Monday 20th Feb 2023

Dave Randall Lecture




On 1 February, we welcomed musician Dave Randall who delivered a fascinating lecture to DG (Year 12) and other senior pupils on the political power of music.

Dave Randall is a celebrated producer and composer who played guitar for Faithless and has toured the world with the likes of Sinead O’Connor and Dido, as well as contributed to Grammy-award-winning albums. He is the author of Sound System, a book of raves, riots and revolution that finds political inspiration from across the musical spectrum and poses the question: how can we make music serve the interests of the many, rather than the few?

Before the lecture, Dave enjoyed a meal in the Court Room with a group of pupils and staff. He also led an electric guitar workshop for two lucky pupils, Jacob and Ivan. Jacob (GR/Year 13) wrote the following about the experience:

On 1 February, the author and musician Dave Randall came to give a lecture on the political power of music. I was fortunate enough to receive a guitar lesson from him. This lesson took a somewhat different form to my usual lessons. We threw away the complex chords and jazz scales and he challenged me to take a solo over a chord progression with only a single note. This useful exercise made me use expression rather than standard musical vocabulary, which could be easily learnt and regurgitated. This gave the music emotion and shape, rather than speed and complexity, which is, at its heart, what music is about.

The undeniable power of expression was explored in greater depth and more tangible terms in his lecture. We were given a historical tour of how music has been used to strike back at oppressive regimes and force the hands of those preventing change. In mediaeval times, the Catholic Church banned a particular musical interval called the tritone, or the diminished fifth. Dave’s demonstration of the interval through playing the Jimi Hendrix classic ‘Purple Haze’ on the guitar certainly got the audience’s attention. The interval was thought to be satanic and any music containing it would not be allowed in the church. Composers would find ways to sneak it into the music as a form of rebellion.

Moving forward several hundred years, Dave showed us the power of music to threaten political regimes. We explored how the Assad regime was opposed through singing and how the music allowed the Syrian people to express their discontent. The reaction of the Syrian government was to kill the performer of the music, showing how music can pose a considerable threat to those in power.

As questions were asked, important discussions arose surrounding separating arts from the artist, especially considering the recent actions and controversial comments of Kanye West. The question of who has the right to perform certain music with specific historical context, and music associated with particular demographics was also explored.

Overall, the lecture was an interesting exploration of music beyond harmony and melody, looking into the effect of music on our society and how it can oppose power.