Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: CD.

Release Date: ‘27th’ January 2023.

Karl Marx said that: “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.” This is true.

Proof of this was the Winter of Discontent which took place between November 1978 and February 1979. For four long months strikes took place across Britain in the private and public sector causing chaos and bringing a once proud country to its knees.

The problem was caused when trade unions demanded wage increases above the limits the then Prime Minister James Callaghan and the Labour  government were imposing. This was their way of trying to control inflation. However, the unions turned down the wage increases and soon, rubbish was piled high in the streets and bodies lay unburied as gravediggers withdrew their labour. That was just part of the story.

Hauliers, workers at Ford and teachers went on strike. They were joined by NHS ancillary workers who formed picket lines blocking entrances to hospital. The result was that many hospitals were only able to take emergency patients. Lives were endangered and chaos reigned the length and breadth of Britain.

On the ’28th’ of March 1979 the labour government lost a vote of no confidence brought by the leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher. 

The Grocer’s Daughter went on  to lead her party to victory in the subsequent general election and was Prime Minister for twelve long years.

However, after the demise of the Callaghan government the right wing press set about apportioning blame. They blamed the “union barons” for  the government’s demise and said that the unions were far too powerful. Never again must trade unions cause such chaos and bring Britain to its knees.

Then after forty years history repeated itself. This time as a three part farce.

The first part in the three part farce saw the entrance of the Conservative Clown Prince, a jobbing journalist masquerading as a politician. Having pinned his mast to the Brexit bandwagon he managed to secure the top job and became the Prime Minister on ’24th’ July 2019. Just over three years later the Clown Prince was forced to resign. By then, he wasn’t the only third rate comedian masquerading as a political statesman in Europe.

Then after the demise of the Clown Prince, the second act of the farce featured the short-lived dream team of Loopy and her chancellor Kamikaze. They seemed hellbent on bankrupting Britain during fifty days of political madness and mayhem. Britons breathed a sigh of relief as they exited stage left believing that: “things could only get better.”

How wrong they were. Enter Shifty a former hedge fund manager lacking not just charisma but seemingly any political ideology. However, like a new puppy at Christmas, at least he’s eager to please. He tries hard to please both wings of his warring party, and as a result has already made more u-turns than a joyrider in a stolen Golf GTi.

That’s why after just three months into his reign a startled looking Shifty resembles the captain on the Titanic. He’s heading towards a political iceberg that could sink not just his political career, but the very future of his party.

That’s no surprise as currently Britain is bedevilled and crippled by strikes. Everyone from postal workers and teachers to bus, train and tube drivers to barristers, civil servants, journalists, nurses and postal workers have been on strike.

Then when ambulance staff withdrew their labour one particularly tone deaf cabinet minister asked members of the public to refrain from risky activities. Don’t do anything dangerous was the message. And if you could avoid having a heart attack or stroke when the strike is on that would be a big help. This would save the worst government in over forty years even more bad publicity.

By then, post-Brexit Britain was the sick man of Europe. The country was on its knees struggling to recover from the pandemic. To make matters worse, after thirteen years of mismanagement by the Conservatives the health service was broken. Lives were being lost before and during the strikes. 

It seems that forty-four years after the original Winter of Discontent the Tories seem hellbent on making a sequel. Doubtless a junior minister is currently touting the script around Hollywood studios and dreaming of who will play them in the film.

However, nobody who lived through what’s one of the grimmest periods in the history of post-war Britain wants to see the film never mind relive the chaos, madness and mayhem of the past three years. After all, there’s very little good about this period.

That was the case with the original Winter of Discontent. However, back then Britain had just witnessed a musical revolution, and up and down the country a new generation of bands were being formed and labels were being founded. It was an exciting time.

Some of the tracks from this period that feature on Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent. It will be released on CD by Ace Records on ‘27th’ January 2023.

By the time of the Winter Of Discontent music had changed beyond all recognition. The change began in 1976 with the advent of punk and emergence of the Sex Pistols. They were credited by the music press with liberating music.

Now anyone could form a band and record a single. No longer did musicians need to be able to sing, play their instrument properly never mind read and write music. It was regarded as liberating and had made music more accessible. However, not everyone agreed with this.

Many musicians who had spent years honing their craft regarded many members of this new breed of bands as musically illiterate. They were merely masquerading as musicians. It was frustrating for the older musicians when those they regarded as musical charlatans enjoyed commercial success. Even if was only short-lived. Their fifteen minutes of fame was grudged.

Meanwhile, up and down Britain many new bands were formed by the new breed of musicians. Many were articulate and wrote music with a message that spoke to the young and disenfranchised in broken Britain. The music was often fuelled by anger and frustration and was raw, primitive and powerful. Some of the music was recorded cheaply in local studios and released by bands on their own label. This new DIY approach to music was seen as revolutionary and further proof that anyone could release a single.

Some of the tracks on Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent were released by bands on their own label. These labels sprung up in towns and cities across Britain.  Those running the labels sent copies of their latest release to the so-called tastemaker DJs of the time. Getting played by one of these DJs could transform the fortune of a band. This included some of the bands on Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent.

