Banned in Britain for being true

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Lines from 'Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six', banned by the British Independent Broadcasting Authority.

When Gerry Conlon died on June 21, it reminded the world once more of the cases of the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six, Irish people framed for bombings in England they had noting to do with.

Conlon, of the Guilford Four, jailed in 1974, endured more than 14 years in prison, including solitary confinement, before finally clearing his name.

During the so-called Troubles that began in 1969 with Britain sent soldiers to militarily occupy Northern Ireland, Britain also launched a war on civil liberties. So extreme was the censorship that by 1988, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' voice was banned from being broadcast. Any statement he made had to be read out by an actor, as if his west Belfast accent alone would inspire fresh bombings.

An example of the extent of the censorship came when London-based Irish folk punk band The Pogues released a song on their 1988 album If I should Fall From Grace With God in support of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four.

Entitled “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six”, the song declares: “There were six men in Birmingham, in Guilford there's four, that were picked up and tortured and framed by the law.”

The song ties the injustice against Irish people in England with those in the six Irish counties Britain occupied, noting: “In Ireland they put you away in the Maze, in England they hold you for seven long days.”

With the frame-up victims “growing old in a lonely hell”, the last lines declare: “While over in Ireland, eight more men lie dead, kicked down and shot in the back of the head.”

When the band played the song on Channel Four's Friday Night Live, the show cut suddenly to ads mid-performance. Then the Independent Broadcasting Authority banned broadcasting the song outright.

IBA justified the move by saying the song suggested that “convicted terrorists are not guilty, the Irish people were put at a disadvantage in the courts of the United Kingdom and that it may have invited support for a terrorist organisation such as the IRA”.

One year later, the Guilford Four were freed after their convictions were overturned. The Birmingham Six had their names were finally cleared in 1991.

The IBA quietly overturned its ban on the song, but the point had been made. The British ruling class, like the powerful everywhere, cannot abide the truth about its crimes being spoken ― or sung.

Above: The story of the song's banning. Below: the "offensive" track.


There were six men in Birmingham
In Guildford there's four
That were picked up and tortured
And framed by the law
And the filth got promotion
But they're still doing time
For being Irish in the wrong place
And at the wrong time

In Ireland they'll put you away in the Maze
In England they'll keep you for several long days
God help you if ever you're caught on these shores
And the coppers need someone
And they walk through that door

You'll be counting years
First five, then ten
Growing old in a lonely hell
Round the yard and the stinking cell
From wall to wall, and back again

A curse on the judges, the coppers and screws
Who tortured the innocent, wrongly accused,
For the price of promotion
And justice to sell
May the judged be their judges when they rot down in hell

May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds
And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads
While over in Ireland eight more men lie dead
Kicked down and shot in the back of the head

From GLW issue 1014