‘Roots’ by Show of Hands. Of course the BNP love it..

Hello again..

Steve Knightley, one half of retro-folk duo, Show of Hands, recently had to resort to legal action to prevent his song ‘Roots’ from being used as a running soundtrack on the British National Party’s website.  I am only surprised that Mr Knightley should himself be surprised that the BNP believed the lyric – a hokey paean to supposedly lost English cultural identity – somehow represented their own views, since it exemplifies the kind of grievance, the sentimentality, the nationalism, self-pity and imaginary persecution that have been articulated by fascists through history, from the Third Reich to apartheid South Africa.

However, Emma Hartley (a regular ‘Polly Filler’ for the right-wing Telegraph) blogged on the controversy thus:

‘It’s a terrific song, political to its core, about loss of identity, insidious American cultural imperialism, liberal embarrassment about Englishness and the resulting loss of musical (and other) traditions. Earlier this week there was a reminder in the news pages, if it were needed, that these concerns will not soon be banished. As with all art, though, what you take from it is a personal matter. ‘

I will come to the song’s terrific-ness presently.  But first, if Roots ‘is political to it’s core’ then how can ‘what you take from it’ be ‘a personal matter’?  I suppose that just might be the case where a polemical sentiment is vaguely expressed, and in generalised abstractions (Think: Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ whose blood-stirring appeal has, in its time, seen it claimed both by socialists and flag-waving nationalists. )  But there seems to me little in the way of ambiguity in the Roots lyric: it bemoans the passing  of a certain, romanticised brand of English cultural identity – implictly caused by an influx of malign foreign influences.  While not racist in intent, the song’s appeal to racists is predictable; prevented by ‘incitement’ legislation from campaigning against non-Aryan minorities, the BNP nowadays resort to doing it by proxy: attacking, instead, ethnically non-‘British’ culture, religion, values etc.

And there is, perhaps, a dangerously fine line between cultural and racial purism.  

Either way, the song’s lyric is, for me, the most ridiculous pile of twaddle yet to emerge from that ‘Anglo-archaic-sentimentalist’ school of folk writing (whose practitioners, mysteriously,  have no problem with performing on non-English, non-traditional and electric instruments).  I will concede, however, the Roots does have a strong tune and powerful singalong chorus that gets afficionados wetting themselves with delight at folk festivals.  But the lyrics? – oh dear…


Now it’s been 25 years or more
I’ve roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen

[I think Knightley is merely saying here that he has toured the country as a working musican – but lovers of Anglo-archaic-sentimentalism demand something a little more affected. Thus, we get:  ‘From peak to fen’, my arse…]

Played in cafes, pubs and bars
I’ve stood in the street with my old guitar
But I’d be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request

For ‘Duelling Banjos’, ‘American Pie’
It’s enough to make you cry
‘Rule Britannia’, or ‘Swing low…’
Are they the only songs we English know?

[Most English people actually know and even sing hundreds of true folk songs: nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, rugby songs, football chants, cockney music hall ditties etc…  songs genuinely handed on through oral tradition – but not the kind of long-forgotten museum pieces and obscurities that career-oriented folkies flog on CDs from websites.  Not that there is anything wrong with their traditional output, per se ; rather, it is Knightley’s wingeing that the ‘English’ (whoever they may be) ought to adhere to their own cultural roots in preference to foreign, imported material that is so bloody tiresome]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They’re never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots

[What the hell is  the above  slice of banal fifth-form-poetry attempting to say, here?]

After the speeches, when the cake’s been cut
The disco’s over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing ’til the morning breaks

[How about ‘Knees up Mother Brown’ or ‘There were four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness..’?]

When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It’s in their blood, below their belt
They’re playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we’ve got wrong?

 [Does the ‘we’ here, include British Indians and Asians?  If not, who does Knightley refer to by ‘we’ – Anglo-Saxons?  And the reference to ‘Afro-Celts’ is plain baffling, since the expression can only refer to this gang: http://www.realworldrecords.com/artists/afro-celt-sound-system, a talented and interesting, experimental world-music collective.  Perhaps what the Afro-Celts ‘got right that we’ve got wrong’, is, in fact, a broad-minded eclecticism that – get this many treacherous Anglo music fans seem to be quite keen on. 

And, hmm, given the subsequent BNP saga, that ‘in their blood’ line was perhaps ill-conceived?]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They’re never gonna grow without their roots

[Oh, stop it…!]

Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots and

[Now here comes the BIG CHORUS.  More hokey Anglo-romanticism with an ill-fitting and preposterous, seafaring flavour:]

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
‘Round the rocky shores of England
We need roots

[The only things I can think of that have been lost ’round the rocky shores of England’ are wrecking-gangs, lighthouses, cod stocks, bathing machines and fishing fleets.  But if the lyric is veridical, I guess we’ll never know what else has gone, unless Mr Knightley cares to tell us.  Or perhaps, as claimed, he won’t ever know either.]

 And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells

[This is a reference to Kim Howells, MP, who in 2001 said his ‘idea of hell was three folk singers in a pub in Somerset’.  Fair enough –  not everyone likes folk music. So what?]

Well, I’ve got a vision of urban sprawl
There’s pubs where no-one ever sings at all

[Oh get over it, you great bleating pranny!  Anyway, the singing of traditional songs in pubs, has, in my lifetime, always been much more of an Irish than English phenomenon.  The English just sing on the way home.  But if anything, there are more opportunities nowadays than at one time, with dozens of alehouses up here on Merseyside – urban sprawl notwithstanding – that run ‘open mic’ nights where all-comers are welcome to get up and perform anything they like, from Duelling Banjos to Afro-Celtic fusion to embarrassing Show of Hands songs…]

And everyone stares at a great big screen
Overpaid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps

[‘Estuary English’, indeed? – Disgusting!  As Basil Fawlty might say.]

And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look, and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs

[Speak for yourself, Steve, and less of that ‘we’ please.]

How will we know where we come from?

[History lessons?]

I’ve lost St. George in the Union Jack
It’s my flag too and I want it back

[Presumably a figurative way of saying that ‘true’ Englishness has been somehow subsumed by a greater, more cosmopolitan Britishness, or something.  Who actually stole the flag and why is not reported, but no wonder the BNP are keen: they want to claim it ‘back’, too.]

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
We need roots

[Yes, yes, the roots..]

Haul away boys, let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We’ve lost more than we’ll ever know
‘Round the rocky shores of England
We need roots…


Mike Harding played this  foolishness for the umpteenth time on last week’s Radio 2 ‘Folk, Roots and Accoustic’ show – this time a live, festival recording with the crowd roaring along to the anthemic chorus like nuns on shore leave.  An effect that was vaguely reminiscent of that scene in the park in Cabaret, when the young sweet-voiced, swastika’d youth sings ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’ and in minutes the whole thing erupts into a spontaneous Nurnberg rally. 

Yes, I know, an over-the-top comparision, and of course all those typically mild-mannered, woolly-bearded folkies aren’t fascists – but a dumb lyric is still a dumb lyric.


83 responses to “‘Roots’ by Show of Hands. Of course the BNP love it..

  1. You’ve obviously never played a live gig anywhere have you? You miss a huge point in the song, he’s not defaming other cultures he’s just wondering why he can’t have his won. The UK IS in danger of becoming too much like the States with indigenous Brits acting like groveling apologists and everyone in fear of addressing racial issues-THAT is what opens the door for extremism. Not wanting to embrace and explore your culture but being told its “racist” to. Its also just a great song!

  2. Why would you assume I have never played a live gig, and why would that be relevant? (I have played in six working folk and rock bands over the years plus folk club duos and also gone busking for small change, even recently). I agree about ‘not grovelling to the States’ but that is not the message I get from the ‘Roots’ song..

    As to ‘why can’t he have his own’ culture? That’s just a dumb question, and the whole point of my analysis. Stevie boy has a culture already, and it is multi-ethnic – same as it has been since the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

    It’s a good tune, though. Shame about the lyrics.
    All best, and thanks for commenting.

  3. “Stevie boy has a culture already, and it is multi-ethnic – same as it has been since the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.”

    I don’t think he’s saying it isn’t, I think what he’s saying is that its his OWN fault and the faults of many of indigenous British geezers and lassies, frumpy in hoodies sitting in estates playing “25 to life” on PlayStation, that have stopped themselves from embracing their own culture. The multi-ethnic component still loves being British but has retained their own patriotism aka “roots” which they celebrate along with the hoodies, playstation, scotch eggs etc.

    So I think he’s wondering why everyone ethnically British became lazy about celebrating British traditions.


  4. Sorry I assumed you were not a musician by the way. Sounds like you’ve played fewer dives than me!

  5. Well I don’t know which of us has played the sleaziest dives, or whatever, but I still reckon the ‘Roots’ lyric comes over as confused and confusing (hence the BNP’s eagerness to sieze on it.) And I’m not sure the British are lazy about celebrating British traditions; the English may be embarrassed by morris dancing, but Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have never let their musical traditions go away. And even in the case of the English, there is now more media access to folk music than at any time I can remember (as I type, Bellowhead are playing live on Radio 2’s mainstream Radcliffe and Maconie show – that wouldn’t have happened 30 years back). Methinks the man doth protest too much.

    But I have to say Knightley’s ‘Country Life’ is a way better song: makes a legitimate point clearly and without ambiguity..

