Ultrasound should have been huge. Fronted by Andrew 'Tiny' Woods, they were an explosive art rock indie five-piece from the North of England who dared to combine glam, prog and punk and audaciously released a double album as their debut in 1999 before imploding at the turn of the millennium. Then, 12 years later, they surprised everyone by reforming and recording a second album, Play for Today, which opens with this "clarion call" for the rights of the poor.
Greasy, Unwashed Scum
Welfare State is a song of us and them. Ultrasound do not want to be a part of your Britain if you have never known what it is like to go without, if you believe that refugees are benefit scroungers, if you think that unemployed people are too lazy to work and you were brought up to think some people are innately dangerous or untrustworthy because of their race or sexuality. If the choice is between prejudice and poverty, they'll take poverty every time and you can stick your privilege up your country estate.
"We have no souls, we have no homes," boasts Tiny, "we are the greasy, unwashed scum, we are the paupers on the run, we've never done a day's work in our lives..."
Combating the Five “Giant Evils”
Not enough songs are written about The Welfare State. Britain is rightly envied the world over for it. This system of health care, free education, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, state pensions and more is a gift to the people from the people, to care for each and every individual from the cradle to the grave.
Established by Prime Minister Clement Attlee's Labour government immediately after the Second World War, the Welfare State was designed to wipe out five blights on post-war society: disease, want, squalor, ignorance and idleness. Liberal reformer Sir William Beveridge called them the five "giant evils". But by 2016, the National Health Service - a pillar of the welfare state - had come under threat from rising costs and insufficient staff. And thus it became a bargaining chip in the 2016 campaign to persuade the British public to leave the European Union.
We Crashed and Burned But We Returned
If anyone wonders today why Britain fought WWII, the Welfare State is the answer - it is the foundation of the nation’s egalitarianism. And five years before the EU referendum, a song inspired by the threat to the Welfare State was what brought Ultrasound back together after a decade of not even talking. The necessity of reforming the band, if only to continue the fight, is even spelled out in the autobiographical lyrics:
"We are the ones, the sons of mums, who worked their fingers in half, so everybody could starve, to make this possible, 'cause no one ever cared about us, And this song is the clarion call, and if it means we have to reform, we crashed and burned but we returned, to claim our stake from the day that we're born to the day that we die, we are safe in the arms of the Welfare State".
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About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.
4 March 2021
A high-speed combination of punk chorus and ska verse, Mustard Plug’s singalong Unite and Fight is just one of a sensational 28 tracks on the Ska Against Racism album compiled by Bad Time Records in 2020 to raise funds for non-profit organisations working to improve education, opportunity and justice for black people in the USA and beyond. With a barrelling momentum and a repudiation of violent action, this uplifting song is a call to arms for those of us committed to disarmament.
8 September 2020
Celebrating the determination of “one hundred thousand teenagers” to take over the streets of London to save their future from calamity, KIDSTRIKE! by novelist and singer songwriter JB Morrison – aka Jim Bob – is taken from the UK Top 40 album Pop Up Jim Bob released in August 2020 and inspired by the real life activism of countless young activists. But the song is run through with a rueful recognition of the singer’s own fading urge to save the world.
28 July 2020
Inspired in part by the fatal shooting in New York of a ten-year-old black boy by a white plain-clothes policeman, the audacious centrepiece of Stevie Wonder’s experimental 1973 album was a seven-and-a-half-minute meditation on the brutality of black America: Living for the City…