Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Saturday, 8 August 2009 09:58 UK

Musicians fight to keep politics out of folk

A BNP member wearing a union jack tie and a BNP rosette

The British National Party is using English Folk songs on its website but the musicians are not happy with the association. Paul Moss, from The World Tonight, reports on a scheme to keep such politics out of folk.

The first Steve Knightley knew about it was when one of his fans sent an e-mail to tell him what had happened.

"It's a betrayal of your invention," he says, "you feel violated."

What prompted this reaction was Steve's discovery that one of his songs was being used on the British National Party (BNP) website.

"Roots" is about his love of English traditions and English culture. But he insists he has no sympathy with the BNP.

Steve Knightley
Steve Knightley has no control over who sells his CDs

"We try to make music that's inclusive. And when organisations like the BNP come along and say 'this music is ours, this isn't for black people or Jewish people or whatever' - that's a betrayal of what you've been working for."

Steve Knightley is not alone. Guitarist and singer Jon Boden recorded several tracks for a folk album he was told would be sold through gift shops. But he then found it was on sale through the BNP, helping to raise money for the party.

"The CD was titled 'a place called England'," he says. "But suddenly when you see it on the BNP's website, it takes on a darker significance that you never imagined."

'Powerful tool'

The problem faced by Steve Knightley, Jon Boden and all the others is that they have no control over who sells their CDs.

And they have only a limited say over how and when their recordings are played. So they have now resorted to a new approach to manage the way their folk music is used.

At the Sidmouth Folk Festival last week, a new organisation was launched "Folk Against Fascism."

It is a slogan they will try to persuade musicians to put on their CDs. Founder Joan Crump hopes this will make it awkward for what they describe as far-right parties to sell the music or to use it for promoting their causes.

John Walker
Whether the musicians like the BNP is irrelevant
John Walker, BNP

"Music has been a very powerful political tool, usually for the left," she says. "What concerns me is that the BNP could do the same thing from a far-right perspective."

In fact, according to the anti-racist campaign group, Searchlight, the BNP is very much on the look out for a "political soundtrack".
Its predecessor, the National Front, was supported by a clutch of heavy rock bands like Skrewdriver, with albums like "Blood and Honour" and songs like "White Power."

But these are no longer appropriate, says Searchlight spokesman Matthew Collins.

"The modern BNP no longer has angry white teenagers in big boots. They have people between 35 and 55 years of age. So folk music with its ideas of land, tradition - the BNP are trying to get involved in that."

'Vision of England'

The BNP's affection for folk is embodied in its leader, Nick Griffin. Griffin claims to be a life-long folk music fan and hopes to present his own folk music programme when the BNP launches an internet radio station.

If you love English folk music, it belongs to you. You don't have to have been born in England
Joan Crump, Folk Against Fascism

And the party's spokesman, John Walker, insists they do not have any obligation to ask permission from the musicians whose recordings they play.

"We use a product to raise funds for our party," he says. "Whether the musicians like the BNP is irrelevant."

He also threatens folk musicians that if they speak out against this, the BNP will react by playing even more of their music.

"There's absolutely nothing they can do about it," he added.

But Folk against Fascism are determined to prove him wrong.

"What we are trying to say is yes, we love Englishness," says Joan Crump. "But our vision of England is an open and inclusive one, as opposed to the BNP's white's only Englishness.

"If you love English folk music, it belongs to you. You don't have to have been born in England."

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