CARDEW, CORNELIUS / PLM: Consciously
A collection of 27 songs by Cardew and/or People's Liberation Music - the agitprop band Cardew worked with between 1972-80. In support of strikes and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), at demonstrations, socials and in factories, combating racism, police brutality and imperialism, PLM, armed only with a quiver full of earnest, clunky and often rather ungainly songs, merged traditional melodies, workers' songs and pop clichés in pursuit of some sort of proletarian authenticity. Their sympathies were in the right place - and certainly they worked selflessly for the causes they espoused (mainly the chimera of 'the' revolution), but musically they seemed wilfully to betray their own culture and talents, while at the same time failing completely to understand the people or the cultural forms they so earnestly aped. The problem seemed to be that, at root, their work didn't grow out of their experience but was imposed upon it in the name of theory. In fact, the forms of folk, rock and pop seemed positively antithetical to them. Nevertheless, they soldiered on, as if wrapping themselves in wool might yet turn them into sheep. Particularly at the level of political and aesthetic failure, this music rewards attention: It ticks so many of the right boxes - so why doesn't it work? One obvious lack is any understanding of the role of the human voice in the forms they adopt; only Cardew, in a composition of his own, manages to find a voice that seems actually to inhabit the song he is singing. Cornelius, Keith Rowe and Hugh Shrapnel feature on many of these recordings, Dave Smith, Evan Parker and Pip Pyle make appearances, John Tilbury is credited as the co-composer of a proposed PLM single (never released) and, importantly, these are mostly recovered documents from the time, not recent reconstructions - though individual annotation is poor in what are otherwise very useful notes). A very British document.