  6. Interesting. I (wrongly, I now realise) took him at first to be making a much more general point about the overall shift of focus there’s been over time from songs and stories handed down through the oral tradition, that capture or at least *use* the imagination, to mind-numbing fodder like Big Brother, gossip magazines, manufactured pop, etc that basically treat the masses like idiots. These things are handed to the general public as pre-packaged “entertainment” that we just need to sit down and imbibe from the sofa, without need for exercising any interactive or creative faculties at all, and although I do think he’s partially saying that, it’s true that the song is about the loss of *English* culture as distinct from even other UK culture.

    Also, you mention ‘Knees up Mother Brown’ and ‘There were four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness’ as English songs that people could sing until the morning comes…now not having actually lived in England (only Scotland and before that Belgium) I can only guess based on my experience in Scotland, but my impression is that although most people know the odd folk song or can dance a Gay Gordons, there aren’t many people for whom singing/dancing to traditional music is a totally familiar and comfortable experience. For most people it’s something they’ve only done occasionally, at weddings and similar things, and doing it still has a strong aura of unusualness or specialness and not-part-of-my-everyday-lifeness. And in *that* sense, it’s been lost from English, and in my opinion, Scottish, culture and I think that’s a sad thing. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong (I think?) with sequins, blue WKD, trackies and screeching drunkenly all the way home, although it’s not to my taste, but if nobody has a feel for the less manufactured sort of beauty had by traditional music and music written by individuals rather than commissioned by record companies to fill gaps in the market, I think we really have lost our roots and we do become slaves to big corporations (obviously this applies to big business in general and not just the music industry). But it’s not so much about losing and regaining English roots, or Scottish roots or whatever, as about retaining our roots as human beings generally. That, if anything, is what we’re in the process of losing. And that’s why the BNP’s position is a load of pants.

    Sorry about that!

    • Sorry for the extreme length, I mean. I put at the end originally, but wordpress thought it was an actual html tag and hasn’t shown it up.

      Cheers, and interesting post.

    • Very belated thanks, Nate, for a thoughtful and intelligent reply – appreciated, especially this sentence: ‘But it’s not so much about losing and regaining English roots, or Scottish roots or whatever, as about retaining our roots as human beings generally.’

      My case entirely: damn all nationalisms and multi-national capitalism and embrace humanitarianism. Agree with you – and probably Knightley too – on pre-packaging of entertainment and pretty-well everything else right down to boil-in-the-bag kippers. A theme that could make a wonderful song, once you take the silly national flags out of it…

      Leon Rosselson did just that with his ‘We Sell Everything’… Don’t know if it’s on youtube yet…

  7. Coming late to this…

    A friend recently nominated this song for our weekly acoustic jam. I didn’t know it, so I looked it up.

    Meh, it’s not a great song – archaic cliche drips from many of the cracks – but I read it a little differently, and I think the sentiments I glean are pretty ok.

    The wording is careless, ambiguous and clumsy, but the points I take from it are that people from many other parts of the world (many of whom have joined as as residents here, and I welcome them) seem to have cultural traditions – some old, some embyonic – that are clearly identified, and which are widely celebrated without embarrassment: Jamaican reggae, Panjabi bhangra, American bluegrass and hip hop, Irish and Scottish traditional dance tunes and ballads, African folk songs and distinctive popular styles such as soucous.

    Even in a rural English acoustic pub session such as the one I run, many participants are embarrassed to play the folk songs they know, they’d rather knock out an Oasis song or a sixties pop relic… That’s fine, there’s room for all, but the more traditional folk songs – even pub and music hall songs – quite often get sneered and laughed at. In my opinion, it is largely the apologetic and half-hearted attitude of the performer that is to blame in many cases.

    We had a brief flirtation with popular cultural identity with “Britpop” a few years back, but it was superficial, and contrived.

    “We” – the English, however you care to define us – don’t seem to have anything coherent and distinctive like our neighbours do. Yeh, we have nursery rhymes and football and rugby songs etc, but does that equate to anything that feels like an integrated expression of our national identity in the same way as Irish pub music or West Indian reggae does?

    I tend to think of people in terms of their music, and my mind conjures images to fit. When it comes to the English… well, I have no clear stock image, no caricature, no icon, no *stereotype* if you like. I know that word has negative connotations, but I mean it in the sense of a representative mental picture – an association to help me map the world.

    As for the “It’s my flag too and I want it back” thing… In my naivete I assumed the reference was to the hijacking of the flag by nationalists and racists. A call to restore the more wholesome image of our flag.

    I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body, but anything that offers the middle digit to racists is fine with me.

    Not a great song, but personally I thought its heart was sort of in the right place.

    Assuming one could find the heart under all the stodge.

  8. And there was me thinking this was a song about the English reclaiming there cultural identity – like the Scots, Irish & Welsh, Indian, Polish, West Indian, Italian & the other 200 odd languages that are regually used in homes in this multicultural country of ours. Or are we all on the wrong path & heading for bland city?

  9. he’s not defaming other cultures……..

    He’s bloody defaming mine – I was born in South London and ‘Estuary English’ is part of my (English, if that matters) culture.

  10. when you write a song half as good as Steve Knightley’s I’ll listen to your whinging pedantic load of bollocks.

  11. Oh yeah and as for their “non-English, non-traditional” instruments, they are made in Exeter which is in England by and Englishman called David Oddy.

    • Hi Doris, thanks for your comments. But ‘whingeing and pedantic’ seems a little harsh, as does your use of the word ‘bollocks’; but at least I have tried to explain my objections to the Roots lyric – and at some length. Your reply seems to contain abuse but no argument I can reply to.

      BTW: Normally I wouldn’t bother blogging about or criticising a song or musician I didn’t like – especially in the folk genre where it is hard for anyone to scratch a living – mostly from a sense of admiration for any musician who’s managed to stay the course and gain themselves a living from their craft. But when you get a song that is so blantantly a ‘message’ song – and a shouted message, at that – and a song that is all over the mainstream media for what it might or might not be trying to say, it seems ‘fair comment’ to me, to add my own thoughts …

      Could I write a song as good as Knightley’s? – I’ll let others be the judge of that. But I don’t think any of my songs (or my wife’s – on Ribblehead Song) are in any danger of being hi-jacked by the BNP. Try these:

      The Dogs of Spain:

      Ribblehead Song:



  12. They’re lucky they can afford English-made instruments. All mine are Chinese or Romanian. 😛

    Seriously, cuatro, mandolin and mandocello are certainly not traditional English instruments, no matter who makes them. Trust me, I’m a folk mandolin player, and I wouldn’t dream of claiming that my mando was trad in any British or Irish genre.

    Mr Oddy’s instruments are well thought of, but his name on a mandocello would not make it “traditional”.

    • Well said – and agreed; I think Doris (if that’s really her name – it’s usually only men using aliases who post short abusive hit-and-run posts) missed my point about ‘English instuments’. Are there any traditional English instruments – pipe and tabor, maybe? Lutes are old, as are harps, but neither are English. The concertina was an eighteenth century import … most standard ‘folk’ instruments, from banjo via guitar, mandolin, harmonica to electric bass etc. share the same provenenance as ‘pop’ instruments. I’ve no problem with any of these – I love the way The Imagined Village use sitars and Bengali drums to perform centuries old English trad songs. I only get pissed off by purists – musical or sociological – insisting that there is something wrong with the present state of musical and other culture in England, and that ‘we’ve lost more than we’ll ever know around the rocky rocky shores (LOL!), etc…’

      I prefer to think that we’ve *gained* more in the last fifty-years of post-war, multi-ethnic Britain, from late-night curry houses to reggae to bangra to punk rock to hip-hop to the 60’s blues boom to northern soul. Please, why does this silly, English identity thing matter so much to some people?

      You’re well-fed and well-educated and have a National Health Service. Hundreds of African kids die every week (yes, I know, a boring, unsexy old story – but still horribly true) because they have no access to clean drinking water or basic medicine.

      As the late, great (non-Englishman) Josef Locke once put it: ‘Count your blessings, one by one…’ 🙂

      Actually, what I’d *really* like to read would be Steve Knightley’s utopian vision of what England would be like, once we’ve found those oh-so-necessary roots.

      Over to you, Steve…

  13. “And everyone stares at a great big screen
    Overpaid soccer stars,”

    So Mr Knightley objects to people being in an English institution (i.e. the pub) watching a game which was codified / invented by the…er…English? Football (to give it its proper name Mr Knightley) is an integral part of English culture. Obviously then it’s not the loss of English culture he objects to but the loss of the ‘right’ culture.

    What bollocks! (to use a fine old Anglo-Saxon term).

  14. I agree that football is very much a part of English cultural tradition. I don’t think the transformation from sport to business has done anything to make the game better.

    The facts that a) so much is now done in an effort to make the game attractive to media companies, b) that digital/satellite broadcasters try to make us pay to watch instead of having stuff shown on mainstream TV, c) that many players and their agents care less about the sport and its fans than they do about lining their pockets and funding flashy lifestyles… All that has contributed to the devaluing of British culture. Its transformation to a US style, shallow, materialistic sham that doesn’t give a feck for tradition or culture.

    The way I read it, yer man isn’t slagging football, he’s lamenting the travesty it’s become, and the loss of the days when it wasn’t all about money and TV companies.

    As I’ve said before, not a very good song, but I think he’s moaning about *some* of the right things.

    He’s also just begging to be misinterpreted with his carelessly ambiguous lyrics.

  15. Thanks for this dose of good sense. I heard “Roots” for the first time last weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival: one of the less pleasant experiences of my life, as I blogged here. (“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” has been in my mind too ever since.)

