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Dustbowl refugees (photo:

Wobblies sing the Grapes of Wrath

Songs inspired by John Steinbeck’s book The Grapes of Wrath, which depicts the exodus of poverty-stricken rural workers in the US from their land in the 1930s, will be performed by local folk and blues group The Wobblies on Friday 22 September as part of this year’s Hastings Fringe. Nick Terdre previews the event.

The background to the exodus was the Great Depression ushered in by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, allied with the Dustbowl disaster as drought and dust storms made large areas of land in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and other states unfarmable. Thousands of tenant farmers were forced off the land as they went bust or simply could not produce any crops – it is estimated that nearly half a million people headed for California lured by promises of plentiful work picking fruit – including grapes – and a kinder climate.

But California didn’t turn out to be the promised land they were hoping for – instead they found themselves exploited, forced to live in ‘jungles’ on the outskirts of town and treated as second-class citizens.

Then and now

If all that rings a bell, it should – a contemporary resonance with today’s migratory flows in and across Europe in the face of economic and environmental upheaval is fully intended, says the Wobblies’ Bob Blizard.

Steinbeck’s book inspired a film of the same name directed by John Ford and songs by Woody Guthrie, who himself joined the exodus from Oklahoma to California. “We sing a lot of Woody Guthrie songs in our set anyway,” says Bob, “Many of his songs relate to that era.” One which the Wobblies will perform is Tom Joad, which prompted Steinbeck to jokingly comment of Guthrie: “That little bastard. If only he’d written the song before, he could have saved me a whole novel.”

Poster by Bob Linney.

Poster by Bob Linney.

Responding to the Fringe’s desire to include more film this year, the performance will be accompanied by still images from the era, compiled by Pete Blundell from film sources, the public archive and the BBC.

As well as Guthrie songs, the Wobblies will sing actor and musician Kris Kristofferson’s composition Here Comes that Rainbow Again and a song on migration today, Fortress Europe, by the band’s guitarist Mike Surman. There will also be a reading of a poem by Alberto Rios.

Agatha Coffey will be accompanying the band, whose members also include Paul Moon and Perry Blizard.

Entry is free but a collection will be taken for Global Justice Now, which campaigns for a just-er world.

Hastings Fringe 2017: The Grapes of Wrath The Wobblies with Agatha Coffey. 9pm on Friday 22 September, The Garage (at back of Horse & Groom pub), 4 Mercatoria, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0EB.

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Posted 13:10 Monday, Sep 11, 2017 In: Music & Sound

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