In 2004, some 25 years after belting out the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’, the London schoolchildren who featured in the iconic song lodged a claim for unpaid music royalties. The ensuing drama led to a lot of fans thinking the band themselves had been sued, which was almost fitting for the song about school kids rebelling.
Released in 1979 for The Wall album, the song’s anthemic quality made it one of Pink Floyd’s most popular hits. Written by founder Roger Waters across three parts, ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2’ was meant to be satirical. When discussing the track, he explained to Mojo that the all-boys grammar school he attended in the 1950s was highly controlling, but the teachers were weak, which only encouraged bad behaviour. “The song is meant to be a rebellion against errant government, against people who have power over you, who are wrong,” he said.
On the suggestion of producer Bob Ezrin, the song featured young children singing in the chorus. The band’s management took the idea to Alun Renshaw, the head of music at Islington Green School, who was thrilled at the prospect. When he took it to headteacher Margaret Maden, he made a point of not showing her the lyrics and soon got to work on weeks-long rehearsals with a group of 23 children, all aged between 13 and 14.
The song and the schoolkid’s cries of, “We don’t need no education / We don’t need no thought control, No dark sarcasm in the classroom / Teachers leave them kids alone” was an instant classic. But once confronted by the lyrics, Maden banned the children who sang on it from appearing in the video. It was reported the school was given a £1,000 payment in compensation for their vocals, as well as a platinum record, but royalties were never discussed.
“At the time,” explained Renshaw, “We didn’t think of it in terms of money, more of the experience.” But one shrewd party who did think of the money was a royalties agent named Peter Rowan, who in 2004 filed a £6,000 claim on behalf of the students. Headteacher Maden had inadvertently made his job tracing the students quite tricky, given they were banned from making appearances on the radio or for the video.
But as MTV revealed, Rowan found one of the participating singers, Peter Thorpe, on the website Friends Reunited. Others he managed to track down weren’t at all interested in the claim. Thorpe, however, was.
“We were just taken to the studios, and it was great fun,” he said. “I didn’t realise royalties were owed and I’m very glad to be in a position to claim them”. In the end, just five of the 23 children pursued a payment from the Performing Artists’ Media Rights Association. It was a pretty paltry sum of £300, in a money-grabbing exercise that put quite a dampener on the brilliant experience the children involved got to have.