    • Hi Una, and many thanks….

      At least one person out there gets it – phew! – I was almost worried that I’d gone over the top with the Cabaret allusion. And you were there too to witness the moment – and well done you for walking out. (For others reading, I’m referring to Una’s linked festival blog post – v. highly recommended).

      To all the other people replying to this thread – whether from partial agreement or outright hostility to my analysis – I would suggest they check out the official SOH ‘Roots’ video on youtube linked in an above thread. And read the viewers’ comments: no doubt to Mr Knightley’s chagrin, last time I looked, his biggest fans would appear to be a spread of opinionated right-wingers, ranging from Little-Englander nationalists to outright ‘deport-the-lot-of-’em’ racists (Ukip to BNP?) Surely not the fanbase he was looking for – I hope…

      To Una – I’ll reply properly on your own blog…

  16. Pingback: English blogs against the English song Roots by Show of Hands « Old Atlantic Lighthouse

  17. I, too, read the verse about the Union Jack as referring to the fact that these flags have been “appropriated” by the likes of the BNP and the EDL as their own, and there is no corresponding emblem to allow ordinary people to express their pride in, and identification with, some of the things which still, just, make England still such a good country, compared with some others, anyway

  18. Still getting comments after nearly two years. That has to count for something!

    I also assumed the “reclaiming the flag” lyric was referred to the appropriation by the far right racist bigots. My blonde blue-eyed daughter was given a St Georges cross at St Georges day celebrations the other day and I have to admit to feeling slightly awkward walking back through certain parts of town – I’m a bit liberal like that.

    Also, I don’t really know what afro-celt means, so I’d assumed that it was a clumsy shortening of “Africans, Celts” to make the line scan.

    Regarding Celts, and as pointed out in other comments, “traditional music” seems, to me at least, to be more healthy in Scotland and Ireland than England. I’m given to understand that in Scotland traditional dances are taught in schools. I’ve been to céilidhs north of the border where the caller felt no need to explain the steps before each dance – I did pretty badly compared to the locals. It’s a shame England doesn’t have something similar but I’ve danced céilidhs at several English festivals and to be honest I’d take a down-to-earth céilidh over the affected eccentricities of a morris dance any day of the week.

    The song itself and the comments here seem to confuse “Englishness” and “Britishness” but I’ve always seen that as an interesting quirk of our confused island nation and very much part of the culture.

    • Thanks, Tim, you’ve raised good points, especially the confusion between Englishness and Britishness. Historically and literally, ‘Great Britain’ is a geographical term, referring to the largest of the British Isles, and is thus meaningless in terms of political, ethnic or cultural identity. (Ireland – all of it – is also one of the British Isles, regardless of UK membership or otherwise. And when SNP supporters claim that they feel their identitiy to be ‘more Scottish than British’, they don’t seem to realise that they would still be British, even following a successful referendum on exiting the United Kingdom.) Yup, we’re definitely in one complex, confused archipelago when it comes to labelling ourselves. But, given all the other places in the world one could be born in, I don’t think anyone ought to grumble too much….

      ‘Afro-Celts’ is (or recently was) the name of a multi-ethnic fusion ensemble – did interesting treatments of world folk music styles: hence my interpretation of the Roots lyric was that Knightley disapproved of that sort of thing, for reasons of cultural purity…

      BTW: ‘re: ‘It’s my flag too, and I want it back’. A number of commentators have made the same point as you: SOH just want to claim it back from the right-wing nationalists. You might all be right, of course. But maybe the lyric should be more expicit; he also says ‘I’ve lost my place in the Union Jack’ . What has he lost and who has he lost it to? etc.


  19. I wonder if ‘Fitzroy Street’ would feel it appropriate to tell a Native American (for example) “You have a culture already and it is multi-ethnic” or dismiss an old fashioned Irish ballad “a hokey paean to supposedly lost cultural identity”? If the answer is “yes”, I’m happy for him to apply the same views to me as an Anglo-Saxon even though I disagree with them; however, if his is answer is “no”, I think he’s a hypocrite.

  20. Buddhuu said: “As for the “It’s my flag too and I want it back” thing… In my naivete I assumed the reference was to the hijacking of the flag by nationalists and racists. A call to restore the more wholesome image of our flag. I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body, but anything that offers the middle digit to racists is fine with me. Not a great song, but personally I thought its heart was sort of in the right place. Assuming one could find the heart under all the stodge.”

    That just about says it all for me. The lyrics are … not his best. They rely on cliches and very lazy rhymes. It’s odd, because his other lyrics are stupendously good. But yeah, I get the thing about taking the various flags in the Union Jack back from the racists. As for traditional folk music, it’s thriving in Ireland, north and south, and in Scotland where I am, but I don’t know about Wales or England.

    As for the BNP they’re not known for their grasp of history or antecedents, so I’m not surprised they misinterpreted the song. A bit like a hedgehog trying to mate with a scrubbing brush.

  21. Hey Fitzroy, I really like your songs, especially the Dogs of Spain. I shall definitely be looking into the Dunlin back catalogue.

    I think your reaction to Roots (and those of many others on the left, e.g. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/30/folk-music-far-right) is part of what Knightley is lambasting in the song’s lyric, that somehow expressing interest in traditional English songs and culture is distasteful, if not potentially racist.

    Your reaction says it all: “I prefer to think that we’ve *gained* more in the last fifty-years of post-war, multi-ethnic Britain, from late-night curry houses to reggae to bangra to punk rock to hip-hop to the 60′s blues boom to northern soul. Please, why does this silly, English identity thing matter so much to some people?”

    Knightley isn’t saying that there’s a problem with multi-ethnic Britain “…what have they got right that we’ve got wrong?”, just that what might be termed traditional English culture should also have a proud place in the mix, and the de-legitimisation of the English cultural experience over the last few decades, while at the same time that of the Irish, Scots, Welsh and other British minorities have all been (thankfully) encouraged, is a double standard that we should address.

    The idea that it’s either/or, that if you celebrate traditional English culture you must be a closet racist, is absurd, but unfortunately very prevalent amongst the Guardian-reading classes. It’s why articles on Comment is Free on Scottish nationalism, for example, are broadly positive, while those on English nationalism inevitably have a picture of skinheads or the EDL, when it’s obviously perfectly possible to be proud of your English heritage without being a thug and a racist.

    Why does this “silly, English identity thing matter so much to some people?” Simple.
    “Without our stories and our songs, how will we know where we come from?”

  22. Blimey, it must be really dark round your way, being so far up yourself.

    • Hi Jan – I’m belatedly enjoying so much exitement going on in one of my blog threads. I nearly deleted your last post, thinking it came from some hit-and-run troll (ie. personal insult replaces civilised discussion), but since everything you typed before this has been civilsed enough to show my mother at the Sunday dinner table, I’ll leave it in place. Unless Steve complains – in which case I will remove it and have you burned as witch – proper trad style – if that’s ok?

      • I have apologised to Steve for my rather inflammatory comments, it was a bad time for me back then and I tend to run off at the mouth sometimes… not an excuse, more of an explanation. Apologies to you too for my off the cuff dismissal – very out of character for me and I promise to behave myself in future, so please put away the stake and bonfire kindling… thanks. It is so amazing that this song has generated so much comment and emotion – it is a great song IMHO and personally, I think it’s strength lies in it’s ability to provoke so much debate.. Looking forward to the next chapter… Cheers, Jan

      • Your swift reply was much appreciated, thanks, Jan. (Sigh, guess I could could still use those Asda firelighters for a barbeque, seeing as the weather’s so hot.) I’m feeling a little shamefaced myself about some of the critical comments I made in the original Roots post. I still agree with the points I was making, but my use of language was regrettable in places (‘banal, fifth form poetry’ and ‘great bleating pranny!) I was going to delete the whole thread, but then thought that would be very discourteous to everyone who has added comments – many of them at great length… and I agree that provoking debate is always healthy. Whether the song is great…? Hmm, I’d go as far saying that Steve Knightley is a great singer, and Roots has the kind of tune I wish I had written. But shame about the lyrics, IMO. Bests, Fitz.

  23. Just played the Roots CD I’ve had on my shelf for a year or two (not exactly sure) and it’s wonderful. I like Folk Music (and Rock) and it’s refreshing to have a strong contemporary beat instead of the old finger-in-the-ear style for a change. However, this Fitzroy Street a (person or a place…?) protests too much. I don;pt go along with Billy Bragg’s notion that we can reclaim English nationalism and the Cross of St George but there’s nothing wroing or racist in resisting the cultural degradation of our country – particularly from the waves of Yankee crap washing across the Atlantic (which are swamping everyone – not just us in the UK).

    If this guy thinks that most young people nowadays know a wide sel;ectin of folk or traditional songs and rhymes then he lives in a differnt world to me. I taught history for many years (admittedly amongst generally poorly educated adaults) and the majority of my students couldn’t recite a single folk song – except perhaps for football chants. Many of them thought that “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was a folk-song (arguable – it was a written for commercial entertainment in the forties). They probably knew the odd line of a nursdery rhyme but that hardly counts as much of a musical or poetic heritage.

    The depressing truth is that Working Class culture has been horribly degraded (if not utterly destroyed) among a great number of UK citizens, especially in England. Scotland and Wales may have fared better but what passes for traditional culture amongst most people is still shallow nostalgia and crass imagery with little or no culture being passed down the generations.
    A working class without its own cultural roots is a dangerous thing – they are far more likely to be swayed by simplistic tribalist (and racist) notions of identity – identifying themselves in opposition to those they percieve as outsiders (foreigners, blacks and Asians, Moslems etc.).

