The Maturation of Anglo-American Protest Music in the Antinuclear Environment from 1957-1969


Anthony Eames

The post-war years in Britain are often understood in the context of decolonization, the loss of empire, and the collapse of imperialism alongside the rise of American power, ideals and culture.  Nuclear weapons programs were at the centre of this transition.  The British decision to build an independent nuclear arsenal in the late 1940s and the pursuit of nuclear collaboration with the United States in the late 1950s engendered opposition in the United Kingdom.  In 1958, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (henceforth CND) united a number of antinuclear factions to pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons.  The CND pursued disarmament through a method of protest that focused less on politics and more on mass involvement. Music became essential to engaging people in mass demonstrations against nuclear weapons.  It emerged as a preferred medium for the transmission of emotions that roused support for disarmament in the young, educated, middle-class. International dimensions of the protest music industry connected British activists with American demonstrators.  The link the CND forged between music and mass demonstrations codified an approach to protest for a variety of social movements in the United Kingdom and the United States in the nuclear age.

     The twelve-year period of this study is carefully chosen to correspond to the first wave of CND activism.  This analysis of the transatlantic creation of modern protest music developed in an antinuclear environment pulls together arguments concerning the socio-economic dimensions of protest, shared musical styles between America and Britain, and the rejection of nuclear weapons.  These areas of study must be united in order to accurately depict the cross-cultural connection between music, antinuclear rhetoric, generational conflict, and social protest.

            Fran Parkin’s sociological investigation of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmaments proves crucial for understanding the transformation of protest in the nuclear age.[1]  He argued that protesters after World War II assumed a social identity that was not present in the earlier protest movements. In the working-class radicalism of the pre World War II years, protest aimed to garner economic and material concessions specific to certain groups.  In contrast, middle-class radicalism, which was spawned by the antinuclear movement in Britain, was concerned with benefits for society at large.  This style of protest relied on mass support primarily coming from the young, educated middle class.[2]The historian Richard Taylor explains that as the first mass social movement of its kind, CND articulated the fears of thousands of people.  The development of the campaign and its politics, he claims, impacted social movements of later generations.[3]

            British historian, Meredith Veldman, contends that generational conflict underpinned antinuclear protest.  Antinuclear activists struggled to come to terms with Britain’s inability to control world events.  As a result, a generation of young social activists rejected both the bomb and the culture that produced it.[4]  Lawrence Wittner, an authority on nuclear protest, added that CND members rejected authority in the context of action against the bomb.  This resulted in generational conflict between the elite leadership of the CND and the core of its base.[5]              

            In his study of jazz revivalism in relation to social protest in Britain, cultural historian George McKay suggests that jazz contributed the “leftist marching music of the streets.”  He argues that this fuelled CND demonstrations, which made antinuclear protest a distinct form of sub cultural expression in Britain.  He stops short of applying the antinuclear-musical framework to America as a category of analysis.[6]  Brocken’s analysis of the British folk revival deserves consideration alongside McKay’s work.  Brocken posits a Marxist construction of the folk revival.  He argues that nuclear weapons were representative of the capitalist worldview that divided society.  Folk music provided the post-war generation with a method to reject capitalism – the system that was responsible for Anglo-American nuclear expansion.[7]

            Historical accounts of social protest, generational conflict, and the jazz and folk revival during the 1950s and 1960s point to a transformation of protest in the nuclear age.  Music and opposition to nuclear weapons were at the centre of this transformation.  These two forces converged to create an atmosphere that attracted a new breed of social activists that demonstrated its discontent through mass protest.


Antinuclear Groups and Generational Conflict

     In the late 1950s a number of antinuclear movements appeared in the United Kingdom and the United States.  Britain’s antinuclear groups greatly surpassed the numbers and influence of their American counterparts.  Two groups in particular gained notoriety in their push to disarm Britain of nuclear weapons.  In 1957, the Direct Action Committee (DAC) sprouted from a core of prolific non-violent activists who initially united in peaceful protest against the British Government termed “Operation Ghandi.”[8]  The CND was founded in 1957 as a political pressure group, with a host of elite Britons leading the fight.  Amongst the nineteen founders of the organization, thirteen could be found in Who’s Who.  Bertrand Russell, E.P. Thompson, A.J.P. Taylor, Canon John Collins, and MP Michael Foot were among the eminent members of the self-appointed council of the CND.[9]  In 1960, Bertrand Russell established the Committee of One-Hundred by inviting prominent activist to participate in the leadership of the CND. The Committee of One-Hundred’s command of the CND further separated its bourgeois leadership from its younger, middle-class constituency.  After the formation of the Committee of One-Hundred, the high-profile organization consolidated all antinuclear factions in Britain under the umbrella of the CND. 

            There were many divides over leadership and tactics in the internal machinery of the CND.  Canon Colins represented the organization’s leadership, when he determined the first priority of the CND was to “win a majority for CND policy [disarmament] within the Labour Party” and only “second, … to put … nuclear disarmament to the British public as a whole.”[10]  Such a strategy tied antinuclear efforts solely to the Labour Party.  It rejected the force of public demonstration on the Conservative Party and the government of the day.[11]  Michael Foot confirmed this strategy. When asked if he would support an anti-bomb Conservative verses a pro-bomb Labour politician, he cried, “Certainly not!”[12]  Unlike their younger foot soldiers, CND leaders only envisioned nuclear politics within the confines of accepted political parameters: a defence-oriented Conservative Party and a Labour Party focused on social problems.  The strategy tied the outcome of nuclear politics to the fate of Labour and the decisions of its leadership, but at the same time it protected the movement from accusations of being an anarchic youth rebellion, or worse, a Communist run organization.[13]

            The Direct Action Committee (DAC) represented the younger faction of the antinuclear movement.  The group advocated non-violent protest and organized the first of the annual Easter marches to Aldermaston, in protest of nuclear weapons in 1958.  The Aldermaston marches soon became a hallmark of the antinuclear movement.  At its peak, the 1962, Aldermaston March drew over 150,000 marchers galvanized by contributions from performers along the marching route.  This non-violent form of protest, the largest mass demonstration since the Chartist actions in 1848, appealed to the younger generation of the antinuclear movement.[14]

            The DAC’s penchant for non-violent protest relying on large-scale turnouts clashed with the initial designs of the CND’s leadership to work primarily through political channels.  The success of DAC marches and sit-ins co-opted CND leadership to join forces in the fight for disarmament in 1959.  The CND’s greater name recognition and its influential Committee of One-Hundred quickly overwhelmed the DAC’s organizational autonomy by 1960.  The consolidation of antinuclear groups under the CND prompted disagreement within its leadership. 