The Mekons open the compilation opens with Where Were You? They met a Leeds University, and released the single on the Fast Product label in 1978. It sold nearly 30,000 copies. That was despite the group being determined to do things their way. They were regarded as anti-record company and were unwilling to do interviews or embrace the rock star image. In 1982 the group split up but reunited in 1985. They’re still going and doing things their way.

Work by Blue Orchids was released on Rough Trade in 1981. It was the group’s sophomore single, and has a lo-fi early eighties indie sound. It’s also an anthemic sounding track that showcases another group who had an unorthodox approach to music. Una Baines compared the group to: “salmon swimming against the tide.” They continued to do until he left the group in 1982. However, the group reformed in 2003 and have released eight albums since then.

Small Hours by Karl’s Empty Body was released on Snatch Tapes in 1979. It features a distant almost emotionless vocal delivered against a hypnotic and minimalist arrangement. This lo-fi track has obviously been inspired by punk, post punk and new wave and is a reminder of the DIY scene.

Of the twenty-four groups on the compilation Scritti Politti is one of the best known. The group was founded at Leeds Polytechnic in 1976. Three years later, in 1979, released Confidence as a single on Rough Trade. It more than hints at what was to come from Green Gartside and Co. on albums like Cupid and Psyche 85.

When Low Flying Aircraft was released by Anne Bean and Paul Burwell on Pulp Music in 1979, it epitomised the DIY sound. It’s also a track that’s been heavily influenced by punk and post punk.

The Raincoats were a London-based all-female group that were signed to Rough Trade. They released the post punk single Fairytale In The Supermarket in 1979. It’s one of their finest moments and is a welcome addition to the compilation.

Androids Of Mu were an all-female group who lived in the Frestonia Squat in Notting Hill. Their music is a mixture of anarcho-punk, new wave and post punk. This genre-melting sound is showcased on their 1980 album Blood Robots. The highlight of the album is which is also one of the highlights of Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent.

In 1979, post punk group The Fall released their debut album Live At The Witch Trials. The same year they released Rowche Rumble as a single with In My Area as the B-Side. However, it’s In My Area (Take 2) that features on the compilation. It was recorded at the same session, and features a trademark vocal from the group’s frontman Mark E. Smith as he  delivers the lyrics about Prestwich the area where the group was based. The song is a reminder of one of the most enduring and important groups to emerge from the DIY music scene. 

Dave George wrote Attitudes which was released by The Good Missionaries in 1981. Stylistically the song harks back to punk era and the influenced of the Sex Pistols can be heard.

From the opening bars of King And Country by the Television Personalities the listener is hooked. The single which showcases the talents of Dan Treacy was released on Rough Trade in 1981. It’s one without doubt one of the highlights of the group’s career and the compilation.

Tarzan 5 featured a group of friends from towns in North-East Lancashire. They released Boys Game as a single in 1981 with Different Story as the B-Side. It’s a genre-melting hidden gem that combines elements of post punk and reggae to create a melodic and memorable single.

Closing Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent is Production Line by The Door And The Window. They fuse art noise, experimental music and post punk as they like many of the new breed of musicians strive to push musical boundaries .

For those of a certain age, Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent is a reminder of what was a hugely important time for music and politics. The music on the compilation transports the listener back to a turbulent time in Britain’s history.

After the demise of the Labour government in 1979, the Conservatives came to power. This turned out to be the start of a political revolution. The government led by Margaret Thatcher were advocates of neoliberalism. They believed in the free market, supply side economics and embarked upon a program of privatisation. However, the government  was also determined to curb the power of the unions who were being blamed for the strikes and that crippled the country during the Winter Of Discontent. This must never happen again was their mantra as they set about weakening the powers of the unions.

Meanwhile, Britain had just witnessed a musical revolution. It transformed how music was made and released. Suddenly, anything was possible as bands were formed, singles recorded cheaply in local studios and on newly founded labels.

It was liberating time for the new breed of bands that were formed the length of breadth of music. The music they recorded was new and exciting. This included everything from anarcho-punk to experimental music, indie pop and rock, lo-fi, new wave and post punk. Some groups  even revisited the sound of punk. Meanwhile others were influenced by everything from dub to reggae rock and R&B. They embraced the music of the past to make what they saw as the music of the future.

This includes the music that’s documented on Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent. It’s a reminder of a period when a political and musical revolution was underway. The political landscape was to change beyond all recognition, and not necessary for the better. However, music was transformed during this revolution and for the groups on this compilation suddenly, anything was possible.

Now forty years later, and sadly,  history is repeating itself with Britain in the throes of a second Winter Of Discontent. Sadly, what Karl Marx said turned out to be true and that: “history repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce.”

Bob Stanley/Pete Wiggs Present Winter Of Discontent.


1 Comment

  1. We in Canada were limited in our knowledge of just how bad things were at that time, though we benefited from some of the music. Mind you the artists you are talking about are not familiar to me. Very interesting, remains to be seen if the music will follow this time.

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