    A culture passed from, one generation to the next is largely what separates us from all other animals (not larger brains or the ability to use tools) and a people with no culture or knowledge of trheir own history is a people vulnerable to fascistic demagogues and charlatans.

    I dislike nationalism of all kinds (and the puerile Scottish variety currently so prominent – often based on an outrageous misrepresentation of history – is little better than the unpleasant English backlash) but renewing some pride and identity in cultural and musical roots does not amount to nationalism.

    Get real Fitz…..!

    • I couldn’t agree more with you Steve, nationalism ISN’T racism [although in the wrong ‘hands’ it can be thanks to the BNP and their ilk]. Personally, I don’t like the term nationalism as it smacks of Colonial days and all the bad stuff that happened then – maybe we need a new definition of “having a sense of pride in our culture and heritage”. Admittedly, we are awash with buzzwords and ridiculous made-up words but sometimes it seems to me that there isn’t an adequate word/phrase to sum up feelings of national pride that aren’t jingoistic or parochial. I do take slight issue with your comment that most young people don’t know any trad folk songs – as you say, you have taught very few young people so how would you know?When I go to folk festivals there are plenty of teenagers rocking along to folk songs both old and new and not just cos their parents have dragged them along. They are there cos they want to be and it always makes me smile to see them so enthusiatic. I also need to check what you mean by the degradation of working class culture – where’s your evidence? You don’t provide any in your post [but admittedly you may ahve wanted to be brief , so not a complaint, just an observation!]so I would be interested to hear your examples. However, I do agree that any class – working, middle, upper, whatever label you like – without a sense of it’s cultural roots can be a dabgerous thing and it is more likely that dissaffected young working class males [and females now, sadly] take out their frustrations through violence and intimidation [and racism]. But not all – I think it’s too much of a generalisation to say that we have no working clas culture and that the ‘degradation [as you see oit] is widespread. and responsible for the anger and violence we see so often. The Summer riots were a perfect example – most of those convected were young working class males from poor areas but they weren’t protesting about the degradation of their culture they were just nicking stuff and kicking in windows for the hell of it. One final point – the upper classes do seem to have aclose relationship with their cultureal background and franjkly, it’s a recipe for disaster – foxhunting, the old boy network, corupt politicians and feeble Lords and old money being passed on to younger generations who have no idea what to do with it. OK, all for now – would be interested to hear your thoughts!

  24. Jan,

    You are quite demanding and I’m not sure I feel any obligation to provide detailed evidence and fully referenced citations for every assertion I make. I am commenting on a blog, not submitting an academic essay. However, In the spirit of amicable debate I will answer a few of your points.

    I did not say I had taught very few young people – I said I had taught adults; mainly with a poor education. I did in fact teach a great many 18 – 21 year-olds and I have not lived a sheltered life, living in a variety of places (including Inner-City estates) in London and Yorkshire. I keep myself informed and although I cannot speak for the younger generation I think I have a pretty clear idea of the state of modern British (especially English) working-class culture. The fact is that English culture is in a pretty dire state and even well-educated kids often have a pretty sketchy idea of British or English history and little knowledge of traditional culture – musical or otherwise. Of course there are exceptions to this and I am delighted that crowds of young people turn up to concerts by SoH and other traditional music bands, however, these people are a small minority of their generation. I attend a few Folk and Maritime Music festivals and I see the numbers of those attending and their age profile quite clearly. In a few months time I will have a wander round the Beverley Folk Festival in East Yorkshire (one of the most attractive for younger people) but I am pretty certain the majority of those there will be from other parts of the country. People from Hull, an overhelmingly working-class city just six miles down the road, will represent a minority among the crowds there.

    What I mean by the degradation of working-class culture is the loss of a culture (and the pride in, and identification with, that culture) that is passed down from one generation to the next. This includes musical traditions but also pride in the skills and achievements of the people we idenitify ourselves with. I am not talking here about pompous patriotic crap about the “great British Empire”, our supoposed national achievements and the things we allegedly gave to the rest of the world (Parliamentary Democracy, Association Football, victory in WWII, the Industrial Revolution etc.). As a historian I know just how false many of these claims are, and how history is twisted to suit the purposes of those telling it (or controlling the education system).

    By pride in achievments I mean the kind of pride that was evident among workers in many industries (especially coal mining, steel, engineering and the docks). Pride in their skills, in their communities, in their solidarity, in their unions and in their history of struggles waged to obtain decent pay, conditions and job security. Kids who grew up in dockers’ families in London or Liverpool or Hull; in mining communities in Yorkshire or Northhumberland or South Wales; in Steel town like Sheffield or Middlesbrough or Port Talbot, knew what their fathers did and how they had struggled and fought against bosses and scabs and governments. Virtually all of this is gone now – and replaced with what….?

    Another great bastion of traditional culture was the Church – in this case I do not mourn its passing as it was a corrupt institution peddling lies and superstitions and depending on retrogressive reaction and obscurantism to keep its power and influence. However, although I welcome the demise of the Church’s baleful influence I also regret that this has not been replaced with a humanist ethos of community solidarity but with crass commercialism and consumerism. Shopping Centres (or “Malls” as they are often referred to nowadays) are supposed to be the new Cathedrals of our age – so they say.

    If you go down to Rotherham where the steel and mining industries once dominated and where close-knit communities of people stood by each other through good times and bad, you will find a wasteland of modern business parks where the largest employers are giant call-centres employing thousands of people in conditions akin to those of lab rats (security cards to get through every door, sanitised works canteens – unsubsidised of course – selling tea and coffee in plastic cups where people are careful not to talk to loudly about their pay and conditions as this is not really approved of by the management). The (often youthful) workforce in such places are examples of the modern English working class who lack confidence, are fearful and insecure and lack knowledge (or even awareness) of the struggles and aspirations of previous generations. They have no pride in their work and little concept of solidarity with their co-workers – which is why they are poorly paid, largely un-unionised and have as much commitment to the future of the industry that employs them as it does to their future (which is to say none).

    I have travelled in much poorer countries (in South America) where ordinary working people know more about their own country and the rest of the world, than a great many people here do. Those South Americans also tend to have a greater knowledge of their musical and poetic traditions (and those of the rest of South America). Most Chileans (whether peasants, labourers, office workers or engineers) can name both Chilean literary Nobel Laureates (and probably recite some of their work) and they are proud of them. How many English young people could name our Nobel Laureates in the fields of music and culture ?

    We live in a society where even BBC presenters frequently use metaphors which virtually no-one here understands (eg. “step up to the plate”) but which are used because our language has become so dominated by foreign cultural and economic forces (especially the malign US influence) that it is assumed that we should all learn to talk like they do on Yankee TV shows – clearly this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy . We have TV soap sciptwriters (no doubt well-educated young graduates) who pen storylines which are actually impossible outside the USA – because that is where they draw their cultural influence from and they have no broad life-experience here to draw on. The classic example of this was a storyline in The Bill some years ago about a young black kid from Inner London who would be condemned to a life of petty-crime and drug abuse unless he could get aay from his home neighbourhood by being taken on as a professional basketeball player – at the time there was no such thing as a professional basketball league in the UK (is there now?). We allow young children to be taught US spelling by constant exposure to it in computer games and adverts that the publishers cannot be bothered to translate into English (this also applies digital books purchased from Amazon UK but written entirely in US English because the pubishers don’t bother to do an English translation).

    Of course, knowing the names and works of a few indigenous poets or musicians, knowing how to spell and knowing what your father or mother or grandparents did for a living, does not itself make a rich culture, but such a culture is pretty much impossible without these things. Our Scottish and Welsh fellow citizens (and I identify myself as British rather than English wherever possible) are a bit better off than the English in terms of their cultural identity but they are not immune to these influences and their cultures are too often expressed in negative terms (eg.. this is NOT English, but Scottish/Welsh). As a teacher it was always shocking to me to meet Scots with an interest in history but who thought (and had been so taught in Scottish schools) that the 1745 Jacobite rebellion was a revolt by the Scots against English rule (instead of a revolt by a minority of Scots in an attempt to put an Italian born popinjay called Charles Edward Stuart, who spoke no gaelic and had nothing in common with the Highlanders who fought and died for him, on the throne in London). Modern Scottish nationalism is largely based on such romantic fiction and distortions of history which portray the Scots as a race of people oppressed by the English yoke. It’s complete bollocks!

    I agree with you that nationaism is not racist by definition, but in practice they nearly always go hand-in-hand so I have no time for any of them. I might sympathise with people suffering under foreign colonialist domination or imported settler regimes (eg. the Irish, the Palestinians, many Africans before the last European colonies went in the 70s and eighties) but I do not want nationalism in any shape or form to rear its ugly head here. However, I do want a society where people know and appreciate their cultural and historical roots (and in a multi-cultural society we can have different roots thriving side-by-side) and can take pride in the history and musical culture that they have inherited.

    The BNP should be prevented from getting involved in this debate as they have nothing to offer. They should stick to idolising the martyred Palestinian/Arab/Turkish/Syrian (he could have been any of these) St George who never spoke a word of English or came within a thousand miles of our Green and Pleasant land.

    Yes our culture is being/has been degraded and destroyed along with everything that expresses it. Our regional accents and dialects, our language, our traditional music…… I don’t say we should keep everythng that is traditional (bear-baiting, wife-beating and torture were all traditional practices once) but let’s have a culture that changes and develops because we are and not because those changes are being imposed by external and commercial forces bent on standardisation and homogenisation of everything (popular culture included) to reduce units costs.

