Maddy Carty is a multifaceted singer-songwriter. Depending on your introduction to her music you might initially think of her as a folk singer, a ska, reggae or pop artist, or an R&B vocalist. Truth is, she's all of the above, while also being a committed political artist who regularly plays protest songs like her classic "Condemn Age" (from debut album 'Come and Get It') at benefits, political events and picket lines. The latter might surprise some who know her primarily for the reggae-inflected pop songs that predominate on her aforementioned album, but there's no right or wrong way to mix politics and art. In fact, you can make a good case (with many historical examples) for the superior subversive potential of political messages in a mainstream pop context, compared to, say, the archetypal punk gig where everyone is already broadly in agreement.
Maddy was recently declared joint winner of the CWU-sponsored Bread & Roses Songwriting and Spoken Word Award for her song "Crying at the News" about the Grenfell Tower fire.
What made you decide to use (some of) your songwriting to express political viewpoints?
Maddy: I don’t remember it ever being a conscious decision, I’ve just always written about things I care about and what’s going on around me.
Do you use songs as tools to put across prefigured messages – or is it more that you self-express in general through music, with politics just one aspect of that?
Maddy: If it makes me feel, I’ll write about it. I guess in that sense I can’t help that my politics comes out in my song writing, because it’s something I’m passionate about. Sometimes I’ll just start a song with no real idea of where it will take me, other times, I’ll have a subject in my head that I want to address. For example, during the time of the junior doctor strike where we were also in the midst of the refugee crisis (which we still are) it made me so angry that I knew I would write about it, and that’s where my song ‘What Kind of Life’ came from.
Is the function of politics in music to affirm views within a reciprocal social group, or convert – or at least converse with – a wider public?
Maddy: I would hope that if you can put across an idea in a song, that it could create conversation, or open people’s eyes to things they perhaps hadn’t thought about or didn’t want to. I think that’s something that music does in general, not just political music. But it has to be said that when I play more political gigs I do realise I’m preaching to the converted because of the left wing people who book me!
Explicit or ideological politics is a rarity in music, even most punk/DIY scenes: is that something you’re conscious of, and does it matter?
Maddy: I think because of the circles I’m in I wouldn’t see politics as rare in music or the arts, considering I gig with the likes of Grace Petrie, Nia Wyn, Steve White and the Protest Family and many others. I’m also a big fan of people who sing songs involving social commentary and politics, like Will Varley, Gaz Brookfields and Thee Faction, so it’s probably less a case of the content being rare but the ability to get the content to wider audiences, which is a shame. Also, most of those people are doing really well, so perhaps there’s the matter of the media and industry trying to ignore this type of music!
Is there a pressure that comes with being known as a political musician? And is there a balance to strike between work on the one hand, and fun and self-care on the other?
Maddy: I do think there’s pressure when people refer to me as political artist, especially when I don’t see myself as just that. I’m a singer-songwriter so a lot of my stuff isn’t necessarily political and might just be love songs, or me having a go at my fella! Sometimes it feels like I have to change my set according to the type of gig I’m doing and to fit the audience, but I always like to get a couple of my ‘political’ songs into every set. There’s the worry about other political artists not thinking you’re political enough too! When it comes down to it, I do music because I love it, so having a few different avenues to go down creatively is never a bad thing.
What are the primary political issues we face, in the UK and globally?
Maddy: My two biggest worries are for education and our NHS. I work in a lot of schools and have seen first hand the damage that the cuts have done to education, especially within Special Education Needs, and the idea of all schools becoming academies genuinely terrifies me. And of course the NHS is in crisis and the treatment of the staff is appalling. I think more people are becoming aware of these issues now and taking a step up to try to fight for them. The sooner we get the Tories out the better.
Catch Maddy live when she joins us for Matchwomen Festival on 30 June.
Maddy Carty is currently recording a new EP. You can sponsor and follow its progress here: https://www.patreon.com/MaddyCarty