            Canon Collins and General Secretary Peggy Duff argued over the value of consolidation and the institution of an umbrella strategy.  Duff’s camp won out.  She later recalled that, “CND achieved its amazing success during the early years because it united under its flag a very wide spectrum of people and organizations with wildly different approaches in terms or politics, morals, religion and methods of working.”[15]  The identity of the antinuclear movement soon tied itself to the image of the CND.   Though CND became interchangeable with antinuclear, the scope and tactics of protest mirrored earlier DAC efforts, which relied on music to inspire mass turnouts and sustain morale.  Under the reluctant protection of the elite leadership of the CND, antinuclear musicians borrowed directly from past themes of struggle and oppression and mixed them with the heady political climate of the late fifties and early sixties, to capture youthful exuberance in support of disarmament.

The young core of protestors that drove action against the bomb in Britain and America were supported by the ubiquitous presence of musical groups.  Young jazz, folk, and rock musicians wrote the music for antinuclear demonstrations. Their approach to musical-mass protest conflicted with the methods of the older leadership of the CND.  Paradoxes in the birth of the antinuclear sound-track illuminated the growing generational divide between the bourgeois elites of the CND, who aimed to restore British prestige, and a younger class of activists who nominally accepted British decline and wrestled with the imbalanced transatlantic Anglo-Saxon connection. 

            British and American music of the late fifties and sixties is ripe with contradiction.  Despite a cultural rivalry, both sides lifted styles and melodies from the other.  In Britain, this cross-fertilization matured in the antinuclear environment.  As a result, broad-based public support for the disarmament agenda inspired by music emerged first in Britain and then moved to the United States.  The antinuclear filter politicized the genres of music that later identified Anglo-American protest movements and transformed public opposition to the government from a select group of anti-establishment elites to the ranks of the middle class.  The caustic lyrics that characterized protest music of the period were underpinned by internal tensions over national, generational, and class conflicts, that added another dimension to the formation of modern political music. 

            The political legitimacy provided by the older generation of the antinuclear movement to the younger grassroots faction engendered discord within the movement.  Many young protestors failed to see the difference between their privileged leaders and the political elites they were actively protesting against.  The older generation harboured its own resentments, Taylor claims, “The growth of the mass Movement from 1959-60 and the developing leftward slant of CND policy were achieved against executive committee wishes, and, together with the equally unpalatable process of democratization … were embarrassing.”[16] The growing generational divide manifested itself in the planning of musical performance: the Committee of One-Hundred aimed to control song selection and invitations to musical groups in order to manage protest content. Young musicians responded to internal censorship by positioning themselves along the parade routes before marchers arrived.  The groups played music with an antinuclear message that lifted morale, but that also rejected the conservatism of the Committee of One-Hundred.  Jeff Nuttall, the young, but prominent jazz musician, presented the paradox, noting, “If CND grew by the infectious enthusiasm of the beatnik group, it grew under the auspices of comparatively cosy-minded people who had not come to maturity with the certainty of the uncertainty twisting in their guts.”  He further labelled CND leadership as “squares - hard-working, well-meaning squares - whose particular refuge was in the life of socialist progress.”[17]  Internal contradictions aside, the “squares” attachment to the “socialist progress” of the Labour Party kept CND free from serious accusations of being a Communist-based movement. 

            The impact of political music on the antinuclear movement was directly related to the demographic makeup of CND supporters.  Though some of the country’s most influential personalities remained active at the top, the CND drew its core from the young, educated middle class.[18]  As the first generation to come of age during Britain’s demotion from Great Power status, members of the CND searched for alternatives to the political and cultural identity of earlier generations. Parkin acknowledged this separation.  He argued that, “Nominal support for CND was, for many teenagers, a more or less commonly accepted feature of the youth culture; like the preference for folk music … it was a way of drawing a line of demarcation between adolescent and adult values.”[19]  Music provided young CND supporters a channel for political expression that they believed would directly impact the decisions of government officials.  As a single-issue campaign with a variety of political affiliations, the CND’s ability to coalesce over the issue of disarmament and musical expression of solidarity made it a threatening political force.

Antinuclear Emotion in the Jazz and Folk Revival

            Much of the rapid growth in size and influence of the antinuclear movement was related to revivals in British music, specifically jazz and folk. The artistic accessibility of these styles provided the ideal flexibility for protest music.  Jazz and folk allowed for easy insertion of complex emotions into music, which provided the appropriate degree of gravitas to promote antinuclear rhetoric.  The protest musician Ian Campbell believed that the revival of jazz and success of antinuclear protests were linked.  He commented, “It is significant that 1958, the year that saw the climactic boom in jazz popularity, also produced the first Aldermaston march.  The jazz revival and rise of CND were more than coincidental; they were almost two sides of the same coin.”[20]  Campbell later acknowledged the effectiveness of folk music as a vehicle for protest, commenting, “The warm fraternity of the peace and folk movements, and the ready demand for peace songs in folk clubs … showed the surprising speed which songs could still be passed on by word of mouth today.”[21]

            The CND was not the first organization to use music for political purposes in Britain, but never before had a transatlantic exchange of musical styles initiated a new form of protest. Antinuclear music helped create the social dimension of protest in the nuclear age that diverged from the economic and material interests of earlier movements.  Music contributed to the rise of a socially conscious middle-class in Britain. The common interactions with the similar styles on either side of the Atlantic created shared values and objectives. The CND’s appropriation of folk and jazz music for political purposes during a period of heightened musical exchange between the UK and the US entrenched music as an essential mode of protest in both nations and informed the political undertones of performers ranging from small local groups to international music sensations. 

