From the city of Bristol’s vibrant music scene comes an unequivocal call for revolution from a guitar rock trio steeped in rage: “We don’t have to accept what our democracy’s become,” shouts frontman and bassist Joe Spurrell of Second Hand Arms Dealer. “Let’s Revolt now, before we’re smouldering ashes / The 1% cannot stand up to the masses”.
Rage Against the Machine’s influence pervades this angry alarm call for the sleepy West Country and beyond to snap out of its “Stockholm Syndrome”, bemused by “media propaganda which comes from the top”. Political Puppets is a song that blames the world’s woes on a tiny minority, but it’s also a song with hope for the future, urging listeners to join the revolution: “We can fight this war, but we need your voice”.
The world has always been run by a tiny minority and a lot of the time that makes us feel helpless or resigned rather than angry – so, was there one particular thing that pushed Sam Schofield (drums) Jordan Shortman (guitar) and Joe Spurrell over the edge?
“The song is mainly derived from a chapter in a book called Sapiens,” Joe explains. “There is a discussion about capitalism and democracy and how the two don’t work together. Soon the successful own more and more. I’m sure we can agree money=power. Then the real problem starts when companies get so large the government relies on them. This also has the effect of rising inequality which I agree is profound.”
“I think most people believe there is corruption in government and the wealthy elite but shrug it off and don’t deal with it,” continues Joe. “This is the thing that pushed me over the edge around the time of the last general election. The first line of every verse starts with ‘punch drunk’ and that is how most people feel about politics; we’ve been thrown so much shit at we now are just numb to it. It all feels so detached.”
The band’s name is inspired in part by Britain’s shockingly lucrative arms industry. Although a long way behind the world’s biggest trader in arms, The United States of America, Britain is the world’s second-largest arms dealer. Since the Cold War, many of those weapons are second-hand, acquired from former Soviet states. And yet no one is really talking about the fact that Britain has sold arms to two-thirds of the countries on the government’s own human rights watch list. It’s an inconvenient truth.
According to research funded by the Swedish Government, a modest estimate of the total value of the global arms trade in 2015 was $91.3 billion. To put the figure into perspective, that’s more than double the worldwide movie box office takings for the same year and six times the $15 billion global value of the music industry in 2015. It’s a shameful statistic to know that the economies of Britain and America benefit directly and handsomely from selling weapons that make it possible for governments to oppress millions.
There’s not exactly a date set for the Second Hand Arms Dealer revolution, however. In fact, Joe sums up by saying that his real hope is for “more honest discussion and less political point scoring”.
“I really enjoy writing songs that are about the times,” he says, “Trying to encapsulate the feelings of thousands of people into poem and with three musical instruments is impossible but you can get close. A snap shot of society. And I reckon that’s the direction rock music needs to take: angry observations. It may be because of the money making machines, but it seems rock has been watered down. It’s time that changed. There’s a Radiohead line – ‘bring down the government / they don’t speak for us’ – and that was 20 years ago, but still rings true.”