Ethnicity and popular music in British cultural studies
This chapter considers the ways in which Britain's multi-ethnic margins have been handled in British cultural studies, and particularly that strand associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. It also considers popular music as a case study to explore the field's reception of immigrant-descended cultural practitioners, focusing specifically on its treatment of second-generation Irish rock musicians. The chapter re-examines Dick Hebdige's Subculture, a formative endeavour in the field's engagement with questions of race, ethnicity and popular music. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that many second-generation African-Caribbean and South Asian musicians have expressed particular concerns about the racial connotations of Britpop. Britpop's incorporation of the descendants of post-war Irish Catholic labour migrants suggests that its principles of exclusion were determined less by the historical fact of having an immigrant background, than by a discursive conflation of race and nation.
This chapter explores The Smiths as a form of second-generation Irish music-making, viewing their work as an 'Irish-English' musical 'route'. Accounts of the second-generation Irish in England detail the ambivalence that this generation has felt towards both the host culture and the ethnic 'home'. Certain Irish critics have set out to detect, in The Smiths' work, quintessentially Irish qualities. Moreover, at key points in The Smiths' career, Morrissey made it clear that his lyrical ideas had been shaped by the marginality he had experienced as a second-generation Irish youth. The opening lines of 'Never Had No One Ever' are striking in this regard. The singer's most noted homage to Wilde, in The Smiths' song 'Cemetry Gates' provides a clue to his position on Irish/English affairs. In this respect, The Smiths' address to 'outsiderness' went beyond the tropes of ambivalence and unease, pointing to a more enabling conception of marginality.
This book seeks to offer a rather wider frame of analysis than is typically adopted in accounts of the nature and significance of The Smiths. It focuses on the Catholic and broader religious dimensions of The Smiths. The book explores the theme of suicide in the songs of The Smiths. It also seeks to examine how the kitchen-sink dramas of the early 1960s influenced Morrissey's writing. The book proposes that beyond the literal references in his lyrics there lies a sensibility at the heart of these films akin to the one found in his poetic impulse. The book expands the argument with some concluding thoughts on how cinema has 'returned the favour' by employing The Smiths' songs in various ways. It examines the particular forms of national identity that are imagined in the work of The Smiths. The book ranges from class, sexuality, Catholicism, and Thatcherism to musical poetics and fandom. It then focuses on lyrics, interviews, the city of Manchester, cultural iconography, and the cult of Morrissey. The distinctive sense of Englishness that pervades the lyrics, interviews, and cover art of the band is located within a specific tradition of popular culture from which they have drawn and to which they have contributed a great deal. The book breaches the standard confines of music history, rock biography, and pop culture studies to give a sustained critical analysis of the band that is timely and illuminating.
Amid the ascent and ubiquity of dance music in the early 1990s, The Smiths-who had disbanded acrimoniously in 1987, appeared to have become deeply unfashionable. The fading reputation of The Smiths during the 1990s might, therefore, be attributed to the actions of fans and critics alike. The advent of the twenty-first century has signalled a remarkable reversal in the fortunes of The Smiths. The resurgence of guitar-based music, heralded by bands like The Strokes and The Libertines, has ensured that the Manchester group is now deeply fashionable, even more so perhaps than in their 1980s heyday. The increasing influence of The Smiths has stretched of course well beyond the parameters of popular music. When invited on the long-running BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, David Cameron selected 'This Charming Man' as one of his indispensable recordings.
Number of authors have sought to establish popular music as an important element within the Irish critical imagination. The popular music produced in Northern Ireland since the 1960s offers a key means of understanding the wider cultural and political fate of its people. In the 1960s the showbands ruled supreme throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. The emergence of the punk subculture in Northern Ireland is usually traced to the visit of The Clash to Belfast in 1977. The Clipper Carlton's played jazz instrumentals, novelty pop, calypso, rock 'n' roll, show tunes, Irish ballads, Country 'n' Western, any form of music that would elicit a response from their audience. Van Morrison may not have been as commercially successful as some, but his influence upon Irish popular music has been pervasive, even if much of the time that influence has been filtered through a variety of other sources.