            The economic situation of the early 1950s created the environment within which political music laced with antinuclear rhetoric could thrive and spread across the middle class.  Britain’s reduced industrial capacity, which had already lagged behind her cultural competitor, America, led Britons to pursue the cheapest forms of entertainment.  Attending the cinema or sporting events were costly one-time fixes, while radio and television remained expensive and production was constrained by industrial capacity.  The import of the “skiffle” phenomenon in the early 1950s from America provided young Britons a substitute for other forms of entertainment.  Skiffle fanatics relied on cheap or nonconventional instruments to produced jazz, blues, and folk music based on improvisation.  The rise of teenage wages and student grants relative to the income of other sectors of the population expanded the market for cheap instruments.[22]

            By the time of the famous marches to Aldermaston, British youth were eager to embrace antinuclear music on its stylistic merits alone.  One CND musician marcher exhorted, “You want to know why we came here?  Well, the simple reason is we are lovers of good music for one thing, and if this hell of a lot goes up, we’re not likely to hear good music anymore!”[23]  Based on African-American tone models, skiffle bridged the gap between conservative forms of music and more aggressive styles.  At the same time it provided a unified musical foundation for disparate political groups supporting the CND.[24]

            Marchers and musicians countered the negative imagery of nuclear war with joyful protest and song, which illuminated the dichotomy between pro and antinuclear mentalities and validated the strategy of the young core of activists in the CND, who pushed for a larger role for music.  Protestors, musicians, and outsiders alike, commented on the success of the music-march approach.  Jeff Nuttall remembered the change music brought in the attitude of the protest: “Protest was associated with festivity.  There was a new feeling of license granted by the obvious humanitarian attitude of the ravers themselves.”[25]The artist John Minnion recalled the effectiveness of this method, “CND identified a fundamental flaw in conventional politics: let’s live, not destroy the world. So: let’s have a good time. So: music and dance! People thought about us: not only are they protesting, they’re having a good time too!”[26]The Financial Times added its endorsement of music as an effective form of political protesting its review of Lindsay Anderson’s film March to Aldermaston, which emphasized the importance of music in the CND.  The review column read, “It squashes the idea that the music and dancing which enlivened the march showed some kind of immaturity.  As the commentator says, ‘It’s no good being against death if you don’t know how to enjoy life when you’ve got it’”[27] By using political music to foster a festive atmosphere of protest, marchers and musicians established a crucial theme of celebration for protest movements in the US and the UK in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  This theme of celebration, in part, is responsible for the growth of mass marches as a successful protest tactic in a range of social movements. 

            A symbiotic relationship emerged between the CND’s Aldermaston Marches and the revival of jazz and folk music in British life.  The marches were places for experienced and young musicians alike to collect a fan base and practice new styles in front of a large crowd.  For marchers and spectators, marching to Aldermaston became a musically informative experience that many took back home, spreading antinuclear rhetoric like a virus through the vector of folk and jazz revivalism.  Protest musician Ewan MacColl explained, “There are now more new songs being written than at any other time in the past 80 years - young people are finding out for themselves that folk songs are tailor-made for expressing their thoughts and comments on contemporary topics, dreams and worries.”[28]By 1964 civic leaders worried about the political potential of folk revivalism, over three hundred clubs sprouted across Britain with thousands of members.  These clubs were considered “hotbeds for new songs” that warned of holocaust and the dangers of remaining a nuclear power.[29]  Peggy Seeger recalls the atmosphere on the road to Aldermaston was based firmly in music, “It was an adventure. Every 100 yards or so you had a different kind of band - jazz, blues, skiffle, West Indian. And of course people made up their own songs. You didn't just shuffle along in misery. They were hopeful days and Aldermaston Marches had a sense of optimism.”[30]  The diversity of musical groups along the marching path encouraged innovation and exploration and helped British musicians adapt quickly to imported American styles and rhythms, specifically those from black America.  

            By importing African-American tonal models, musicians imported themes of oppression as a mode of protest.  These tonal models were at times direct copies of famous American ballads that called forth familiar emotions to elicit specific conceptions of the new lyrics.  The Glasgow Song Guild, more commonly referred to as the “Polaris Singers from Glasgow” produced exceptionally potent combinations.  Set to the melody of the African-American spiritual “I Shall Not be Moved” and protesting the stationing of American nuclear submarines in Scotland, the group sang.

Hiroshima, I shall not be moved

Nagasaki, I shall not be moved

Just like a tree that’s standing by the Holy Loch

I shall not be moved…


CND forever

I shall not be moved

CND forever

I shall not be moved

Just like a tree that’s standing by the Holy Loch

I shall not be moved[31] 

Another famous single, “Ban Polaris,” reconciled environmental concerns with antinuclear rhetoric.  Accompanied by the abolitionist tune from the American Civil War, “John Brown’s Body,” the Polaris Singers sang. 


When Dunoon folk breathe atomic dust and drink the strontium waste,
They'll hae clever deils for bairnies, dooble-heidit, dooble-faced,
Like the fish that soom in the Holy Loch the first three-leggit race,
Send the Yankees hame.


