Part of an irregular series of bite-sized posts about 7″ singles I own – shameless nostalgia from the days of vinyl. (Search ‘Backtracking’ to collect the set!)

ROBERT WYATT – Shipbuilding b/w Memories Of You (Rough Trade, 1982)

“Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding.”

ShipbuildingThis is the best looking single in my collection with its handsome gatefold colour sleeve that opens to a colour reproduction of a detail from Stanley Spencer’s painting from the 1940s – ‘Shipbuilding On The Clyde : Riveters’.

Apparently it  was released with four different editions; mine shows a worker with a brazier on the cover, others show  workers with ropes , with tarpaulins or hammering.

The words are by Elvis Costello, the music by Clive Langer and the inimitable voice is by Robert Wyatt’s which draws out the beautifully judged mix of the vernacular and the poetic.

Shipbuilding  is rated number 9 in the New Statesman’s Top 20 Political Songs and that magazine stiffly describes the song as a “Complex examination of the futility of war combined with empathy for soldiers in the Falklands conflict”.

The fact that was actually released after Britain had declared victory over the Argies on June 20th 1982 is partly why Dorian Lynskey preferred the more abrasive How Does It Feel (to be the mother of one thousand dead) by Crass in his History of Protest Songs (33 Revolutions) which came out while the battle for the island was still raging.

While the Crass song might have been more topical and more outspoken in its criticism of Thatcher, Costello’s song is the one that stands the test of time. It proves that protest and poetry can go hand in hand with the final couplet “Diving for dear life, When we could be diving for pearls”  emphasising the senseless waste of life in which men died preserving sovereignty over an island where sheep outnumbered humans.

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