Watching the tragedy of oil slicks washing up on the beaches of Tauranga, my old home town, has radicalised me. All week I have had the music of Pete Seeger’s song  If I Had a Hammer  going round in my head.  “If I had a hammer, I‘d hammer in the morning… I’d hammer out danger , I’d hammer out a warning”.  I have been reminded again of the function and the power of the protest song.

With oils spills in the Pacific, famines in Africa, riots in London, global warming off the dial, financial gorging by corporations whose incomes are bigger than small countries, Murdoch on the ropes  and Papatuanuku  groaning it’s time for musicians and poets to speak up. Protest songs are gestures of resistance, a way for songwriters to rage against the Machine. I have been heartened to see shots of kids playing guitars amongst the images of protesters occupying Wall Street this week. More than resistance, this time the guitar is a symbol of resentment.

When Seeger broke If I Had a Hammer out at the Peekskill outdoor folk festival in New York State in September 1949 the show turned into one of the most violent events in the history of popular music. Seeger, a card carrying member of the Communist Party at the time, had his show disrupted and the organisers of the festival were beaten up. When the performers left the festival they were ambushed and attacked by rock throwing locals who dented the musicians cars and showered them in glass. All because of the emotions Seeger’s songs stirred up. Fifteen years later If I had a Hammer became a battle cry for the civil rights movement.

Yes the images of thousands of birds drowning in oil in the Bay of Plenty have politicised me. When I first started writing songs 30 years ago I really believed, along with most of the musicians around me, that music could change the world.

Inspired by David Lange’s Oxford debate we wrote about uranium and nuclear proliferation. We cheered Tim Shadbolt on when he published his political manifesto Bullshit and Jellybeans.  I remember writing a song with the Narcs called Stranger in a Strange Land when the USS Texas would neither confirm nor deny carrying nuclear warheads when she visited Auckland in the early 80s, and writing another song called One More Revolution the day John Lennon died. Hanging out with Shona Laing as she wrote Soviet Snow about Chernobyl and touring with Midnight Oil supporting Aboriginal rights with Beds Are Burning.  

Herbs were politicised when Bob Marley came to New Zealand in 1979 .Out of that came French Letter which put the boot into French nuclear testing in the Pacific – a cause taken up again by Che Fu with his song Chains in the 90s.

This summer I hope our musicians have the courage to rise to the challenge. Don’t be fiddling while Rome burns. Don't be coming on stage so cool with your funny hat and no agenda. When you have the mic in your hand you have the power. Be mindful, give us some meaning. Gaia is restless and there is a revolution afoot. Hammer out a warning. (For Fuck Sake).