Ban Polaris — Hallelujah,
Ban Polaris — Hallelujah,
Ban Polaris — Hallelujah,
And send the Yankees hame.[32] 

These hymns were intended to capitalize on themes of oppression experienced in the African-American community and connect them to the United Kingdom’s experience with American atomic imperialism and nuclear proliferation. 

            “Send the Yankees hame” represented the feeling that many members of the CND held.  It is worth noting that both the rank-and-file and the elite membership favoured a break from the American connection, though not all advocated leaving NATO.  Considered in the larger narrative of the loss of empire, the anti-American lyrics echoed the same sentiments harboured by CND leadership and many of its members who registered as Labour Party members.  The ubiquitous rationale charged that by banning the bomb and pulling away from the nuclear connection with the US, Britain could assume control of a new international moral standard and regain its status in the world.  A.J.P. Taylor later re-examined this assumption and levelled the critique, “But we made one great mistake which ultimately doomed CND to futility.  We thought that Great Britain was still a great power whose example would affect the rest of the world.  Ironically we were the last Imperialists.”[33]The imperial dimension was one of the most visible demarcations between generations.  The older generation held fast to notions of restoring empire, while the young educated middle class looked to avoid the pull of the expanding American cultural empire by anchoring the musical revival in the British antinuclear effort. 

            Music from the British disarmament movement thus provided are cognizable form of anti-Americanism.  Still, performers singing anti-American lyrics remained tied to styles imported from the United States.  The Anglo-American musical exchange was not a direct cause-effect relationship like so many political movements are.  The exchange between the two cultures was a non-linear, dynamic process marked by transatlantic cultural competition.

            The British folk revival owed much to the African-American tonal models, but nowhere was this paradox more apparent than in the jazz revival that partnered with the CND.  Antinuclear protestors most closely identified with folk music, but jazz took a near second.  Britain owed its traditional, or, “trad” jazz revival to a host of musicians heavily influenced by American performers, and in many cases by their stints in New Orleans and Chicago.  Aldermaston jazz musician Colin Bowden explained, “The New Orleans style was swing on wheels, perfect for those marching occasions.”[34]  One of the most significant variations between the Aldermaston marches and earlier protest marches was the commitment to music that related so closely to the emotion of the African-American experience, that it linked nuclear weapons to slavery and oppression.  This version of jazz music, filtered through antinuclear activism, and created a cross-cultural linkage that informed future protest movements on the strategy of connecting human struggles to construct the perception of a larger base.  English jazz star George Melly recounted, “For us, jazz was black music, poor people’s music … so the politics was bound to appeal to those interested in struggle, overcoming oppression.”[35]

            The narrative of oppression exercised significant influence on the young, educated middle class, who saw mass protest as a form of not just political protest, but also cultural linkage to maligned populations in the United States.  The British sociologist and Marxist historian, Colin Barker acknowledged the impact during his college years in the late 50s and early 60s, “I read in the newspaper about the early civil rights movement in the States, and automatically identified with it without ever thinking why. So jazz did imply a kind of connection with anti-racism, even though the term was unknown then.”[36]  The ability of CND and antinuclear music to forge connections between disparate social struggles added still another political dimension that made protest and the music associated with protest even more popular. 

            When CND leadership relinquished musical control to the folk and jazz revivalists, marches began to resonate across a larger swath of the population.  Aldermaston jazz musician Val Wilmer recalled, “To have bands marching alongside or by the roadside for CND wasn’t perhaps such an unusual feature. The difference was that they were playing jazz and there was the strong connection with New Orleans music and culture.”[37]  With jazz musicians covering CND marching routes the genre gained a foothold to sustain its popularity between marches.  The connection between antinuclear sentiment and jazz created opportunities for CND supporters to voice their displeasure with nuclear weapons outside of organized demonstrations.  Expression of antinuclear emotion through jazz helped imbed opposition to nuclear weapons in the middle-class attendees of jazz events.

            The jazz explosion married well with the political efforts of the CND and resulted in increased support for both.  Ian Campbell contends, “Similar social attitudes and positive humanist values informed them both.  At any jazz event a liberal sprinkling of CND badges, and perhaps even leaflets and posters, would be in evidence; conversely, at every CND demonstration live jazz music set the tempo for the march.”[38]  The roots of jazz and its revival in Britain made it an exceptional vehicle for antinuclear rhetoric.  In his analysis of British jazz in the late 1950s Eric Hobsbawm argued, “The music lends itself to any kind of protest and rebelliousness much better than most other forms of art.”[39]Hobsbawm based his conclusion in his empirical study of Aldermaston Marches.  He noticed “anti-nuclear marches ... have rarely lacked their quote of imitation New Orleans jazz players.”[40]Moulding jazz into a political tool for CND marches attracted a younger generation of musicians who blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, and rock.  The new integrated form of music launched British musicians and their American counterparts to stardom and provided the soundtrack for a coming wave of protest movements ranging from Vietnam and civil rights to the woman’s movement.

The Transatlantic Music Exchange as a Foundation for Modern Social Protest

The less distinctive national institutions of folk, jazz, and rock became from each other the more artists struggled to assert their national tradition to protect claims of unique cultural contributions.  American and British artists battled to control the narrative of struggle.  Many artists sought to connect the struggles of select groups in the US and the UK, such as the African-American struggle with slavery and the fight against nuclear weapons in Britain.  Other musicians specifically rejected this approach, believing that national narratives were unique and independent.  These rejections fell in line with the repositioning of the US and the UK in the superpower era.   


