A musical perspective on the War in Gaza

In the song ‘Trenchtown Rock’ Bob Marley said ‘When music hits you, you feel no pain’.  During the evening of 9th August 2014 I perhaps discovered the exception that proves the rule.

In recent weeks our television screens have once again been filled with the horrors of war.  The conflict in Gaza is horrible, a hideous waste of life.  It is also extremely complex with both sides blaming the other.  There are facts of course.  Innocent people are dying on both sides of the border, rockets are being fired from Gaza whilst Israeli drones are hitting schools and United Nations shelters and Israeli troops have crossed the border.  The Israeli’s have been widely condemned for their actions, including being accused of war crimes and criminal acts by Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Over the past weekend my wife and I, accompanied by our oldest friends, made our annual ‘pilgrimage’ to the small Oxfordshire village of Cropredy.  This beautiful little village has hosted an annual music festival, ‘Fairports Cropredy Convention‘ since 1976.  Each year around 20,000 people descend on a village with a population of just 712 (2001 Census).  The whole village supports the event and the local traders benefit hugely from the influx of visitors for the 3 day event.  The local pubs play host to a range of bands in what has become known as the ‘fringe festival’ and festival attendee’s even funded a new bell for the village church (St Mary’s).  The festival is dubbed as ‘Britain’s friendliest music festival’, the atmosphere is certainly unique.

You might think that a visit to a music festival might just be the last place on the face of this planet where you would be moved to tears by the plight of the people in Gaza.  Not so!  Amongst the eclectic mix of musicians playing at this years festival was the British rock band ‘Marillion‘.  Despite there having been around since 1979 I was largely unaware of Marillions music though I was looking forward to seeing them, I must confess I was totally unprepared for what happened to me during their set.  I was certainly enjoying their set. The songs are very well written and as you might expect of a band that has had an unchanged line-up since frontman Steve Hogarth replaced ‘Fish‘ in 1989, the band is as tight as a drum.  I was thoroughly enjoying the set and was disappointed when they left the stage after 75 minutes.  I was totally unprepared for what happened next.  The band returned to the stage and frontman Hogarth said quietly ‘to think we were going to play Grendal live for the first time’.  This was greeted by laughter from the crowd and smiles from Hogarth, an ‘in joke’ that I don’t understand.  Hogarth went on ‘This is Gaza’.

The track opens quietly, very quietly and with no hint of what lies beyond.  It draws you in very gently, gentle keyboards over the sound of children playing and there is just a hint of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.  Suddenly you are hit with an explosion of guitar, drums and keyboard, a wall of sound and Hogarth gives a hint of what is to come with the opening line ‘When I was young it all seemed like a game’.  From there the song paints a picture of life in Gaza and what a horrid picture it is.  It tells of a father killed whilst feeding the birds, of a brother driven to ‘martyrdom’ by the daily reality of life in a state that has existed under a blockade for over 15 years.   A people living in perpetual deprivation and hopelessness, denied medical supplies, workless, poverty stricken and in constant fear of a larger much more powerful neighbour, the state of Israel.

Now I would like to make it clear that I understand Israel’s attitude towards Gaza.  The tiny state has long been a base for terrorists who have crossed into Israel, disguised as innocent workers, with bombs strapped to their bodies to kill innocent Israeli’s going about their daily business.  Terrorists frequently fire rockets into Israel targeting towns and cities, the civilian population often the target and the victim.  The persecution of the Jewish people throughout history, and especially during the 20th century, combined with the fact that the country is surrounded by Arab states intent on its destruction make it entirely understandable that  the Israeli’s will not hesitate to use their military might to defend themselves.  That said, the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 was a huge injustice to the people of Palestine an injustice that continues to this day as the Israeli’s continue to build settlements on Palestinian territory.  The people of Gaza are totally reliant economically on Israel and are exploited as cheap labour, often to labour on the very settlements they so vehemently oppose.  It is perhaps because I grew up in a state riven by terrorism that I understand both sides of this conflict and condemn all sides for perpetuating the conflict.  As British Politician Tony Benn pointed out “There is no moral difference between a Stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. They both kill innocent people for political reasons”.

