In January 1997 Manchester Airport received permission to build a second runway across the River Bollin. A protest camp was set up by people opposed to the development to try to protect the rural river valley.
A cassette tape was issued by the Coalition Against Runway 2 which captures some live performances by protesters in the camp. A copy of the tape is held by the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, and we recently digitised it as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. It provides a glimpse into 1990s environmental protest camp life.
The opening song sets the scene quite literally – The River of Love is a love song for the river Bollin, meanwhile the recording is interrupted regularly by planes flying overhead.
The Pixie Song dramatises the camp scene further by describing the differences in approach between the ‘pixies’ (protesters) and the authorities, represented by the airport security’s new fence. The defiance is clear in the refrain: “Security built a new fence today, it’s not going to last for long!”
The literal songs give way into parody with the Garlic Family, which uses the Addams family theme tune to mock the security guards and celebrate the protest family. Wild garlic grew in the part of the camp which was evicted in May 1997.
Pub Policy, by ‘Busker Alan’ and sung by Paul, is a song which uses the public perception of ‘crusty’ protesters to gently mock the dismissive way they are treated by society at large.
The tape as a whole is an optimistic and celebratory document of 1990s protest. You can’t listen to the songs and not picture the camp, the protesters’ lives in it, and its surrounding environment. As Simon Heywood writes:
“[the songs] … persuasively name and thus powerfully control the threats facing the protesters and their own possibly debilitating responses – specifically, the dangers involved in the necessary expression of personal vulnerability in circumstances that demand stoicism and endurance. It is worth noting as a coda that, understandably, they do so with a remarkable lightness of touch. At their most aggressive, the Songs from Under the Flightpath retain humour and playfulness; at their most searching and challenging, they retain a sense of gentle hopefulness.”
The river Bollin now flows through a tunnel under the second runway, which opened in February 2001. But those involved in the camp are still involved in the fight against the climate emergency.
Thanks to Jeff Gazzard and Colin Howden of the Coalition Against Runway 2 for their kind permission to publish songs from the tape, and thanks of course to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford for looking after this fascinating tape.
We are working with youth music groups across the north west region to listen to and respond to protest music and political life stories in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage sound archives. Find out more at the Demo Tapes site. We’re live streaming a free gig from Manchester Central Library on Tuesday 13th July 6-8pm with our partners Reform Radio.