    • Hi Steve will be using your song and comments in teaching my students this year,
      Also sharing ignorance arrogance and greed with the change manager of Barclays who is a new friend of an old friend……wonder if Barclays are ready for real change yet…….

    • Hi Steve, I totally agree with you regarding your following comment …”By pride in achievments I mean the kind of pride that was evident among workers in many industries (especially coal mining, steel, engineering and the docks). Pride in their skills, in their communities, in their solidarity, in their unions and in their history of struggles waged to obtain decent pay, conditions and job security. Kids who grew up in dockers’ families in London or Liverpool or Hull; in mining communities in Yorkshire or Northhumberland or South Wales; in Steel town like Sheffield or Middlesbrough or Port Talbot, knew what their fathers did and how they had struggled and fought against bosses and scabs and governments. Virtually all of this is gone now – and replaced with what….? ”
      I am very involved in Genealogy and when I first heard ‘ROOTS’ by SoH, that is the message that I got from the song and still think it very appropriate.

  25. The song is catchy and that’s about as far as it goes for me.

    Although I am usually a fairly relaxed gentleman when it comes to these sorts of things, for some elusive reason I do find myself suffering from isolated bursts of patriotism from time to time. After all, if I wasn’t proud of being English then I wouldn’t be able to whinge about England losing at football, or rugby etc.

    A good post.

    • Hi Edward – thanks for your comment. (As you can see I am forever tardy in replying to online communications.) Yes, you are right that the song is catchy, and if it hadn’t been for the context (two years ago – blimey!) when the Steve Knightley vs. BNP debacle made national BBC news, I might not have even noticed the lyrics, either. In my experience of folkie songwriters – pretty long experience going back to folk clubs in the seventies – the more ‘serious’ folk songs tend to be social observations, drawing from the ongoing stories of the common man; politics, where present, are probably liberal/greenish/anarchist or left-wing outrage. Hence my curiosity that Show of Hands – who I was well familiar with, and did not dislike – could write something the BNP felt was arguing their cause. Hence my thread post.

      As for ‘proud of being English’… Hmm.. tricky one. For one thing, getting born anywhere is scarcely a personal achievement. I am very *pleased* to have been born in England, for sure, but Fate, God or Fortune must have been rolling the dice. Just a lucky landing for one’s brief journey through human existence, with my own genetic mixture of Saxon and Celtic genes. Pleased enough – but not proud – to be ‘British’ too, given Brittania’s pretty recent desire to ‘rule the waves’ and colonise the world.

      As for ‘whingeing about England losing at football…’ I hope you’ve stocked up with anti-depressants for Euro 2012.. 🙂


  26. Hi Steve – so sorry you find me ‘demanding’, clearly the adults and young people you teach just sit there and never challenge what you say and consequently you are no doubt used to your word being taken as gospel. Unfortunately [for you] there are plenty of people who would take issue with your somewhat condescending attitude towards your students and also your pedantry [ref: your comment about not saying you had not taught young people – nowhere in your original post did you even hint that you HAD taught young people, in fact you made a point of saying you had taught History for many years (quote); ..”admittedly amongst generally poorly educated adults”.]. .As for your umbrage at being asked for evidence of your assertions, frankly Steve, when you make sweeping statements like those littering your original post I think it is certainly reasonable to expect at least some evidence, even anecdotal evidence. I do not seek fully referenced citations and credits, just some basic background to substantiate your claims. Your post was reminiscent of the Sun or Daily Mail – vast statements with no evident basis of fact, just mere supposition and personal opinion. Sorry to disappoint you, but your post was nowhere near the standard of an academic essay [no, you didn’t say it was but you clearly feel you are up to that, having been a Tutor/Teacher], well certainly not one that would merit a degree pass as it was littered with basic spelling mistakes and appalling grammar and I despair for the “poorly educated adults” that you taught as it would seem they came out of your courses none the wiser in that respect. No doubt you will launch into another ‘essay’ on the irrelevance of spelling and grammar in education because it’s the subject matter that counts, and will view such emphasis on spelling and grammar as elitist claptrap that further stomps on the chances of working class kids and adults who are trying to succeed in educating themselves. I have followed that debate for many years and have come to the conclusion that if you know everything [as you clearly feel you do] but cannot express yourself properly, then it just becomes an uphill struggle to read students’ arguments and opinions because the bad grammar and spelling are such a huge distraction. I accept that ‘typos’ always appear in long passages of typed text, but honestly Steve, I was truly shocked at how many spelling mistakes you had in your post, given that you are Tutor/Teacher of adults attempting to further their own education and relying on you to help them progress. No doubt you will see this post as another ‘demanding’ response and the product of an elitist education blah blah blah, but for your information, I am from a working class background and only went back to higher education at the age of 31 because at 16, I was expected to go out to work and provide an additional income for my working class mother and father, which I was happy to do. I did not resent it for a second, had no ambitions for University because it just wasn’t done in my family or even in my street and i went out to work as soon as I left school without a thought of anything else. My mother and father had no ambitions for me other than that I should do what made me happy; like many people, I ended up in a series of jobs that made me anything BUT happy, but stuck at them because I refused to be unemployed unless it was completely unavoidable. I have read your second post with interest and amongst all the hyperbole and irrelevant guff about your travels and the festivals you deign to attend, you make some interesting points. However, with your spelling of “adaults” and “sel;ectin” at the beginning of your original post, plus a host of other glaring errors, both grammatical and in their spelling, I found it hard to concentrate on what you were saying because I just kept wondering when the glaring errors would appear. Steve, no doubt you will find errors and typos in this post, so feel free to point them out gleefully, but don’t lose sight of the real reason for my original post – a challenge to your unsubstantiated sweeping statements and fond habit of generalising from experience. It just doesn’t add up I’m afraid and your pompous, condescending and frankly patronising response was very revealing indeed.. I do wonder if your response would have been different had it been a bloke replying to you, but before you accuse me of being a rabid feminist man-hater, I can assure you i am nothing of the sort and have very little time for such ” professional feminists” or Political Lesbians. However, I do take issue with being patronised by someone who believes they have a monopoly on the truth simply because they teach History to poorly educated adults and has travelled and done’ extensive’ research on the working classes. For someone who is supposedly so in touch with this huge topic, your opinions and arguments are sadly lacking any substance and simply read like a technically perfect but flawed PhD submission – all research, no original argument or theory and just re-hashed opinions collected from other people. I really do pity your students Steve, I really do..

  27. Jan,

    I am quite surprised at your aggressively hostile response. If you have no wish to engage with the points I made then that is fair enough as you are under no obligation to – but why bother typing several hundred words if you just wish to be insulting? You have clearly failed to fully read my (admittedly over-lengthy) posts properly in any case as your accusations of inconsistency and self-contradiction on my part are not justified by a close examination of my words.

    I accept your criticism of my spelling. I was in a hurry; I do not type accurately at speed and I had no time to proof-read it and correct the numerous typos (had I been writing an academic essay I would have taken more time – but this is a comment on a blog…). I do not accept your criticism of my grammar – I have my own style of course and you are free to criticise that, but I think I write in grammatical sentences.

    You make several incorrect assumptions. I do believe that grammar and spelling are important and far from elitist and I wrote nothing to indicate otherwise (which is why I regret not having had time to correct my typos). However, to make such a major issue out of obvious typographical errors in order to denigrate someone says more about you than about me.

    I had no idea whether the name Jan indicated a male or a female. I know a few Jans and two of them are male (it is the equivalent of John in several European languages), but your sex is utterly irrelevant. I may not think much of feminism (being old-fashioned and believing that class is the real dividing factor in society) but I do accept the reality of sex discrimination and gender oppression. I just don’t see that they have any relevance here.

    I have not taught for a couple of years as the last government saw no point in funding Humanities education in my sector. However, my contribution here was not made in an educational or pedagogical style (and was nothing like a PhD submission). I was contributing to a debate with people who took a different point of view (ironically, not primarily you). My second post was certainly polemical and not the approach I would take with students – but I see no reason to apologise for that. I have no idea why you think my views are “re-hashed opinions collected from other people” and if you are accusing me of plagiarism then I think you are obliged to substantiate this accusation or withdraw it. Frankly I do not understand why you take such objection to the points I make – although you do not really say why you find them so offensive – you merely attack my style. If you think my views would be favourably received by the editors (or many readers) of the Sun or the Daily Mail then this merely confirms that you haven’t bothered to read my posts properly. Both of those vile rags are major offenders when it comes to the degradation of working class culture.

    I am sorry you find me patronising but I do not really see why. I have not made any serious attack on your post (the mild complaint about you being demanding was hardly an attack, let alone an indication that I had taken serious umbrage, and was in any case justified). If you don’t like my arguments then either find some counter-arguments or decide that it is not worth your time to engage in further debate. Resorting to insults and personal vilification is a poor substitute.

    I stand by the points I made which, although they may have been forcefully put, were written in a spirit of amicable debate. I am sorry you feel unable to respond in a like manner.

  28. Steve… I have been thinking about our ‘conversation’ and want to take this opportunity to apologise to you for the harsh nature of some of my comments. I have re-read the dialogue between us and, whilst I still stand by most of what I said, I could certainly have expressed it in a calmer manner and you did not deserve to be the recipient of my anger and vitriol.

