The Anti-Polaris Singers were the most prominent group of demonstrators using song as an oppositional force at the protests held on the Holy Loch in the spring of 1961. The group not only performed anti-Polaris songs but collaboratively composed the material and published it in small ‘chapbook’ style pamphlets for sale to other protesters.
By train and bus, in rattle-trap lorries , by hitch of thumb, the motley anti-Polaris crew made for Dunoon and the Holy Loch area at every available opportunity. And also at every available opportunity the hard core sang their protests on station platforms, on quaysides, on the march; from improvised platforms, through hastily-assembled loud-speaker systems, from floating craft of all shapes and sizes; sitting down, standing up; to the police, at the police; but most of all at the extremely ruffled Americans.
(Blythman in Chapbook 1968:15)
The Anti-Polaris Singers singing on the Gourock to Dunoon ferry en route to protest at the Holy Loch (Smithsonian Collections Blog 2010)
The Ding Dong Dollar record released by Folkways Records in 1962 was the definitive anti-Polaris statement produced by the Scottish Folk Revival. The record was the culmination of an extended period of song-making and demonstration singing undertaken by the schoolteacher and campaigner Morris Blythman (aka the poet Thurso Berwick) who at the request of Folkways’ owner, Moses Asch, and under the direction of the renowned socialist poet, songwriter and intellectual Hamish Henderson brought the project to fruition. Of the songs featured on the record, the majority had been made specifically for the demonstrations that coincided with the arrival of the American Navy on the Holy Loch in the spring of 1961.
The iconic sleeve for the record features singers and protestors on the Gourock – Dunoon ferry. (The Glasgow Song Guild 1962)
Later today I’m putting on a gig in Glasgow with some musician friends. We’re fundraising for an exhibition I’m involved with later this month but I’m viewing it mainly as an opportunity to try out some of the songs that were originally made for the anti-Polaris demonstrations at the Holy Loch in 1961 and featured on the Ding Dong Dollar record in 1962.
Poster for Songs of Protest (adapted from a print by Niko in Crowley 2008)
It’s the 15th of March 2017, 7am in the morning and I’m standing in Glasgow’s Central Station. I’m unaware as I stand there, but I’ll subsequently read in both Ailie Munro and Ewan McVicar’s books, that the station itself plays a significant role in the history of protest song in the Folk Revival. It was here in 1952 that Morris Blythman first came to the idea of demonstration songs. I’ll write more on Blythman and demonstration singing later, meanwhile I have a train to catch.