“It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. They shall not pass.”
Dolores Ibárruri’s defiant rejection of fascism following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War produced words that are as poignant today as they were in 1936, and Declan Welsh reckons someone ought to say them again.
Los fascistas no pasarán.
The singer-songwriter and poet from East Kilbride releases his new single ‘No Pasaran’ on Sunday with a message that he had hoped would never prove necessary.
“I’m sad that it’s really relevant” he sighs, stirring his coffee before pausing, “I wish that it wasn’t the fucking end of days.”
The brash protest singer, with influences ranging from Billy Bragg to Antonio Gramsci, is frank in his assessment of the current socio-political climate and is convinced the time has come to revolt.
“I wish that the far right didn’t have so much traction but as much as I’m all for trying to analyse what we do to bring disaffected people back on side, in this climate where a lot of people feel very afraid, particularly minorities and people of colour, I think that there needs to be a response that is staunch and unapologetic, that says we’re not standing for any of this.”
The confident front man of Glasgow band Declan Welsh & The Decadent West fervently opposes prejudice in all of its ugly forms, using art as a means of speaking out.
However, art wasn’t always a word he was completely at ease with, and he looks squeamish as he opens up on the matter, “I struggled to call what I do ‘art’ because I’m from East Kilbride and you don’t do that. It seems a bit pretentious.
“But the idea of art is communicating something. Anything that people can see reflected in their own life or that can make people challenge or rethink their view is art.”
With each articulated thought, it becomes clear that Declan is acutely aware of the profound meaning that can be found in a narrative woven together by words and harmonies.
“When you’re able to get someone on board with a good tune, and a story that’s either funny or compelling with an underlying current that makes people rethink something, for me, that’s the reason I write music.”
Having graduated university with a law degree he admits, with a grin, that the decision to pursue music was not one he wrestled with for long.
“I think being a politician looks like a pain in the arse, so for me this is a more fun and less inhibited way to try and change things and spread a message.”
A prevalent issue that the guitarist has come to blows with is misogyny. Not through his music, but rather in the acclaimed poem ‘Lads’.
Focusing on the empty cup beneath him, he reveals, “I thought people would fucking hate the poem ‘Lads’, but there’s obviously an appetite to hear that sort of thing.”
He lifts his head and explains, “The best way I can compare it is to Donald Trump’s comments describing what he said as locker room banter. You had a whole swathe of men saying ‘that’s never in any locker room I’ve heard’, but that is exactly locker room banter.”
The poem is an attack on sexist lad culture, satirising men who objectify women, treating them as things to be used and discarded.
“It’s quite aggressive, it’s quite macho. That’s a deliberate stylistic decision. It’s a square-go to lad misogynistic culture. I like playing with those stereotypes because I think it’s a way you can get people onside, understanding your opinions.”
The warm reaction he received from men that he had considered the target of that particular spoken-word surprised him, but he admitted that unfortunately he probably has a warped cultural advantage in engaging the gender.
“It’s shit, but the only thing you can do with that is try and use it. The most privileged micro-sect is a straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, western-born man and all you can try and do is convince other people like you, who are usually most resistant to these ideas, that they might be wrong.”
The musician believes there is a vacuum in almost all genres of music for songwriting with a similar sense of social commentary.
But there’s one exception: hip-hop.
“The fucking greatest punk music that’s come out of black America in the last 30 years is not punk music, it’s hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is unbelievable.”
Declan confesses his grief at the manner in which guitar music has evolved by comparison, “The biggest guitar bands don’t even attempt to write social commentary anymore. There’s a space there.”
That only encourages the guitarist to travel and use his instrument and lyrics to relate to other cultures. One of his recent trips was to Palestine in the summer to play at Bet Lahem Live Festival, weeks after swaggering on to the prestigious T Break Stage.
The song ‘I’ll Never Leave This Place’ is a lighthearted exposition of the relationship that a person has with their hometown. Declan had reservations about how the lyrics laced with dry wit would be interpreted in a foreign context, but the transpiring reality humbled him.
“I was terrified that the things I was talking about would not be able to translate over there and my fears were completely dumbfounded. It completely translated, the message actually took on even more of a meaning.
“I came away with a sense of hope. The occupation is unsustainable and I think that there is no chance that the majority of people in Israel want this to continue. It’s just a matter of time before humanity prevails.”
Declan’s unyielding faith in people is the reason he sits down with his guitar or notebook in the early hours of the morning. To him, oppressive systems and attitudes are temporary and hold no weight against the fundamental good of a human being.
It seems that some scribbles on a piece of paper could make all the difference in unearthing that good, challenging people to see a different point of view rather than living on their knees.
Declan has adapted Dolores’ words in order to stand up against the rising animosity in the West fuelled by hate and intolerance, but the protest singer has done so, translating them into a more familiar Scots dialect with his latest work.
“No pasaran, no fucking chance. Not in our streets, not in our towns. Not in our names, not as we stand. No pasaran, no fucking chance.”