Maddy Carty & The Protest Family

We first met Maddy Carty about two years ago.  We were both playing for the Show Culture Some Love campaign.  The Family were struck by her remarkable, strong yet vulnerable voice and sophisticated modern soul-based songs.  We immediately suggested her to play at the Matchwomen’s Festival a few months later.

During a rehearsal (yes, we do rehearse), we were trying Right To Strike (from Drums Ruin Everything).  It didn’t sound quite right.  Someone suggested that it might sound good with a female voice doing harmony, like… Maddy Carty.  We warmed to the idea that she might play keyboards on it too.  A few days later, she agreed.  More than that, she really wanted to perform Have I Got News For You with us.  By the time we met up, she was playing on four songs.  She joined us on stage at the Matchwomen’s Festival in July – and it was fun.  We did it again at the Leytonstone Festival the following week. A couple of months later, Steve and Maddy did a couple of songs together in central London.

Madd y and Steve Paul Rutland mod
Steve and Maddy  (Pic: Paul Rutland)

Meanwhile, a new movement had been brewing.  It was We Shall Overcome: hundreds of gigs across the country on the same weekend, protesting against austerity, and raising money and collecting food for those hardest hit by it.  We wanted to do something special for that – but what?  Well, who else would we call?  So in October, Maddy Protest joined us for our entire set at the Rose & Crown for Walthamstow Folk’s contribution to the weekend.  It was a great night with an enthusiastic crowd, but…

Discussing it afterwards, we felt that something was a bit off.  Was it Doug’s socks?  No, not this time.  It boiled down to this: we had used Maddy as a piano player and a backing vocalist.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  She’s fine as a piano player.  She’s fine as a backing vocalist.  But she’s got so much more.  She was easily the best singer present on stage that night (sorry, Doug), but her terrific voice was always in the background.  Also, she’s a very strong songwriter, but we played none of her songs at all.  She was happy to play that night, but on reflection it seemed to us to be a bit of an insult to her talents.

Fast forward to 2016.  We had a better idea: how about having Maddy join us properly for a one-off gig?  This time, she could back us on some of our songs – and we would back her on some of hers.  But she let us down badly, pointing out that she was getting married on the day that we’d planned for the performance. How selfish can you get?

marriage-facts
Marriage: selfish

Now it’s 2017 (check your phone if you don’t believe me) and we’ve forgiven her for that snub.  It’s finally going to happen.  On Sunday 16th July at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset, Maddy Carty & The Protest Family will take to the stage.  It’s going to be different.  Come and join us.

Lol

(Main pic: Thee Faction)
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That Round-Up That They Do Every Year

routenoteCrikey, what a year: Brexit, Trump, Corbyn and the coups, Syria, the destruction of The Jungle, Theresa May. If you’re a political band of any description you’d better be able to say that you know a song about some of that, and yes we do.

Like it’s predecessor, Protest For Dummies was two years in the making but hopefully it sounds like it might all have been written yesterday, opening as it does with a song about the royal family just as the government announced nearly £400 million pounds worth of public money heading towards repairs to Buckingham Palace. No space or resources for refugees, but millions of pounds to spend on all those empty rooms? Yeah, we might’ve mentioned that.

As political commentators talk up our post-truth, fake news existence and the world experiences an alarming rise in right-wing populism, there’s work to do for the likes of the Protest Family. If the facts don’t matter any more how do you challenge popular opinion or widely held beliefs? Well maybe if you can make the facts rhyme, dress them up with a chorus and mandolins and stuff, then maybe, just maybe people will be humming the truth on their way to work before they realise they’re supposed to have a post-fact reaction to the news.

The hard bit as ever is to get your work into the hands and ears of a wider audience and not just the folk who already share your point of view, hence our decision this time round to distribute the album more widely online, including on Amazon and iTunes. I’ve always avoided the big players before, didn’t want the purity of our art tainted by doing business with them and I’d have felt a bit of a hypocrite doing so, but I’ve been convinced (by the others mainly) that it’s part of reaching as many people as we can, and maybe placing songs about tax justice on an arch tax-dodger’s website is exactly the kind of subversive act that we should be engaged in. Mind you, the bonus track is only on the CD or on downloads from the band’s Bandcamp page, so there’s still a little reward for taking your ethics record shopping with you.

