Union Songs

The Best Of Broadside

An article by Mark Gregory

Best fo Broadside coverIn the early 1960s, when Sydney had The Troubadour (Melbourne had Trainor’s) and various other coffee shops where folk songs were sung, I first came across a magazine called Broadside. From the United States, this unassuming homemade looking magazine concentrated on new songs being written in America (and a few from England and Scotland), songs that became tagged “protest songs”. I came across Broadside through singers such as Chris Kempster and Kevin Butcher who had subscriptions. Broadside showed another face of America, a face concerned with such issues as peace, poverty, racial equality, civil rights. Not the sort of America projected by the media at all.

About the same time I was involved with other members of Sydney University Folk Music Society, with putting together a songbook called “Songs Of Our Times”. This roneoed foolscap sized book of a 100 or so songs, borrowed songs from everywhere. Many had just been written in Sydney by Gary Shearston, Don Henderson, Mike Leyden and many were borrowed from the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Britain, from Singout! , from “Songs of Struggle and Freedom”, from “Songs of Irish Rebellion” and whatever else we could find. Some, no doubt, came from Broadside. The songbook was typewritten, mainly by secretaries from a number of Sydney union offices. The tunes were drawn by hand on waxy stencils and the books were collated and stapled over a weekend by many helpers. An unassuming homemade looking book.

At that time it became fashionable to dismiss these new songs as “protest songs” and their singers or writers as “protest singers”. Some dismissed them for their politics, some because they didn’t fit with any usable definition of folk song. Still people found many reasons for singing writing and disseminating such songs. No one did it more thoughtfully or for longer than Broadside. That magazine continued for over a quarter of a century, encouraging new song writing and getting the songs out to the singing movement. It soon spawned some Broadside recordings too. Bob Dylan, Malvina Reynolds, Tom Paxton, Peggy Seeger, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ewan MacColl, Matt McGinn, Janis Ian published songs in Broadside along with many less well known writers.Sis Cunningham and Gordon Freisen Blowin’ in the Wind, What Have They Done To the Rain? Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, What Did You Learn In School Today? Legal-Illegal, Victor Jara, Ding Dong Dollar were among the hundreds of songs that filled the pages.

Broadside ceased publication in 1988, a monument to Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen who began publishing it from their 2 bedroom flat in New York in early 1962. I always imagined I’d see an issue or two sometime, then there it was “The Best of Broadside” five CDs with 89 songs all beautifully boxed in 150 pages of songs and details about the magazine. At less than a dollar (well a US dollar) a song how could I resist? This publication from Smithsonian Folkways pays a fitting tribute to this small underground magazine, “The Anthems of the American Underground”, in doing so spotlighting those who worked so hard and long to make it possible.

See http://www.folkways.si.edu/projects_initiatives/broadside/home.html

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