Gaza is to all intents and purposes being colonised by the Israeli’s and if history teaches us anything it should teach us that colonisation is an evil that must not be tolerated.  It is writ large in the annals of history that colonised territories will inevitably rise up against their oppressors.  As Hogarth says in his lyrics “When people know they have no future, Can we blame them if we cannot tame them?”  He goes on to say that when people  “feel they might as well be dead, will we forgive them If they take us with them?”  One would think that the Israeli’s  above all nations would understand this.  The use of such overwhelming force against the people of Gaza serves only to engender a greater sense of injustice, to deeper rooted hatred and of course to the belief that the only way out of the hopelessness is through the suicide bomb.  Whilst Israel doubtless believes it is justified in attacking the terrorists firing rockets into Israel it cannot be denied that it is the civilian population who are suffering.  As the USA’s experiences in Vietnam and the UK’s experiences in Ireland have amply demonstrated peace cannot be achieved  by the bullet, the bomb or the gun, it can only be achieved by the word.  I hope that one day this will be understood in the middle east and a lasting peace can bring equality and prosperity to all the people of the region.  In the meantime I think Hogarth captures the sentiment perfectly in the lyrics “We all want peace and freedom that’s for sure, But peace won’t come from standing on our necks, Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright”.

Whilst there is no doubt that Hogarth’s lyrics in this song are overtly political he is on record as saying that the song, written as it is from the perspective of a child living in Gaza, is for the children of Gaza, it can only be hoped that this work helps to highlight the plight of children caught in a conflict that is not of their making.  The current situation is a humanitarian disaster and my purpose in writing this piece is not to denigrate or demonise the Israeli’s.  Like Hogarth my purpose is simply to try to understand different perspectives in a very difficult and complicated situation.  My childhood growing up in Northern Ireland has perhaps enabled me to understand that desperate times can lead to desperate measures, but that is a story for another day.  The song, as Steve Hogarth has said, seeks only to highlight the futility of a conflict where the innocent, often children pay the ultimate price.  Indeed Hogarth drew his inspiration from talking to people on both sides of the divide.  As he puts it “there are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire”.  I can only hope that the various factions in the middle east will come to the same understanding and find a way to live together peacefully and happily.

William Congreve (1697) said that “Music has charms to sooth the savage breast”.  On this occasion Steve Hogarth and Marillion moved me to tears with their rendition of this song.  It caused me a great deal of inner turmoil and gave me an opportunity to explore and understand this conflict a little more deeply.  For that I am hugely grateful.  My great love of music comes from the power it has to move me, from its ability to shape my emotions and to connect with my spirit.  Music’s great joy is its ability to surprise and this song shook me to the very core of my being.  The last thing I expected when I left home to attend this festival was to spend the days afterwards pondering the plight of the people of a small strip of land thousands of miles from home.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the power of music.

I have reproduced the lyrics of the song below for your information but if Marillion or their management object to this I will of course remove them.  I urge you, whatever your views on the subject to read the words, to listen to the song  and to think about what you as an individual can do to lessen the suffering of a fellow human being today.  I also urge you to buy the Album “Sounds that Can’t be made” from the bands website or from iTunes .  Gaza is an 18 minute epic on a great album.


When I was young it all seemed like a game
Living here brought no sense of shame
But now I’m older I’ve come to understand
Once we had houses
Once we had land
They rained down bullets on us as our homes collapsed
We lay beneath the rubble terrified

Hoping.. Dare we dream?
We gave up waiting
For us, to dream is still a dream

When I woke up, the house was broken stones
We suddenly had nothing
And nothing’s changed

We live, eight people, in this overcrowded heat
Factory-farmed animals living in our own sweat
Living like this is all my baby brother ever knew

The world does nothing. What can we do?
We will kick the ball
We will skip the rope
We will play outside. Be careful
We will paint and draw. We will say our prayers

Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets
The darkness drops in the evening like an iron door
The men play cards under torchlight
The women stay inside
Hell can erupt in a moment day or night

You ask for trouble if you stray too close to the wall
My father died ..feeding the birds
Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers

For every hot-head stone ten come back
For every hot-head stone a hundred come back
For every rocket fired the drones come back

For thirteen years the roads have all been closed
We’re isolated. We’re denied medical supplies
Fuel and work are scarce. They build houses on our farms
The old men weep. The young men take up arms.