Obviously there’s nothing new about challenging the world we live in through song, as I was reminded listening to Tom Robinson sing Power In The Darkness at the Reminiscences of Rock Against Racism  book launch at Conway Hall in December. It was an extraordinarily powerful song then and it remains so now. Roger Huddle and Red Saunders’ book tells an extraordinary tale too, through the stories of some of the people that were there, including Tom of course. Did I mention that he borrowed my guitar?

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And only one cover version all year.

But never mind Tom (unless you want to drop him a line about listening to Protest For Dummies), what did we do in 2016? Well 46% of our gigs last year were outside the M25 and only 15% were in Waltham Forest (and they were less than a month apart). 15% of last year’s shows were in Hertfordshire and another 15% were in Derbyshire. Nearly 8% featured Jeremy Corbyn on the supporting line-up, but none of those were in Waltham Forest, Hertfordshire or Derbyshire. 15% of appearances were at Labour clubs and 23% were at festivals. (How I’ve got this far without a Venn diagram, I don’t know). 23% were in July and 15% in venues beginning with C….oh, enough.

Anyway, we had a nice time and hopefully made the world a better place by a percentage point or at least a bit of one.

2017? Who knows? It looks like there’s some strike benefits on the horizon and that’s no surprise. There is a surprise planned for July, but more of that later, and otherwise? Well as one reviewer put it, we’re alive and kicking, and definitely kicking.

Happy New Year!

Steve

Rocking against racism

rarstar-clean-rotated-crop-small

In 1976, in the middle of a rise in moronic nationalism and outright racism led by the National Front, Eric Clapton delivered a horrific, racist rant on stage in Birmingham. Walthamstow lad Roger Huddle and three pals wrote to the NME in disgust. They did far more than that, though – with the same letter, they launched Rock Against Racism.

Within a couple of years it had grown from a few pub gigs to huge events across the country. In 1978, there was a crowd of over 80,000 to see The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X and the Tom Robinson Band at Victoria Park in Hackney, east London. The crucial point was that vulnerable young people could see their heroes backing anti-racism – this was a serious youth culture response to the boneheads. The National Front shrank and splintered.

Roger Huddle and fellow founder Red Saunders have edited a book about Rock Against Racism to be published on 5th December. It’s not simply their view of what happened, but a mix of memories and ideas from a range of people, famous, little known and maybe even infamous.

Memories of the past?  Yes, but here’s the thing: the same ‘blame the wrong people’ ideas are growing today. They’re in small groups of nationalist knuckle-draggers, of course, but now… well, they’re lurking in UKIP. They’re lurking in speeches by the Conservative Prime Minister. They’re given airtime via a French fascist leader on a prestigious BBC political interview programme. And, as if we could forget, racism was a key part of the election strategy of the incoming President of the USA.

Anyone who’s even vaguely progressive has some tough battles ahead – that’s for certain. But we can all learn something from the successes of the past. That’s why we’re looking forward to this book.

In fact, we’re honoured to have been asked to do a few songs at the launch. It’s at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square in central London on 5th December. It’s free, but you’ll need to book a place if you’re coming. Folk punk against racism? You bet.

Lol

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Half a century

Our Steve turns 50 (fifty) this week.  It’s a difficult age.  It’s a time when you really, really have to accept that you’re never going to play for England (or even Holland), never going to come up with a coherent Theory Of Everything, never going to the Moon.   (Some of us still haven’t got over that last one.)

He wasn’t always a songwriter.  He only started this nonsense in earnest about 10 years ago.  Since then, Steve’s written songs about all sorts: broken hearts, socialism, police violence, tax dodgers, clownish politicians, fast food, racism, Santa, merchant bankers, picket lines, UKIP, revolution, resistance, cancer, refugees, fox hunting, truth, gluten, death, swearing, cycling, a fizzy drinks company, the misappropriation of language, Hank Marvin, anarchy, monarchy, gentrification, Walthamstow, Chingford, Leyton, Orient, Leyton Orient, health & safety legislation,  piracy (arrrrrrhh!!) and even, rarely, about himself.  Yes, we know a song about that.  Sometimes you think that the songs are too simple to work.  But they usually do.