Certain American artists held tight to the notion of US exceptionalism, while others outwardly rejected it. The American folk singer in the UK, Peggy Seeger, remarked, “I sing American songs. Because they represent to me the particular struggle of a particular people at a particular point in time. But when I hear a British person singing a folksong from America I feel that there’s an anachronism.[41]British counterparts wrestled with the same problem, divided between those who valued the American melodies that were easily politicized because of their accessibility and those who criticized the lack of a single issue in many American protest songs.  Nuttall valued the American style for its foundation in class equality.  “American culture was free of our snobbery, was against the British class system.  You take some energy - whether it’s Faulkner, Krazy Kat, Lenny Bruce - because it really did seem to be enormously liberating at the time.[42]Discord amongst protest musicians owed much to the dynamic and fluid nature of the transatlantic music exchange, but the issue of struggle is what struck further controversy into the community.  

            The sequential development of protest movements in both American and Britain gave protest musicians a chronology to distinguish their contributions to antinuclear music and, more broadly, protest music.  Nuttall upheld the British claim to the origin of postwar protest, of which the CND was the first mass movement.  He explained, “Antinuclear protest was one thing that passed across the Atlantic the other way, east to west.”[43]  The veteran CND marcher Leon Rosselson, who became an important contributor to the satirical television program That Was the Week that Was, defended the influence of the British antinuclear protest music on famous American musicians, he recounted,

            Americans came over and were very impressed to find people writing songs. That wasn't happening at the time in America so they went back and founded Broadside, which was the mag set up specifically to publish new American songs. That was the first one to publish Dylan, Phil Ochs and all those. Rather than American protest singers inspiring British songwriters, it was the other way round.[44]


The American styles of music that keyed British revivals in folk and jazz, and launched the rock ‘n’ roll scene were politicized in the United Kingdom.  The re-exportation of American melodies with political messages from Britain influenced American musicians, who broadened the message to apply to a range of social movements in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. 

            The emergence of political music under the domain of CND’s performing partners established a vast living legacy for the movement.  Music sustained the campaign from an artistic, political and financial standpoint, as well as offering a touchstone to link the second wave of CND popularity in the 1980s to the first peak in the 1960s.  The annual CND pop festival in the West Country developed by CND musicians supplied a significant portion of the campaign’s funding until the 1980s.[45]  George McKay believes the same counterculture that developed the festival also created an American connection rooted in culture, “As with trad jazz and the founding of CND in the 1950s, there is a connection of (American) pop music with alternative politics, festival culture with a kind of alternative or youth lifestyle. Again, these are in the context of protest against American nuclear domination.”[46]  The foundations of protest built on music provided the added bonus of longevity.  The left-wing Manchester based journalist advocated that protest be rooted in music as a protection from fleeting political condition, or possible international conflict, he wrote “The hydrogen bomb may be able to destroy singers but cannot destroy songs - songs are stronger than the hydrogen bomb... we believe that song has a powerful role to play in the struggle of the British people for peace and socialism.”[47]

            The alternative music culture of the CND spread to other protest movements and instigated a new form of political action.  Richard Taylor and Colin Pritchard contend the campaign’s success convinced other social movements that best practices dictated “putting power into the hands of ordinary people.”[48]The assessment of one of CND’s founders and respected historian of peace movements, Nigel Young, suggested the importance of the organization in codifying a method of activism for protest movements in the Anglo-Saxon world.  Young asserted, “What we have succeeded in doing is in creating a ‘style’ - a new kind of politics in which policy is not of paramount importance.”  Rather, he believed, “it is the way the movement does things - the symbols and the pennants, the songs, the typography and lay-out of its posters and literature, the atmosphere of the marches and sit-downs, the attitude to direct action and to individual participation” that contributed to its success.  “Most importantly “the way in which the bomb is related to other issues, local and international.  It is an ambience which is contagious; it has spread to North America … a new sort of politics.”[49]  The “new sort of politics,” which favoured mass demonstrations supported by cultural expression, quickly became a favourite for American musicians to take back to the United States.

            Fusion of American and British musical styles with political issues inspired songwriters who drew on their interactions with the antinuclear movement to create protest music with a larger application.  Bob Dylan’s contributions to American protest music provided activists ranging in purpose with a songbook of opposition. Dylan represented a brand of American musicians based in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, which drew criticism in Britain.[50]  The refashioning of New Orleans style jazz and folk music in Britain created significant animosity in the transatlantic music community.  Each national camp battled to represent the emotions of an emerging politically aware generation, but neither side could separate from the influences of the other.  If American music provided the inspiration for Britain’s musicians to produce music with wide spread appeal, then British performers added the political aspect that American artists perfected to colonize the sounds of America’s protest.


            Dylan’s trip to England in 1962 is indicative of the transatlantic protest music exchange/rivalry at work.  That winter while in the UK, Dylan wrote and tested much of the music for his album “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” including the first performance of his well-known protest anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  The British folk tradition, that owed much of its revival to an injection of American style captured Dylan’s attention.  Some of CND’s most treasured musical allies, including Ewan MacColl and Martin Carthy, taught Dylan a range of politically tested folk melodies, which Dylan later appropriated for future compilations.  Dylan’s most successful adaptation of British folk came from the hand of an American artist engaged in the same cross-cultural exchange as Dylan.  Jean Ritchie’s arrangement of the traditional English folk song “Nottamun Town” gave Dylan the melody for his influential single “Masters of War.”[51]  The song reacted to Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” that fuelled a rivalry between the three existing nuclear capable states and nations aspiring to attain nuclear weapons.[52]  Dylan’s lyrics condemned the Cold War nuclear weapons society. 