We’re packed like chickens in this town of block cement
I get headache from the diesel. When it rains, the sewers too
I had no idea what martyrdom meant
Until my older brother.. my older brother
I’m sorry. I can’t continue.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, it is said
When people know they have no future
Can we blame them if we cannot tame them?
And when their hopes and dreams are broken
And they feel they might as well be dead
As they go, will we forgive them
If they take us with them?

Stay close
Stay home
Stay calm
Have faith

With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
Even now we will go to school
Even now we will dream to dream
Someday surely someone must help us

Nothing’s ever simple – that’s for sure
There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire
And everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at it – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just ain’t right
It just ain’t right
It just ain’t right

We all want peace and freedom that’s for sure
But peace won’t come from standing on our necks
Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at this – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just ain’t right
It just ain’t right
It just ain’t right

It’s like a nightmare rose up slouching towards Bethlehem
Like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

It’s like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

Stay close
Stay home
Have faith

I can’t know what twist of history did this to me
It’s like a nightmare

With the love of our family
We can rise above anything
Some day surely someone must help us…

Peace in the Middle East would be my manifesto

21 thoughts on “A musical perspective on the War in Gaza

  1. Pingback: “Foolish Compassion” – The 19th of September 1993 – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | Forgotten Correspondence

  2. Tony Furminger

    What a wonderfully written piece, and so nice to see someone discover Britain’s Best Kept Secret. The conventions are amazing and you will be hugged in the street by complete strangers, just because you are wearing a Marillion t-shirt. If you are on Facebook, may I suggest joining the group Marillion And Fans to share your experiences further. Welcome to the family and see you in The Moon Under Water in April


  3. Gerry

    Hi Alan

    I am lucky enough to have found Marillion one night in my local pub in April 1982. Suffice to say that they have played a very large part of my musical life since that evening 32 years ago.

    I thought that they had ‘done it all’ but I can still clearly remember my first listen to Gaza in 2012, My jaw just dropped on hearing the sheer emotion that runs through that track.

    Once marillion suck you in, it is very hard to escape my friend !!


  4. John Steels

    Hi Alan,
    Your article is excellent and it’s great to see comments from Lucy an Steve in the thread. In some ways I feel a little envious of you regarding your recent album purchases. In the past three years I have managed to get my girlfriend Liz, solidly into Marillion and she absolutely adores them now as I have done for many years.
    My envy stems from the fact that you have soooo much to discover from the band, hearing songs that just grab you instantly while others creep up on you over time. You will encounter the joy of every album since ‘h’ joined, being that little bit different from the one before, steering your musical tastes to new boundaries. Marillion can certainly not be labelled with the word repetitive where their music is concerned, and that’s a fact as you will see.
    Enjoy your voyage of discovery as it will be an melodious epic journey. Will see you at Wolves if you are there. Take care – Johno


    1. The Sound of Summer Post author

      Cheers Johno,
      I am certainly looking forward to the journey. 🙂 It’s also really nice to see a band who care what their fans think and who care about what is going on in the world. I have had so much great feedback from Marillion fans that it warms the heart. It is amazing when someone just makes contact to say “Welcome to the fold”. Clearly a very special group of people. Thanks for your Comments 🙂 (Y)


  5. Lucy Jordache

    From Steve Hogarth: “Hello Alan,
    We saw your blog re Cropredy. Thank you for responding to our music and welcome to our world. It’s gratifying to know we’ve managed to get under your skin a little. Your blog is articulate and captivating.
    Best regards
    Steve h

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Sound of Summer Post author

      Thank you so much for taking the trouble to respond. It makes the effort worthwhile. I am extremely grateful for your feedback. As I said to someone else earlier I have bought 6 albums since the weekend so I think you can safely say it got more than a little under my skin. I expect to see you at more gigs very soon and I am going to try to make the Wolverhampton Gathering in April.

