‘Music can be about collective issues’
Tuesday 22nd November 2016
Singer-songwriter CALUM BAIRD tells Bob Oram about the message he’s trying to get across in his new single
IT’S been a busy 12 months for Calum Baird.
After graduating earlier in the year, his album No Right Turn was nominated for Scottish Album of 2016 and he’s been on the road non-stop, including well-received appearances at the Avante festival in Portugal.
Baird revels in tales of appearing with artists he admires like David Rovics in his home city Edinburgh — “an honour and an inspiration to young singers like myself looking to write and sing political music” — and The Blockheads in Paisley on bonfire night.
“I played a really anti-fascist and leftwing set which went down really well with their crowd — even if I was getting it a bit tight for my Edinburgh accent!”
The momentum hasn’t slackened, with 25 gigs slated before the end of the year. And he’s just released new single I Still Believe in an Alternative. Nominally a Christmas single, this is no Sladesque festive romp.
A deeply political writer, Baird is all about reflecting momentous times, with a crisis engulfing Western capitalism — Brexit, Trump, the Ceta treaty, the return of far-right politics to the mainstream across Europe and wars in the Middle East still raging.
“The song is about the end of the cold war and how capitalism was supposedly going to take care of us all peacefully, yet this never came to fruition,” he tells me.
“Irrespective of who won the vote on November 8, there’d still be the constant political and economic crises thrown up by this system.
“But there is an alternative to the barbarity capitalism has created.
In the US election, neither Trump nor Clinton addressed the serious issues facing the US and the world such as war, TPP, vast social and political inequality and, crucially, the system at the heart of it all.
“In this atmosphere of intense political flux, I felt it was important to put out a song that shows that music can be about collective issues like politics or the economy, rather than just simply personal ones like the usual sentimental dross at this time of year.”
He certainly does that, with a clever but sparse guitar and harmonica accompaniment and a harsh vocal production complementing lyrics which set out the stall from the off: “Here we are living with boom and bust/ Champagne for them while the rest of us rust.”
And the changing chorus to each verse raises the lyrical stakes: “I still believe in an alternative to a world of bullets and bombs/and this Earth is treated like a weapon fair/but is the only home we have to share,” he sings on one of them.
This is a song that grows with each listen. Released the day after the warmonger Trump was elected US president, it’s a wonderful anecdote to the triumphalism and fake hope of the victor, while giving optimism for a better world.
It ends on the line: “No more will be reap the whirlwinds of poverty, when we spurn the dust to claim the prize.”
Next year is likely to be as busy for Baird as this. He’s playing at a festival in Madrid commemorating the International Brigades in February, then at the Festival of Music and Politics in Berlin a week later before performing at the Edinburgh May Day rally with the usual tour around the Scottish scene in between.
Baird is well worth catching live and, on the basis of his single, any new recordings will be well worth a listen in future too.
For more information on Calum Baird’s recordings and tour dates, go to: calumbaird.com and Twitter @CalumBairdSongs.