You that build the death planes

You that build all the bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks53 

British critics argued over the song’s value, like most of Dylan’s work, was limited because it failed to target a single issue.  MacColl blasted Dylan, saying his songs were “puerile” and “too general to mean anything.”[54]  Dorian Lynskey acknowledges the positives of this approach; “its flaws were also its strengths.  Yes, it employed broad strokes … but only broad strokes could have painted it across the minds of a generation.”[55]

            Dylan was only one of many Americans who engaged the CND and lent artistic support and publicity.  Peggy Duff noted CND’s dependence on the contributions of artists like Dylan, including those of his long time girlfriend Joan Baez.  Duff recalled, “We accepted with gratitude the songs and the singers – from Joan Baez to Meg the Busker,” which were significant because “the style of the movement was also linked to the songs it sang as it marched along the roads, all over Britain.”[56]

            Other well-known American musicians borrowed directly from CND musicians and made certain protest anthems more available to American audiences.  Topic Records and Transatlantic Records played a major role in this process.  Topic was originally founded by the Communist backed Worker’s Music Association, but went independent by the early sixties.  The label targeted folk musicians on both sides of the Atlantic and, by doing so, made artists more familiar with the creations of their international contemporaries.  Transatlantic Records was founded in 1961 with the purpose of importing American folk traditions to the British folk revival.  Performers supporting the CND, such as Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl, and Ian Campbell signed with both labels and used them as distribution agents for their antinuclear rhetoric.[57]

            The Ian Campbell Folk Group’s song produced by Topic Records, “The Sun is Burning in the Sky,” captured the interest of the famed song-writing duo, Simon and Garfunkel.  In 1964, the Simon and Garfunkel album “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” hit stores with the single “The Sun is Burning in the Sky,” a direct copy lyrical copy of the Ian Campbell production.  Released in both the US and the UK, the song represented many of the trends of the transatlantic protest music community at the time.  Campbell’s connection with the American folk label Transatlantic Records influenced his revivalist style, which he soon politicized with lyrics condemning nuclear war.  The American duo of Simon and Garfunkel appreciated the infusion of protest and folk and their single reproduced the imagery of Campbell’s creation for American audiences.  The lyrics painted a powerful picture of nuclear war. 


Now the sun has come to Earth 
Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death 
Death comes in a blinding flash 
Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash 
And the sun has come to Earth 

Now the sun has disappeared 
All is darkness, anger, pain and fear 
Twisted, sightless wrecks of men 
Go groping on their knees and cry in pain 
And the sun has disappeared


The cyclical development of the song and connection of the artists involved, united disarmament rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic.  The song’s imagery applied equally to American and British societies, making music a transatlantic bridge for protest against nuclear weapons and war. 

The export of nuclear rhetoric via music found traction in the United States.  The growth of mass social movements in the US, like in Britain, depended on music to send political messages to a young political engaged generation.  Music became a practical method for transmitting arguments and emotions that young protestors latched on to.  In the US, antinuclear rhetoric did not occupy the same hallowed position in protest circles as it did in Britain.  While the CND and affiliated professional leagues maintained a single-issue campaign to disarm the UK, American activists chose to integrate antinuclear protest into larger social movements.  The connection that musicians formed between African-American oppression and experience with British disarmament action prepared antinuclear for incorporation into the Civil Rights movement.  Nuttall contended that, “The bomb became just one item amidst the violent actualities of the Negro civil-rights program.”[59] Antinuclear rhetoric was also swallowed up opposition to the Vietnam War.  The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and Partial Test-Ban Treaty in 1963 undermined the momentum of individual antinuclear movements, especially the CND.  However, by becoming items on the agendas of other social movements, antinuclear protest remained alive. Taylor and Pritchard indicate that the inheritors of the CND style of protest were all movements “concerned with decentralising and humanising society.”[60]  The codification of protest methods, specifically the mass-music approach, provided social movements in both the US and the UK a guide to activism that mobilized multiple generations of activists.  Parkin predicted the value of such innovation, “given the kind of global radicalism it represents, CND would thus appear to have a certain built-in resilience in so far as its continued existence is not directly dependent on the achievement of its pristine aims.”[61]  The musical aspect of the CND and its strategy of mass protest helped endear the organization to future activists who returned to the movement when a new call to action materialized in the 1980s.  Though the organization had been dormant for nearly twenty years, the export of its music and other cultural artefacts to other successful social movements demonstrated that the CND had the cultural foundation to challenge the political status quo.



            The transatlantic music exchange of the 1950s and 1960s keyed a revival in British music, specifically in folk and jazz.  British musicians use used the experience with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to integrate political messages and antinuclear rhetoric into music. Impressed by the political music coming from British performers, American musicians refined the politicization of folk music and broadened its application to a greater number of protest movements in the United States.  The process of musical exchange from America to Britain and back was dynamic, but the sequential development of mass protest first in the United Kingdom and then in America provided a touchstone for artists to assert their national traditions. 

            Within British protest music and major divide emerged based on generational conflicts and the issue of Anti-Americanism.  Many British musicians pilloried their American counterparts for generalizing protest goals in music.  Paradoxically, the American musical styles were often the melodic foundations for many British songs that carried a bold streak of anti-Americanism.  Anti-Americanism in British protest songs was partially in response to American atomic imperialism, and also connected to themes of oppression from other communities; especially with the African-American experience.  The connection between antinuclear rhetoric and African-American struggle depended on Chicago and New Orleans style jazz, as well as African-American spirituals.  The broad musical connections between social movements sustained mass protest as a viable form of political action.  The CND’s innovative approach to incorporating music into mass marches became a time-honoured method of protest in the US and the UK throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties.  This tradition helped secure the CND’s role in modern protest and kept alive its message of disarmament, even in times of limited public support.  Music transformed the methods of protest in the West.  The maturation of British folk and jazz revivals in the antinuclear environment set off an exchange of political music that characterize the future of protest action in the US and the UK.

Anthony Eames is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Trans-regional History at Georgetown University.  He has written on Margaret Thatcher’s role in international relations and Anglo-American nuclear diplomacy.  His current research is concerned with the intersection of science and diplomacy in the West during the 1970s and 1980s.  




Anderson, Lindsay. A March to Aldermaston. 1958.


