“It doesn’t take much to piss off a Wood Burning Savage” – Tolpuddle stars talk punk and politics

Wood Burning Savages on stage at Concorde 2 in Brighton, Feb 28 2019 © Tim Lezard

Critics frequently complain there’s no politics in music any more; they should listen to the Wood Burning Savages.

The Derry rebel-rousers, currently on tour with Xtra Mile label-mates Skinny Lister, are looking forward to playing at this summer’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.

“It’s a festival that a friend of mine, Paddy Nash, has always told me about,” says frontman Paul Connolly. “I’m proud to be heading over with the album we have and the set we have because I think it’ll raise a lot of spirits in difficult times.”

It’ll raise a lot of eyebrows too, I reckon, with their raucous punk rock guitars and riotous live show opening the main stage on Sunday, booming across the Dorset countryside, stirring a few hangovers.

But if the band’s music is a slight departure for the festival, their politics hit the right chord, with powerful songs about the devastating effects of austerity.

For example, single I Don’t Know Why I Do It To Myself addresses suicide rates in Derry, beginning with the line “Queuing in the rain for the dole again, I hold up my hands, I hold up the begging bowl”.

It’s hard-hitting and as Paul explains, pulls no punches. “We’re in the situation now of engineered poverty. Universal Credit’s been a compete balls-up, homelessness is on the rise in smaller and smaller towns and villages, and that’s depressing.

“We’re very quick as countries to say how modern we are, but there are people living with nothing, just the clothes on their back. Foodbanks, food poverty is a big thing. A couple of us in the band work in education and we’ve seen firsthand the effects of kids coming in on a day-to-day basis who haven’t eaten breakfast. And that’s not their parent’s fault. That’s our government’s fault.

“The thing that annoys me most, coming from where I’m from, is we haven’t had a government in two years, so the government gets bugger all done when they’re sitting down together because they’ll always find something to be tribal about.

“Green v Orange politics, for want of a better term, really pisses us off; that parochialism that brings us back to the Handmaids’ Tail way of life that a lot of people in the wider UK and even in the Republic of Ireland just aren’t aware of because it’s this cloistered, annexed place, politically-speaking. 

“But it’s becoming a more and more diverse place, so racism is also a big issue.”

He pauses.

“It’s not hard to piss off a Wood Burning Savage.”

We should be glad Paul ignored the advice of Tolpuddle regular Billy Bragg, who sings in Waiting For The Great Leap Forward “Mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is, I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses”.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to sing about politics,” Paul says. “Coming from Northern Ireland, it’s either be political or languish away in a bar somewhere and say nothing and play to nobody and have shit songs that in ten years time we’d be deeply embarrassed by.

“If we have our finger on the pulse and believe what we’re singing about right now, it’s like a time capsule of what we’re doing and what everybody’s going through. There’s no half measures and no songs about chocolate and girls, as the Undertones famously said. 

“It’s tricky to find an audience, sometimes, who are willing to listen to that but as we go on we’re tapping into audiences across the UK and Europe who are more socially aware and want to change things and realise that music can actually change things.”


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