      Take care and keep spreading the love 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lucy Jordache

    Hi Alan – I am Marillion’s Manager and have passed this onto them. Beautifully written. Welcome and we hope you find some more joy in the rest of our songs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Sound of Summer Post author

      Hi Lucy,
      Thank you for making contact and for passing my blog to the band. It is very gratifying to receive some nice feedback, it makes the effort worthwhile. I think it is safe to say I have caught the Marillion bug. I will be working my way through the back catalogue and will no doubt see you at a gig sometime soon. I will try to make the Wolverhampton Convention next year.
      Thanks again


  7. Rob Crossland

    Beautifully written, Alan. Maybe when music ‘really’ hits you, it can sometimes allows pain to leave you and flow out in some way, too. I’m so happy that you have discovered Marillion. They are, in my opinion, a national treasure and some of the nicest blokes I have had the privilege to know. Their fans across the world are pretty special, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Rob Crossland

        Haha! Oh dear, that’s you lost then 😉 Hopefully you might make Wolverhampton next year for the UK Convention and see what it’s really all about – maybe get on the waiting list for a chalet at PZ! Meanwhile, I hope you’ve got the full version of Marbles, This Strange Engine, Season’s End and Anoraknophobia. Oh, and the remastered Radiation, too. Enjoy the trip and welcome aboard. Steve and the boys have an extensive back catalogue of live shows available as downloads from marillion.com and I can’t too highly recommend the h Natural stuff. Also – Live body, Live Spirit with Steve h and his fellow miscreants in the h band. One of my favourite live albums ever. No doubt we’ll meet at a gig before long and can swap campervan stories (just got back from Marillion at Loreley in our VW).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Sound of Summer Post author

        Rob, You may be right 😉 I will definitely attend more Marillion gigs and hope to make Wolverhampton in April (other commitments notwithstanding). It would be great to meet up for a beer and a chat 🙂


  8. L

    Grendel is a b-side to the first 12-inch single Marillion ever released back in 1982 and which has not been played live since, iirc, 1983. The in-joke is that at almost every gig they play, someone shouts “GRENDEL!!!”, knowing full well that they will never play it (Steve Hogarth is on record as saying there are some Fish-era songs he simply can’t sing for various reasons, Grendel is one of them). It has happened that the guitarist Steve Rothery plays the first few notes of the song just to tease people.

    Apart from that, not much to add. “Gaza” is a fantastic song but it is worth noting that it isn’t in any way anti-Israeli. It is about how children of any war will suffer and how any war only leads to more violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Sound of Summer Post author

      Thanks for the heads up about Grendal 🙂 I did try to make clear that ‘Gaza’ wasn’t anti- Israeli. If I wasn’t clear in this I would value your view and will happily amend to be more explicit. This is obviously an important issue. Let me know what you think please.


      1. L

        No worries, happy to help 🙂

        And just to be clear, I didn’t mean my second paragraph as a criticism of what you wrote. It was just intended to provide some further information and explanation and I didn’t take your text in any way as anti-Israeli as such. I just thought I’d add my bit to make it extra clear, because the band has had some abuse hurled at them from people who have interpreted the song to be specifically anti-Israeli.

        One thing I can add though which may be of interest is that many of the lines in the song are more or less direct quotes from Gazan people. Steve H spoke to people living there via Skype and those conversations are what shaped this song into the incredibly powerful piece it became.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. peter Chrisp

    Marillion a great English band, i will have to investigate that track from their latest album, the ultra violence in so many places is shocking i often wonder why, but conflict has been going on for centuries will it ever end, piece in the world but at what cost?

    Liked by 1 person


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