    By way of explanation [but certainly not an excuse or an attempt to ‘justify’ my angry and, at times, downright rude, manner], I had recently had some very bad news and was directing my anger and sadness at that news towards you. Please be assured that I am not excusing my behaviour, just trying to explain what lay behind it;; I do not seek sympathy either, my problem is what it is, and it’s up to me to find the way to deal with it in a meaningful and constructive fashion; I am some way along that road already and it is that which prompted me to contact you with this apology.

    So Steve, I do hope you can accept my apology, although I would completely understand if you felt unable to. In all honesty, I really enjoyed the challenge of your viewpoints and although we disagree on many things, I do feel we have some things in common, certainly enough to engage in a lively and constructive debate in the future if yoiu were up for it.

    OK, will leave it there..best wishes Steve,


    • Jan,

      No problem. We all have off days from time-to-time and I have been around long enough to develop a fairly thick skin.

      Apology accepted.


  29. Bleurgh……….

  30. Greetings Fitzroy, this is probably the oldest thread I’ve posted on – 3 years and going strong!

    I have just viewed Roots’ by Show of Hands. I thought it was an interesting upbeat song and if it is a decent upbeat tune and provokes a bit of debate and controversy I see that as a good thing.

    I am slightly confused that in your post you say there is ‘little in the way of ambiguity in the Roots lyric’ but you say in your comments ‘I have to say Knightley’s ‘Country Life’ is a way better song: makes a legitimate point clearly and without ambiguity’. You make other comments on the lyrics being unclear. I’m possible being pedantic here but I do feel that you can’t criticise the song for having two diametrically opposed qualities. Not that I haven’t done the same myself in the past!

    But the main reason for me posting is to comment on the following interesting point you make:

    QUOTE: “As to ‘why can’t he have his own’ culture? That’s just a dumb question, and the whole point of my analysis. Stevie boy has a culture already, and it is multi-ethnic – same as it has been since the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.” UNQUOTE

    Britain obviously contains multiple cultures and quite a lot of fusions, but individuals often feel they have one dominant culture (no doubt whilst enjoying others as well). I would not say to a Pole or Afro-Caribbean or Irish person that they shouldn’t celebrate Polish or Afro-Caribbean or Irish cultural roots, in fact Britain / England would be the worse for it if they didn’t.

    I took this song to be saying Indians, Asians, “Afros”, Celts celebrate their cultures (yes, arguably clumsy wording but it’s a rhyming song and probably how most people really speak) . . . . “What have they got right that we’ve got wrong?”.

    In other words everyone should be celebrating their cultures, even folk singers in pubs near Wells and presumably the many fans listening to the song live and on Youtube. But implicit in the song is that not everybody does – or is encouraged to do so. I’d be interested to know is whether Kim Howells MP (“hell is 3 folks singers”) would have made that statement about Bhaṅgṛā or rap? If not, why?

    My own feeling is that it should be fine for everybody to celebrate what they feel is their culture (their “stories”) , as long as it doesn’t crush anybody else. Wasn’t it Naomi Klein in ‘The Shock Doctrine’ that said without our stories we become confused, stressed and disoriented? Everybody has a culture, denying the existence of such a thing is storing up trouble – if there is a Scottish, Irish, Pakistani, French culture (add v long list here) presumably there is a traditional English culture? That does not, however, prevent us enjoying the many other cultures around us!

    Anyway, just a few thoughts . . . .

    • Hi Mike – and thanks for even bothering to keep this discussion going three years later – but, like you, I sense, I think many confusions – and often heated opinions – about cultural identity persist and need a bit of untangling. So always good to get a well-considered and thoughtful reply – appreciated!

      And well done, Sir, for spotting my glaring inconsistencies on the question of ‘ambiguity’ in the Roots lyric – I noticed it myself (at least two years ago!) but kind of hoped nobody else would… 🙂 That was probably down to a lazy choice of words on my part. ‘Clarity’ and ‘vagueness’ might have been more useful terms in some of my blog replies.

      I have actually no problem with people celebrating their own (or what they feel to be their own) dominant culture: Burns Night, St Patrick’s Day, Duwali, May Day in Helston, Cornwall – even the Last Night of the Proms, Jubliee street parties etc. – harmless fum and celebration for all who want to join in. But my impression of the Roots lyric is still the sense of somebody aggrieved that his own culture (especially musical) has been actively suppressed by alien influences – hence the BNP (who thrive on grievance and imagined persecution) were so keen to adopt the song as an anthem. There is an embarrassing moment in the video when Knightley actually shakes a fist in the air when declaiming ‘We need roots!’. My original post was probably twice as long as it needed to be, and a little discourteous in places, and I could have kept it down to a few short points: (1), We have roots already; (2) English folk music is in a better state of health than at any time since Cecil Sharpe first took his notebook round country villages a century ago; (3) There is nothing to be cross about..

      And I pretty-well agree with all of your last paragraph, but having never read Naomi Klein – apart from snippets in literary reviews – I am not sure what ‘denying the existence of ones culture’ actually means.. But thanx again, Mike.

      All bests,

  31. Just a quick one, I realise this thread is probably pretty dead by now, but I am very familiar both with SoH and ‘Roots’, and the pedantic in me has to point out that the line he wrote is:
    “I’ve lost St George in the Union Jack, that’s my flag too and I want it back”, not, as previously stated “I’ve lost my place in the Union Jack”. The phrase “lost St George” puts the spin back on the fact that English patriotism has been almost totally misappropriated by people like Nick Griffin and the other hate-mongers in the far-right, which leaves people like Steve Knightly no room to express their own patriotism and national pride without being branded at least a BNP sympathiser. I am myself in no way patriotic, but I do see that, in a rather clumsy way, Knightly is trying to express his sorrow at the loss of traditional English-ness (yes, he is being very specific in his desire for a rural England, but the point remains). Knightly is happy to have a multi-cultural society – in fact I have often heard him praise the multi-cultural nature of GB in interviews and the like – I believe he is just lamenting the fact that specifically English stories and songs are, on the whole, lost to contempt or embarrassment. To close my rambling diatribe, I will use a rather disheartening quote from my old friend Jamie when I told him I wanted to study English folk culture at university – “Why the f**k would you want to bother studying folk?”

    • Well, if it makes you or Knightly, or even me feel better about it all, I’ve heard a few fairly “liberal” people comment that the recent Olympic shenanigans have been heavy on the Union Flag waving, but it’s also been very inclusive and multicultural.

      I would imagine that the bigots would approve of shows of physical prowess, so I wonder where it leaves them that so many of the winners of our very British games aren’t as pasty faced as they might like – especially those with “decent working class backgrounds”.

      And it does make me feel better. Like you I don’t consider myself desperately patriotic, but I do think it’s been nice that we could wave the union flag without worrying that people’s minds would jump straight to the more unsavoury members of our society.

    • Hi Daviey -and others here (amazingly) still posting. I’m still enjoying all these well-considered contributions, out here in this obscure backwater where nobody goes. (So intrigued that a blog thread can last this long, I definitely won’t be closing the page until at least one year has passed since the last comment.) One thing is for sure: nobody posting here has shown the slightest trace of bigotry or racism … perhaps the odd touch of cultural xenophobia, maybe, but never any ‘send-em-all-back’ intolerance. That much is very gratifying…

      While it is pretty clear for anyone familiar with Show of Hands’ repertoire, that – as you say – Steve K has a love (sentimental nostalgia, even?) for a disappearing rural English culture, its oral traditions etc., but that culture had all but vanished 100 years ago. Even the folk revival of the 60’s was based more on the archived songs collected by Cecil Sharpe, Vaughan Williams and others than on any kind of ongoing, hand-me-down tradition of ordinary field and factory workers singing the songs their grandparents taught them (Honourable exceptions being the Copper family and their like). And having spent time in both Scotland and Ireland where amateur musicians and storytellers, fiddlers and pipers have preserved through performance their cultures without the need for archivists, I would concede that, by contrast, England has let go of its folk roots – but did so a long time back. Show of Hands use electric guitars and basses, drum kits etc; whose culture is that? Listen to Mike Harding’s folk show on Radio 2, and most ‘new’ folk music (now there’s a paradox) are wannabe professional (and there’s another) singer-songwriters (and there is a third). Perhaps the only truly authentic English traditional folk act are the Fishermens’ Friends: amateurs all working on and off-shore around Port Isaac and singing – wonderfully, and for the love of it – songs they didn’t have to learn from libraries or LPs. I just hope they don’t ever get big enough to quit their day jobs, and start penning peevish songs about England losing its culture.

  32. Oh, and one more thing, in case anyone else, like me, is still getting notifications of comments on this post but doesn’t read the main blog, our good host has very reasonably warned via a new post that he’s calling time on this blog. So there are no guarantees these comments will be available for long, either for additions or even just for reference. But I guess there never are, and we’ve had some mileage.

    So thanks to Fitz for provoking the conversation in the first place and letting us waffle on. 🙂 I don’t know what made me tick the “subscribe to future comments” box, but it has amused me to get a couple of notifications a year…

    • Oh, I was fully expecting to never get any shape of reply at all on this post, just had to exorcise the pedant in me. I was actually researching this situation for a paper I am doing about the wider issues of cultural identity and racism and couldn’t withstand the temptation of the “comment” button…

  33. Sorry, but this is a wonderful song; brilliant lyrics which express my feelings exactly. I utterly deplore racism and the BNP but am heartily sick of the creeping wave of American and Australian culture which drives out our great English beer and food and replaces it will junk food and tasteless lager, floods our TV with mindless soaps and violent TV programmes and our charts with inane (c)rap.

