March 2, 2017 by Matt Hill Songwriter
I’m afraid you can’t hear this song, as I’ve not yet recorded it or performed it. I wrote it for the ‘Songs from the museum’ show and we rehearsed it with tracey Browne singing the lead vocal. But alas we ran out of time so there’s no footage. When I finally do get a recording of it, I’ll update the blog.
Most of the songs I wrote for the residency cover the 19th century. So to close the residency I wanted to get into the 20th century. This song is about a strike that happened in the 1970s. Nothing unusual there I hear you say, the seventies was a time of a lot of strikes. What made this one unusual was it was led by an Asian woman.
In this story I felt there were echoes of the match girls. Mrs Desai and her colleagues were very much the underdogs, even within the context of the Trade Union movement where sexism and racism were commonplace as in the rest of society. The Grunwick strike changed that. As the strike ran on, the wider union movement stepped in to support them and this help change happen. Please check out the Grunwick 40 website for more background. The People’s History Museum has a placard from the strike.
This video gives you a great background and you can hear a great folk song called ‘Hold the line’.
Writing the song
This was a very quick song to write. It’s very percussive and fast with some handclaps. It’s upbeat, defiant and celebratory and I didn’t labour too hard on the lyrics or emotional content.
Most of the song lyrics came from this one very famous quote from Jayaben Desai
“What you are running is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips. Others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr Manager.”
– Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick strike.
There is a beautiful poetry to Jayaben Desai’s speech. Just a few simple lines but so eloquently said. I especially love the line about ‘monkeys that dance on your fingertips’. So as the poetry was already there I have taken nearly all the main song references straight from the quote – Mr. Manager, factory, zoo, animals, dance, lions and monkeys.
The lyrics have ended up quite simple really, even dare I say a bit cheesy, especially the wordplay between lions and pride. It’s obvious but i just couldn’t resist it. In the absence of a recording I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imagination and read the lyrics.
The Lions of Dollis Hill
I thought this was a factory that I came to everyday
But this place is like a zoo and I refuse to be caged
So listen Mr Manager, you’ve got yourself a fight
Some animals will dance for you but some of us will bite
We come roaring from the backstreets
The lions of Dollis Hill
We’ve got teeth and we’ve got backbone
We’ve got strength and we’ve got will
And when we stand together – on the picket line
It’s when we stand together – we’ve got our pride
I didn’t come half way round the world to put up with this
You think ’cause I’m not English you can get away with it?
I have had enough. I’m walking out. I’m not taking anymore
You threw peanuts to your monkeys but now listen to us roar