Bolsover, Philip and John Minnion. The CND Story: The First 25 Years of CND in the Words of People Involved. Allison and Busby: London, 1983.


Bradley, D. Understanding rock’n’roll: popular music in Britain 1955-1964. Open University Press: Berkshire UK, 1992.


Collins, J.L. Faith Under Fire.  Frewin: London, 1966.


Driver, Christopher. The Disarmers: A Study in Protest. Hodder and Stoughton: Suffolk UK,



Duff, Peggy. Left, Left, Left: A Personal Account of Six Protest Campaigns: 1945-65. Allison

& Busby: London, 1971.


Dylan, Bob. “Masters of War” Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. (1963).


Glassgow Song Guild, Ding Dong Dollar: Polaris and Scottish Republican Songs. Folkway Records: New York, 1962.


Gundersen, Edna. “Dylan is Positively on top of his Game” USA Today.10 September 2001.


Irwin, Colin. “Power to the People” The Observer (2008).


Newton, Francis (pseudonym for Eric Hobsbawm). The Jazz Scene Penguin Books: London, 1961.


Nuttall, Jeff. Bomb Culture. Delacorte Press: New York, 1968.


Poole, J.B. Independence and Interdependence: A Reader on British Nuclear Weapons Policy. Brassey’s: London, 1990.


Published Interviews from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002.


Russell, Bertrand and Nicholas Griffin. The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell:        The Public Years, 1914-1970. vol. 2, Routledge: London, 2001.


Simon, Paul and Art Garfunkel. “Sun is Burning” Wednesday Morning, 3AM. Columbia Records: New York, 1964.


Taylor, A.J.P. A Personal History. Hamilton Press: London, 1983.


The Ian Campbell Folk Group, “The Sun is Burning in the Sky” in The Crow in the Cradle &The Sun is Burning in the Sky. Topic Records: London, 1963.


Songs Against the Bomb. Topic Records: London, 1960.




Books & Articles


Barnes, S and M. Kaase. Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies. Sage: New York, 1979.


Brandon, Ruth. The Burning Question: The anti-nuclear movement since 1945. Heinemann: London, 1987.


Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of         the Atomic Age. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1994.


Brocken, Michael. The British Folk Revival, 1944-2002.Ashgate Publishing: London, 2013.


Bryne, Paul. “The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: The Resilience of a Protest Group” Parliamentary Affairs. 4 (1987): 517-535.


The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Routledge: London, 1988.


Social Movements in Britain: Theory and Practice in British Politics. Routledge: London, 1997.


Collins, Marcus. “‘The Age of the Beatles’: Parliament and Popular Music in the 1960s” Contemporary British History. 1 (2013): 85-107.


Epstein, Barbara. Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s. University of California Press: Berkeley CA, 1993.


Eyeman, Ron and Andrew Jamison. Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998.


Gonczy, Daniel. “The Folk Music of the 1960s: Its Rise and Fall” Popular Music and Society. 1 (1985): 15-31.


Greenway, Jeff. American folksongs of protest. Octagon Books: New York, 1970.


Groom, A.J.R. British Thinking about Nuclear Weapons. Frances Pinter: London, 1974.


Hardeep, Phull, The Story Behind the Protest Song: A Reference Guide to the 50 Songs           that changed the 20th Century. Greenwood: New York, 2008.


Hawking, David. Keeping the Peace: The Aldermaston Story.Leo Cooper: South Yorkshire, 2007.


Herman, S. “The Woman inside the Negotiations: Alva Mrydal’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1961-1982” Journal of Peace Research. 4 (1998): 514-530.


Hobsbawm, Eric. Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz. Weidenfeld & Nicholson: London, 1998.


Kaye, Harvey. The British Marxist Historians. Polity Press: Oxford, 1984.


Keohane, Dan. Labour Party Defence Policy since 1945. Leicester University Press: London, 1993.


Knupp, Ralph. “A time for every purpose under heaven: Rhetorical dimensions of protest

 music” Southern Speech Communications. 4 (1981): 377-389.


Lynskey, Dorian. 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holliday to Green Day Harper Collins: New York, 2011.


Maddock, J. The Nuclear Age. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2001.


Matthews, Melvin. Duck and Cover: Civil Defense Images in Film and Television from the Cold War to 9/11. Macfarland& Company: London, 2012.


Mattausch, John. A Commitment to Campaign: A Sociological Study of CND.Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1989.


McKay, George. “Just a closer walk with thee: New Orleans-style jazz and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1950s Britain” Popular Music, 22 (2003).


Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain.       

Duke University Press: Durham and London, 2005.


Myers, Frank E. “Civil Disobedience and Organizational Change: The British Committee       of 100” Political Science Quarterly. 1 (1971): 92-112.


Nehring, Holger. “National Internationalists: British and West German protest against Nuclear Weapons, the Politics of Transnational Communications and the Social History of the Cold War, 1957-1964” Contemporary European History. 4 (2005): 559-582.


Newton, Francis (pseudonym Eric Hobsbawm) The Jazz Scene. Penguin Books: London 1961.


Parkin, Frank. Middle Class Radicalism: The Social Bases of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Praeger: New York, 1968.


Price, Jerome. The Antinuclear Movement. Twayne Publishers: Boston, 1990.


Rochon, T. Mobilising for Peace: Anti-nuclear Movements in Western Europe. Adamantine: London, 1988.


Rose, Clive. Campaigns against Western Defence. St. Martin’s Press: New York, 1985.


Smith, Jackie and Charles Chatfield, Ron Pagnucco. Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics: Solidarity beyond the State. Syracuse University Press: Syracuse NY, 1997.


Tarrow, S. Power in Movement. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1994.


Taylor, Richard. Against the Bomb: The British Peace Movement, 1958-1965. Claredon Press: Oxford, 1988.


