"What Use to People Was British Wartime Song 1914-1918?" - Normandie Université Access content directly
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"What Use to People Was British Wartime Song 1914-1918?"


Historians, in my view, can be best defined by the questions they decide to ask. My approach to popular song is to maintain that it does not illustrate history with a capital H, history which happens elsewhere in muddy trenches or oak-panelled offices. It rather constitutes a series of mass activities which are a part of history, just as much as are other activities such as working or fighting. This is the reason for the title of my paper: “The Uses of British Wartime Song”. The question positions popular song as a material activity serving a purpose, and not as an expression of “national spirit”, “the soul of the people” or the “zeitgeist”, nor as only a particular stage in the artistic development of a musical genre. As we shall see, many of the specific characteristics of the mass activity, and of the structure of the music industry, influence the repertoire: notably the importance of audience singalong, and the absence of a system in the United Kingdom of paying royalties to songwriters. Putting the question of the “uses” of the popular song at the heart of the question reminds us of another significant element: songs can sometimes be used for purposes which were not decided by the creator of the song. I shall begin by presenting briefly the nature of the popular music industry in 1914. I shall then treat some of the myths that have grown up about wartime song, mostly in the absence of large-scale archival work and very much coloured by the idea of the “home front” – the view of all activity in the nation as subordinate to the empire’s military objectives. After this, I will deal with the particularly political groups of songs- the enthusiastic war songs in the early months, and the occasional dissenting songs throughout the conflict. Finally, I will focus in on the foremost use of the songs as a kind of collective catharsis of everyday life, showing very strong continuity with pre-war and post-war repertoires and processes.
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hal-02523525 , version 1 (29-03-2020)


  • HAL Id : hal-02523525 , version 1


John Mullen. "What Use to People Was British Wartime Song 1914-1918?". Dietrich helms (dir), Musik in Konfrontation und Vermittlung, 2020, 9783940255846. ⟨hal-02523525⟩
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