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Paper Rifles

A political pop manifesto (with Jon Dick)

By • May 31st, 2018 • Category: features

There’s a divided opinion on whether music and politics should mix, but it seems that things are different from back in the 70s, when Paper Rifles have their main influences.

Singer and guitarist Jon Dick however disagrees, to a point.

“There isn’t a dayglo version of Red Wedge around the corner, but for example the LGBT voices that are alive and well in modern pop are surely also political, no?” he contends.

“I still think a lot of pop music stands in contrast to small “c” conservatism, so there is politics there”

Like many acts, Jon’s no full time musician – a history teacher by day.

“Haha, yeah, the double life!” he laughs. “It’s no secret that there are political and historical influences to my lyrics, and history books are 90% of what I read so I suppose that makes sense. I’m a huge advocate of the study of history – it’s so important to understand where we are today and why, and I can’t really write throw-away pop lyrics, so here we are. I’d rather listen to a song about Nye Bevan than someone crooning on and on about their baby.”

The mention of Red Wedge and Bevan brings Billy Bragg to mind, and while Paper Rifles is a full-on band, that’s not always been the case – Jon previously being singer in criminally underrated Edinburgh act Curators.

“Paper Rifles did start off as a solo acoustic thing,” he confirms, “but part of the reason I chose to use a band name was that I always thought there would be room to expand. “When Curators went on hiatus, I was at a bit of a loose end and didn’t really know what to do with myself!”

And expand they have, a furious racket – but always tempered with big, anthemic tunes..

“We know how to play together, and I can honestly say it has been pretty easy and really good fun. We must be learning from the mistakes of youth, I suppose! We tracked the record in two days, so we must be pretty tight.”

The record is just that, 13 tracks, from the onslaught of … ‘Four Hours’, via ‘It Always Rains In Scotland’ – almost a love song – and history in the shape of ‘I Was A Whaler’.

But ‘Politics’ – the opening title – is at the heart of the album.

“I think it’s almost impossible to be a sentient, empathetic human being in 2018 and not be political. It’s easy to point at Trump etc, but look at the poison that’s been seeping into British politics over the last decade or so. The “hostile atmosphere” around immigration leading to the Windrush scandal, the white-washed imperialism of a significant proportion of Brexiteers, the bizarre credence given to idiots like Farage, Hopkins et al – it’s a disgrace, and to be totally apolitical is to be complicit.”

Paper Rifles – despite their acoustic incarnation – are rooted in the sounds (and some of the philosophies) of a bygone age. Our chat takes place just after Record Store Day, ironically, ironically enough, which celebrates the vinyl revival.

“Yeah, I’ve covered a few different formats so far!” laughs the singer. “The ‘And Then Came The Tourists’ 7 inch on Struck Dum Records felt like a real step up. It was my first ever vinyl release, and it opened a lot of doors.

“The ‘Pennies For The Dead’ USB coin was all about writing and recording protest music and releasing it on an appropriate medium while the subject matter was still current. The b-side was indirectly about the murder of Jo Cox, so I didn’t want to hang about. When it came to making ‘The State Of It All’, we decided to record it all in three days to capture that live immediacy – and also to save money!”

And of course, it adds to that punk rock sound.

“I’ve always liked short, sharp blasts of intelligent punk rock. My favourite album of all time is (Manic Street Preachers’) ‘The Holy Bible’, so that probably explains a lot.

“I really enjoy playing acoustically, but the bottom line is I’ve yet to grow out of the sheer joy of stamping on a distortion pedal as the chorus crashes in!

The State Of It All is out now.

(This piece originally appeared in the Glenrothes Gazette)

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