incorporate Ballad of Accounting into their usual repertoire. Their individual acts share a collective purpose. The week-long series of performances slips quietly into the rush-hour routine, as the scattered recitals filter into the subconscious of those passing by.

Busking is about something other than just being an able musician or a street entertainer; it is a raw performance, an autonomous act.

Legislation has almost eradicated busking; by-laws and policing keep all but the hardiest musicians from the streets, while others pursue bureaucratic routes into designated areas. The recent introduction of music licensing has restrained the natural spontaneity of performances across a range of live venues.

The entirety of Did you kiss the foot that kicked you? cannot be experienced by any one person. We may or may not be aware of the song’s fleeting presence in the city: a bold brass section as we cross the Thames or a quiet voice accompanied by a guitar as we turn off the main street.

Ballad of Accounting
(Words/Music: Ewan MacColl)

In the morning we built the city
In the afternoon walked through its streets
Evening saw us leaving
We wandered through our days as if they would never end
All of us imagined we had endless time to spend
We hardly saw the crossroads
And small attention gave
To landmarks on the journey from the cradle to the grave,
cradle to the grave, cradle to the grave
Did you learn to dream in the morning?
Abandon dreams in the afternoon?
Wait without hope in the evening?
Did you stand there in the traces and let them feed you lies?
Did you trail along behind them wearing blinkers on your eyes?
Did you kiss the foot that kicked you?
Did you thank them for their scorn?
Did you ask for their forgiveness for the act of being born,
act of being born, act of being born?
Did you alter the face of the city?
Did you make any change in the world you found?
Or did you observe all the warnings?
Did you read the trespass notices, did you keep off the grass?
Did you shuffle off the pavement just to let your betters pass?
Did you learn to keep your mouth shut,
Were you seen and never heard?
Did you learn to be obedient and jump to at a word,
jump to at a word, jump to at a word?
Did you ever demand any answers?
The who, the what or the reason why?
Did you ever question the setup?
Did you stand aside and let them choose while you took second best?
Did you let them skim the cream off and then give to you the rest?
Did you settle for the shoddy?
Did you think it right
To let them rob you right and left and never make a fight,
never make a fight, never make a fight?
What did you learn in the morning?
How much did you know in the afternoon?
Were you content in the evening?
Did they teach you how to question when you were at the school?
Did the factory help you grow, were you the maker or the tool?
Did the place where you were living
Enrich your life and then
Did you reach some understanding of all your fellow men,
all your fellow men, all your fellow men?
 

(WOW! This gets me in the gut, just like Listen Little Man by Wilhelm Reich. It was great singing it. I sang on the Soho Square pitch, the park closed early so we wandered around soho singing, outside a church, up the road by the Astoria, onto Charing X road, into Starbucks, up Old Compton Street, then a short spell outside a sex shop on the same.  Rounded off with Vegan food in Govinda’s. Life doesn’t get much better than this!).

More info on www.balladofaccounting.org