    The Scots, Welsh and Irish justifiably promote and protect their magnificent cultures with great vigour and it’s time we English stood up and did the same.

  34. The Tradition Bearer

    What a pleasant and unbiased review of Knightleys song! What pearls of wisdom next? The Dark Eyed Sailor? Can’t wait to read that one NOT

    • Thanks for your comment, The Tradition Bearer, but I don’t understand the relevance of ‘The Dark Eyed Sailor’; the only song of that name I know is a version by June Tabor and the Oyster Band – a good trad tune performed well. As for Roots, with no further explanation, I am guessing you consider my analysis ‘biased’ simply because you happen to like the song and I don’t?

  35. The reference to the Afro-Celts is presumably because the song (indeed the whole ‘Witness’ album) was actually *produced* by of Simon Emmerson and Mass from Afro Celt Sound System. Knightly can’t disapprove of that sort of thing too much, or else he wouldn’t have worked with them.

    • Thanks, Doug. Intriguing info & questions raised… Ta! esp, the ‘Afro-Celts’ reference. Seems now that line might be no more than an in-house-joke in Music Studio Land. I had only interpreted it as implying bad things are happening that will destroy English folk music by smothering it with ‘World’, ‘Fusion’ ‘Bhangra’, ‘Americana’, etc: Not that I ever thought Show of Hands were secret Nazis, but clumsy phrasing in an already (culturally) nationalistic kind of choon is always a honey trap for the nearest swarm of Bee-En-Pees, maybe?


      • I really don’t think Steve knightly is too concerned about keeping folk pure or anything like that. SoH’s latest album (‘wake the union’) is actually itself a blend of English folk with American country & blues styles (quite effective too IMO). I can quite understand why BNP types might misinterpret ‘Roots’, but they’re wrong, so I don’t take that as any reflection on the band. Steve Knightly played at Folk Against Fascism, & has written songs about colonialism, the slave trade and the bankers who caused the financial crisis; it seems obvious to me he’s a bit of a lefty!

        While ‘Roots’ may attract them more than most songs, unfortunately I think BNP-types will always be drawn to English folk music (it wasn’t just SoH’s music they were selling on their website, and Nick Griffin is apparently a fan of Kate Rusby). Ultimately there’s nothing much we can do about it besides voice disapproval, so as long as the artist’s intent is pure (and I believe Knightly’s is), its not something I can bring myself to be too worried about.

      • Still apreciating your posts, Doug (however belatedly). In your last you wrote
        >>>I really don’t think Steve knightly is too concerned about keeping folk pure or anything like that.

        And the longer this discussion has continued, the more I have had to concede that you and others are right on that point, at least. And I am glad and relieved to do so: purism in any genre sucks, as far as I am concerned.

        Ironically, I am more puzzled than ever about Roots: What exactly is SK shaking his fist at in the video? And what is it we have lost (more than we’ll ever know) around the rocky shores of England?

        Cheers, Fitz

      • We are probably on the same page regarding SK’s moral stance and politcal sensitivities etc., Doug. He is probably well to the left of the poiltical map – so absolutley no problem there for me. But I am still baffled by his fist-shaking moment on the ‘Roots’ video, choreographed with the line ‘We need Roots!’ (Who or what is he shaking it at?)

        I am not sure how much more there is to discuss on this thread but my original irritations with the lyric still stand. In summary: We have roots already and they were always mulitcultural; (2) English/British folk music is enhanced rather than polluted or swamped by outside influences – the fact SK is now dabbling in country and blues styles himself only adds to the puzzle. (So what was the problem with people putting in requests for ‘Duelling Banjos’?); (3) British and Irish folk is being taken more seriously right now than at any time I can remember in the last forty years. Mainstream media pretty well ignored it through the 70s and 80’s but slowly another revival started in the 90s and appears to be ongoing. While I am not too impressed by many of the current crop of singer-songwriters, the genre itself is flourishing and more easily accessible to new listeners. To the point where we now have ‘Steve-Wright-In-The-Afternoon’ on Radio 2 giving bucketloads of airplay to the last two mighty Bellowhead singles! That has to be a result of sorts..

        Cheers Fitz

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  37. Hi Fitz,

    Somebody brought up “Roots” and the BNP over on Mudcat – http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=152726&messages=35 – and, never having heard the song, I thought I’d check out the lyrics. Your post was one of the first pages to come up.

    FWIW I think you make some very good points and a couple of bad ones, so (on the off chance anyone’s still reading) here goes:

    “having spent time in both Scotland and Ireland where amateur musicians and storytellers, fiddlers and pipers have preserved through performance their cultures without the need for archivists, I would concede that, by contrast, England has let go of its folk roots – but did so a long time back.”

    Ultimately I think that’s all the song is complaining about. And it is a valid complaint, but the song’s time-frame is all wrong: Estuary English and widescreen TVs didn’t kill folk song. Even American culture didn’t kill folk song – although that idea has a long ancestry on the folk scene, going back to the 1950s and the Second Revival. (Actually radios and gramophones [sic] killed folk song, around the same time that they killed parlour singing.) The main reason that Scottish, Irish and Welsh traditional culture has held up so much better than English is that they were all subordinate cultures – they had loyalists who kept them going as part of a *non-English* identity. And talking about immigrant cultures being healthier than ‘ours’ was just asking for trouble – particularly that “in their blood” line.

    “Show of Hands use electric guitars and basses, drum kits etc; whose culture is that?”

    Straw man, I think; as far as I’m concerned you can play the old songs on whatever, as long as you play them.

    “Listen to Mike Harding’s folk show on Radio 2, and most ‘new’ folk music (now there’s a paradox) are wannabe professional (and there’s another) singer-songwriters (and there is a third). Perhaps the only truly authentic English traditional folk act are the Fishermens’ Friends”

    Most of the ‘folk’ you hear on the radio is basically pop songs, usually but not invariably played on acoustic instruments. English traditional music may not be on life-support any more, but it’s nowhere near as healthy as the prominence of ‘folk’ might make people think. (Mind you, if you follow this line of argument through Show of Hands are part of the problem, not part of the solution!) Having said that, the last sentence is way out – there are loads of traditional folk acts out there, from household names like the FF right down to your local singaround.

    “In summary: We have roots already and they were always mulitcultural”

    This is the big point I think you get wrong (or, alternatively, half right). The population of England was 5 million in 1701, 8 million in 1801 and 38 million in 1901. When Sharp started collecting, the social landscape of England had changed out of all recognition from what it had been a century earlier, very largely because of the growth of the towns and cities. A lot of this was down to industrialisation and declining infant mortality, which together massively increased the carrying capacity of the country, but a contributory factor was immigration – first from Ireland and then from Eastern Europe. England started to become a multicultural nation – and an urban nation – at the same time that folk song and culture started to die out.

    A purely English culture with purely English roots isn’t a myth – it’s just dead, and irrelevant to the way most of us now live. *Our* roots are multicultural, and our children’s roots will be even more so. But if you got in your Tardis, nipped back to 1903 and told John England (Cecil Sharp’s gardener and first source) that his roots were multicultural, he wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

    “(2) English/British folk music is enhanced rather than polluted or swamped by outside influences – the fact SK is now dabbling in country and blues styles himself only adds to the puzzle. (So what was the problem with people putting in requests for ‘Duelling Banjos’?)”

    Yes and no. If you play English folk songs on a National guitar, good luck to you. If you play the blues, you’re not playing English folk songs. As for the banjo question, get out a banjo, anywhere, any time, and somebody will put in a request for ‘Dueling Banjos’ and think it’s tremendously clever and witty. I think that’s problem enough!

    “(3) British and Irish folk is being taken more seriously right now than at any time I can remember in the last forty years.”

    Irish folk music is *way* more healthy than English, and here I tend to agree with the song – as far as we’re concerned the perception that ‘traditional’=’Celtic’ is part of the problem. Or, more usually, the perception that ‘Celtic traditional’ is a bit cool and ‘English traditional’ is just naff. Quoting Tim from a mere couple of years ago:

    “I’d take a down-to-earth céilidh over the affected eccentricities of a morris dance”

    Eccentric is in the eye of the beholder, but when you’ve seen younger dancers giving the Morris some welly you’ll never call it affected. I’d agree that getting up and dancing is more fun than watching a display, though. But here’s the thing: I play for ceilidhs occasionally, and we play
    the Dorset Four Hand Reel
    Buttered Peas
    the Winster Gallop
    Oats and Beans
    Fiery Clockface
    Three around Three… I could go on. There are a couple of Irish tunes on our list (a couple of French ones too), but mostly they’re English tunes – and English dances. And as down-to-earth as you like.

    To sum up:
    1. Loss of English cultural ‘roots’ is a real thing, but
    1.1 it happened a long, long time ago
    1.2 it had nothing to do with immigration or American culture or young people not talking proper, innit
    1.3 I’m not convinced it’s a *political* issue
    2. Folk is doing pretty well these days, but
    2.1 An awful lot of it is indistinguisable from pop music (“not very popular pop songs” is James Yorkston’s description of his own work)
    2.2 There is still a bit of a cultural cringe when it comes to English traditional music – a sense that it’s uncool or that it must be reactionary. It’s a shame that songs like this offer such good ammunition to this view.

  38. Hi Phil! – and many thanks for such a long, considered and intelligent analysis of the above post and subsequent discussion, and what a pleasure to see the blog itself has not yet died… Your well-argued post deserves a longer reply than I can manage right now, so bear with me and I’ll get back ASAP.

