Thursday 20 September 2018

Rough Music and Europe

Rough Musik is one of the many names for an ancient act of popular justice, which occurred across Europe in similar, if not identical forms. Coined in the late 17th century, the phrase is the British equivalent of the French charivari, the Italian scampanate and the German haberfeld-treiben, thierjagen and katzenmusik.   

According to E. P. Thompson, author of The Making of the English Working Class, rough music involved a wide variety of popular rituals in which an embarrassing punishment (we might call it "naming and shaming") was meted out in public to an individual or group of people who had offended the community. British performances of rough music were, at times, quite elaborate. Thompson notes that the ritual "might include the riding of the victim (or a proxy) upon a pole or a donkey; masking and dancing; elaborate recitatives; rough mime or street drama upon a cart or platform; the miming of a ritual hunt; or the parading and burning of effigies; or, indeed, various combinations of all these." But, "beneath all the elaborations of ritual," Thompson writes, "certain basic properties can be found: raucous, ear-shattering noise, unpitying laughter, and the mimicking of obscenities." To generate noise, all kinds of instruments were used: pots and pans, marrow bones and cleavers, tongs, tambourines, chains, ram's horns, empty or stone-filled kettles, whistles, rattles, bells, guns and, of course, the human voice, used to yell, scream, howl, grunt, hiss, boo and chant.
EP Thompson was the retiring professor the year I arrived at Warwick University's Department of Social History and, under his influence, I remember taking part in rough musicing outside the residence of the Bishop of Coventry. (Sorry but have forgotten what it was about!) Forty years later, and when Press Officer at the Stop the War Coalition, I helped organise a 'rough musicing' outside Westminster Cathedral while Tony Blair was delivering one if his 'faith' lectures inside. When Peter Mandelson tried to leave and walk along Victoria Street I pursued him, clanging a cow bell to his ear and repeating the two words, 'murderer, murderer'.
I tell you all this for two reasons. As my homage to EPT, a great man whose writings and political actions have influenced my life and to emphasise the European roots of his and my politics. They emerge from charivari. 

 I am also now able to recommend that you read EP Thompson on what we now call an alternative Europe, holding with him to the belief that through struggle 'another Europe is possible.' This is an argument that will need some rough musicing to be heard and perhaps that will be soon when we go to the polls in support of JC4PM. Here is his 'Going into Europe' written more than forty years ago.
“As British capitalism dies above and about us, one can glimpse, as an outside chance, the possibility that we could effect here a peaceful transition – for the first time in the world– to a democratic socialist society.”

some rough music

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