Taylor, Richard and Colin Pritchard, The Protest Makes: The British Nuclear Disarmament Movement of 1958-1965, Twenty Years On. Pergamon Press: Oxford, 1980.



Taylor, Richard and Nigel Young. Campaigns for Peace British Peace Movements in the Twentieth Century. Manchester University Press: Manchester, 1987. 


Terry, Jill and Neil A. Wynn. Transatlantic Roots Music: Folk, Blues, and National Identities. University of Mississippi Press: Jackson MS, 2012.


Thayer, George. The British Political Fringe. Anthony Blond: London, 1965.


Veldman, Meredith. Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain: Romantic Protest, 1945-1980.  Cambridge University Press: New York, 1994.

Wittner, Lawrence. Resisting the Bomb: A History of World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA, 1997.

 Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford University Press: Stanford CA, 2009.

[1]Fran Parkin, Middle Class Radicalism (New York: Praeger, 1968).

[2]Ibid., 1-7.

[3]Richard Taylor, Against the Bomb: The British Peace Movement, 1958-1965(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 1.

[4]Meredith Veldman, Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain: Romantic Protest, 1945-1980 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 137-139.

[5]Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 82-84.

[6]George McKay, Circular Breathing (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 45.


[7]Michael Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 1944-2002 (New York: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), 43-66.

[8]Taylor, Against the Bomb, 121-126.

[9]Christopher Driver, The Disarmers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964), 44.  Bertrand Russell was one of the most prolific British intellectuals of the 20th century.  His work is significant in fields ranging from philosophy to computer science.  A.J.P. Taylor was a leading British diplomatic historian and E.P. Thomas was one of the most influential Marxist historians of the 20thcentury.  Canon Collins was a leading social activists and the canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for more than thirty years.  Michael Foot was a member of parliament and later became the Labour Party leader during the height of British disarmament politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  


[10]Canon L. J. Collins, Faith Under Fire (London: Leslie Frewin, 1966), 326.


[11]In the United Kingdom decisions regarding nuclear programs are made entirely by the Prime Minister and a group of selected advisors. 

[12]Jeff Nuttall, Bomb Culture (New York: Delacorte Press, 1968), 48

[13]The CND’s notable concentration of Communist members made political elites suspicious of the group’s intentions.  See; Parkin, Middle-Class Radicalism, 77-86.

[14]Wittner, Confronting the Bomb, 82-84.

[15]Peggy Duff, Left, Left, Left (London: Allison &Bugsby, 1971), 208.

[16]Richard Taylor, Against the Bomb, 46.

[17]Jeff Nuttall, Bomb Culture (New York: Delacorte Press, 1968), 48.

[18]Fran Parkin, Middle-Class Radicalism, 162-180.

[19]Ibid., 158..

[20]Ian Campbell, “Words, music and marches” in The CND Story: The first 25 years of CND in the words of the people involved (ed.) John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (London: Allison & Busby, 1993), 115. 

[21]Ibid., 117.

[22]Nuttall, Bomb Culture, 38-39.

 [23]Lindsay Anderson, March to Aldermaston (1958).

[24]Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 14.

[25]Nuttall, Bomb Culture, 46.

[26]Published Interview from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Minnion, John. Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002. 


[27]Christopher Driver, The Disarmers, 58.

[28]Colin Irwin, “Power to the People” The Observer. 9 August 2008.



[31]The Glasgow Song Guild, “I shall not be moved” in Ding Dong Dollar.


[32]The Glasgow Song Guild, “Ban Polaris” in Ding Dong Dollar.


[33]A.J.P. Taylor, A Personal History (London: Hamilton Press, 1983), 227.


[34]Published Interview from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Bowden, Colin. Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002.

[35]Published Interview from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Melly, George. Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002.

[36]Published Interview from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Barker, Colin. Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002.


[37] Published Interview from American Pleasures, Anti-American Protest: 1950s Traditional Jazz in Britain: Wilmer, Vil. Interview with George McKay, 2001-2002.

[38]Ian Campbell, “Words, music and marches” in The CND Story: The first 25 years of CND in the words of the people involved (ed.) John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (London: Allison & Busby, 1993), 115. 

[39]Francis Newton (pseudonym for Eric Hobsbawm), The Jazz Scene (London: Penguin Books, 1961), 254.

[40]Ibid., 76.

[41]Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 79.

[42]McKay, Circular Breathing, 21


[43]Nuttall, Bomb Culture, 61.

[44]Colin Irwin, “Power to the People” The Observer. 9 August 2008.

[45]George McKay, “Anti-Americanism, Youth, and Popular Music,” 8.

[46]Ibid., 8.

[47]Colin Irwin, “Power to the People” The Observer. 9 August 2008.

[48]Richard Taylor and Colin Pritchard, The Protest Makes: The British Nuclear Disarmament Movement of 1958-1965, Twenty Years On (Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1980), 131.

[49]Duff, Left, Left, Left, 221-2.

[50]Dorian Lynskey, 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs from Billie Holliday to Green Day (New York: Harper Collins, 2011), 51-69.

[51]Ibid., 56-7

[52]Edna Gundersen, “Dylan is Positively on top of his Game” USA Today 10 September 2001.


[53]Bob Dylan, “Masters of War,” Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963).

[54]Lynskey,33 Revolutions, 55.

[55]Ibid., 55.

[56]Duff, Left, Left, Left, 209. Joan Baez was Dylan’s girlfriend in the early 1960s.  

[57]Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 55-64.


[58] The Ian Campbell Folk Group, “The Sun is Burning in the Sky” in The Crow in the Cradle &The Sun is Burning in the Sky. Topic Records: London, 1963; Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sun is Burning in the Sky” in Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Columbia Records: New York, 1964. 

[59]Nuttall, Bomb Culture, 61.

[60]Taylor and Pritchard, The Protest Makes, 131.

[61]Parkin, Middle Class Radicalism, 40.

  Download the Article