    Cheers, Fitz

  39. Hi. I’m just commenting to make sure this blog stays open, or at least readable, for a while longer. I was at a gig last night that included this song, and when I searched for the lyrics this morning this article is near the top.
    Fascinating. I’m not adding my own thoughts as its all been said, in detail, far more articulately than I could… but I will add that I teach kids in England with no clue at all about a cultural heritage or meaningful history of any kind.
    I find it interesting that no one here has brought up the point that it’s impossible to be proud of being an oppressor… hence the whinging from the BNP that they are somehow losing something.

  40. I didn’t read Phil’s post. He made the point about subordinate cultures beautifully.

  41. Hello
    As an Irish person I grew up with folk music on the radio and television,sang the songs and bought the LPs and then CDs, of the clancy brothers, planxty, the dubliners, horslips paul brady etc. It was normal and this music was popular with all ages. Old English folk songs aren’t mainstream and cool. English popular culture has had more external influences. I think the song’s writer is saying that the old songs that everyone knew and could join in with are disappearing, as is the will to sing them hence the line
    ‘Rule Britannia’, or ‘Swing low…’Are they the only songs we English know? As fitzroy says ‘I would concede that, by contrast, England has let go of its folk roots ‘ and the writer of Roots is acknowledging that fact and saying what a sad state of affairs, perhaps because he has been to Ireland and Scotland and has seen how much pleasure playing and singing the old songs and music can still bring to people.

    I don’t think Roots is about cultural purity, more about a shared identity across generations, where everyone in a family would know certain songs and could all join in and sing them together creating something special bond and enjoyable. In Ireland these type of songs are called ‘come-all-yas’ as in ‘come all of you …and sing along, even if you only know the chorus’ .

    If the BNP want to interpret the song in a different way it isn’t the writer’s fault, didn’t the Republicans in the US try to use ‘Born in the USA’ as a campaign song a few years ago?
    Also flags and emblems are easily stolen, I remember a school friend of mine saying in 1983 that the Irish flag had been stolen and at that time he was right. Displaying a tricolour was seen as declaring extreme nationalist sympathies.
    Anyway that’s me done, all the best to you all.
    Now anyone for a couple of bars of Nelson’s Blood or Matty Groves?

    • Yes. I haven’t read all 75 responses, but was surprised by the original writer’s angle. I thought the BNP were completely thick not to realise that ‘it’s my flag too and I want it back’ refers to the way that nationalists and racists have stolen the union flag, made it an emblem of derision, and anyone who flies it when the football or Olympic team isn’t doing something big is a raving nazi.

      It’s not a great song. And I’d have to big slightly drunk to join in with any gusto, but I used to write essays on this theme at university, and I get where they are coming from. He’s envious of the people who are still proud of their cultural heritage – ie, every culture WE – English – colonised and generally pissed on. I’d like to claim to be Scots or Irish, but it might look a bit desperate. I have no charming accent, I have no deep cultural resentment of any group, and it’s very hard to write stories and songs unless you’re in opposition to something. Natural disasters. Ok, the proper rich. But they are quite shadowy these days and hard to pin down. So we – culturally English people – are a bit adrift. Thank you to ‘I dunno’ ?? but I have no idea why I got an email about it…


  43. I just returned to this blog after a couple of years absence; interesting to see it still evokes comments. The one above by our Irish friend (Mr. Dunno) makes a good point about the Republicans trying to use “Born in the USA” as a campaign song. The Republicans do use “This Land is Your Land” as a campaign song and that is a socialist anthem written by a committed Communist who hated and despised everything the US Republican Party (probably the most powerful fascist – or at least fascistic – political party in the world) stands for.

    Incidentally, I see that one or two people have made references to my earlier comments (eg. Andy, writing in March last year) indicating that they think the author or Roots is commenting here. I am not Steve Knightley, I have never met him and I do not write folk songs I’m afraid.

  44. I’ve followed show of hands for years and found no reason to think them racist. Like many bands who approach folk music in a modern way, they are aware of the roots of that tradition AND i’ts relationship to musical roots around the world. In 1992 at the Towersey village festival they sang columbus didn’t find america, refusing to join in with all the banging on about “discovery” or the inevitable spread of European “civilisation” . Native american history and rights seemed foremost in their minds then, not the stuff we’re usually fed about America. No racist paranoia in that song!, Myself, I have a healthy interest in my family roots, as mixed as anybodys! I like history too, especially early medieval stuff, but sadly if Anglo Saxons are mentioned there’s often a sharp intake of breath because that name has been hijacked and associated with racism for a long time now and it needs sorting out. I’m happy being British, English by birth, Scots, Welsh and Cornish by origin. Don’t confuse the desire for roots with racism, racism is born out of an ignorance of true origins not pride in them. Ultimately, were’ all african in origin from one ancestral mother, celebrate that common humanity, celebrate your roots! Show of hands do just that!

  45. Although this post is now 6 years old, I feel like making a few points (which I hope haven’t already been made; I’m afraid I haven’t read all the comments as I’d be here for as long as it took to make them). Again, I apologise if I am repeating any former comments.

    Firstly, the reference to Afro-Celts is a sort of in-joke on the fact that the album which “Roots” was recorded for (“Witness”) was produced by Simon Emmerson of the Afro-Celt Sound System and is therefore no racist generalising and labelling term for a number of ethnicities (as it may first appear).

    Secondly, the context you cite for this post is the BNP’s wish to use the song “Roots” for their dubious purposes. You state that Knightley “had to resort to legal action to prevent…’Roots’ from being used…on the British National Party’s website”. To me, this shows that Knightley’s intent was not to write a racist song, rather to lament the way traditional music and culture has been watered down by mass-produced s**t from the US and our own country. Certainly, as another commenter said, Knightley seems to be a bit of a “leftie” and not a supporter of such racism.

    Lastly, the song is not one of Knightley’s best. The whole song is littered with clichés and, in my opinion, the chorus is designed to be rabble-rousing (for want of a better term) and uplifting, rather than to make a particular point. It isn’t his best songwriting and appears to be more than a little ambigious (judging by the length of this thread). However, the line “and we learn to be ashamed before we walk/of the way we look and the way we talk” is actually, in my opinion, one of the best lines in the song which comments on the stereotype of English people as awkward and worrying about how others will view us (better than being brash and ignorant, as the American stereotype is). It suggests that we should be happier to share our culture and traditions, rather than being afraid of what others will think.

    I feel that you have given this song a little bit of an unfair judgement. It is in no way one of Knightley’s best but it raises some good points about an arguably dying tradition of music, dance and more. The media attention it gained is an unfortunate consequence of some racist people who don’t seem to understand the true message of the song (the song is about Englishness but the British National Party wanted to use it; there is a difference between Englishness and Britishness but they are too ignorant to even consider that).

    Thanks if you read this far, especially if you disagree with what I’ve said and it is nice to see such eloquent and friendly debate (in the most part) in a comments section.


    • I totally agree with you Jack! People will have their own opinions of this song but for me it signifies ordinary working class people who respect how hard their ancesters worked. I am proud to say that although things were really tough, they came through those years of hardship and epidemics. Mine were coal miners, nailmakers and the like. Like yourself, my family ‘ROOTS’ are very important to me. I absulutely love this song, it expresses my feelings exactly!!

  46. there’s a very clear explanation from Steve & Phil on Mike Harding 150, which explains what they intended (and what I heard from directly at a festival).

    sure the words could be ambiguous, if you were making a generic political point it would have missed – if you were targeting Howell about the impact of licensing law changes on live music – it’s pretty good – without being overt…

    Is it compulsory for all lyrics to be unambiguous and PC and fully believed in by the author? Go help Richard Thompson, to start a very long list…

  47. Well, isn’t this just the blog comment thread with the extra long-life batteries? Thanks to fitzroy for the original blog post and to everyone for the comments here – it’s been an interesting and thought-provoking read. I only found this because I was looking for the lyrics to ‘Roots’. I’m a fan of Show of Hands and like most of their songs – if I could write songs like Steve Knightley, I’d be a very happy bunny indeed – but I had noticed that the lyrics to this particular song made me twitch a little. It seemed plain to me that it would be very easy for the whole thing to be misappropriated by the BNP types. I didn’t realise that this had already happened (or been attempted).

    Like others, I had interpreted the lyrics about the flag as a reference to wanting to re-claim it from the far right, but when I listened again and thought about it, I was no longer so sure of that interpretation. At the very least, there’s an ambiguity there I guess.

    In any case, thanks again to everyone. If only for confirming that my slightly twitchy gut reaction to this song wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

  48. Well said bud

  49. I think you guys are all over analyzing it.

  50. It’s a great song, and in our present Brexit distress it seems even more so.
    All that faux BNP / UKIP nationalism is what has led us into our present crisis of xenophobia and impending financial ruin.
    The English do need to know their own history, and their own songs and cultural roots, or patriotic feelings can be diverted by the unscrupulous for their own ends.
    “It is my flag too, and I do want it back ” to paraphrase Steve Knightly.
    Ignorance of the real history of this nation, and why it is, and must be inclusive of all races, kinds, and creeds is so important.
    Perhaps this song should be played more. It is very relevant to our present crisis.

  51. I’m obviously not taking my music seriously enough and have missed a lot of detail in this song, and I guess a lot of SOH’s other offerings, and am therefore sorry that Steve has reduced your superior intellect to the level demonstrated in your critique of “Roots”. Maybe time to turn your attention to Slade or Abba despite there being nothing there for the BNP. Perhaps a box at the Royal Albert Hall would change your opinion.

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