When I first saw Steve perform live, he was solo (or with Chris Da Lipz), handing out buttered chunks of home-made bread at gigs.  Me and Doug joined up with him in 2009 and what soon became The Family has been on an adventure ever since.  We’ve played in the east, west, south and north of the country and in Northern Ireland.  We’ve had Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn as support acts.  We’ve performed with an ex-Sex Pistol.  We’ve had talents as diverse as Louise Distras, Attila The Stockbroker and Maddy Carty playing on stage with us.  Yes, we’ve argued, fallen out, sulked and fallen back in again.  Most of that happened in one row about a count-in.

We’ll start recording our third studio album soon, and once again all of the songs will be written by Steve.  The rest of us chip in musical bits and pieces and even the occasional word, but they’re his songs.

So you’re all invited to come and join us in celebration on Saturday night at What’s Cookin’ in Leytonstone.  Watch the bands.  Raise a glass to our bandmate – our mate – Steve, who in his personal, professional and musical lives strives to make things a bit better for other people.  And most of all, sing his songs along with us.  See you there.steves-birthday-bash-whats-cookin-oct-2016

Lol

 

Funky Lol’s Picket Line

Most of our songs are pretty easy to understand, but people sometimes ask about Funky Lol’s Picket Line (from This Band Is Sick). It was written by Steve, but it’s got my name in it. Here’s what it’s all about.

It’s a true story from 5 years ago. I was working at a Further Education college in London. We were on a national strike over extra pension contributions. It meant an effective pay cut of £500-£1000 per year for each of us – worth fighting against.

The college was open from 7am-11pm. We had an uneventful picket line in the morning, when most staff and students would have been going in (few did). The strike continued, but the picket line rota wound down early to allow many of the strikers to attend a union event in central London.

I discovered to my surprise that the local Labour Party were planning to hold a fund-raising dinner in the college’s training restaurant that night, with Shadow Minister Carrie-Anne Slate* as guest speaker. I passed a message to a prominent local Party member, assuming that they would want to postpone the event to support us. His reaction was non-committal. So I went to Labour’s constituency office and rang the bell. I had to speak to an intercom: “Will Carrie-Anne Slate* cross our picket line tonight?” They invited me in and took my details, but did nothing. Later, I was phoned by the local MP’s agent. He had a superior tone and seemed mildly irritated.

Eventually, I began to realise that I’d have no choice but to reassemble the picket line. I made a couple of phone calls, sent texts and started walking up the road to the college. As I was walking, I got a call from the MP, India Empy*. She bent my ear for fully 19 (nineteen) minutes. Whenever I tried to speak, she interrupted with, “No, listen…”

She told me that she had known about the strike a week in advance. She had checked with the Principal of the college (“spoke to the wrong fella”), who doubted that we would continue it into the evening (“said it would be over by tea time”). He was wrong, of course (“you know a strike’s all day when you’re losing a day’s pay”). She hadn’t bothered to check with us. Either we were unimportant to her, or she didn’t want to hear the answer we would have given.

Anyway, she made me an offer: if we let the dinner go ahead, she would invite one of our pickets to cross our picket line. They could then explain to the diners who had crossed our picket line why they shouldn’t have crossed our picket line. Okay, read that again. Got it? Did we accept the offer? As if.

The picket line reconvenes
The picket line reconvenes

The picket was back in place. By now, we had supporters from the local Trades Council, including the impressive Daryl O’Levely*, and from other unions, including current members of the band. We were incredulous at the actions of our local Labour Party – the party formed largely from the trade union movement.

Confusion reigned as some people arrived for the dinner. A small number went inside the college. Niall Gerald*, the former MP for the area, turned up and began to help turn people away. There was no sign of India Empy* or of Carrie-Anne Slate* (I discovered months later that the Party feared a photo of a Shadow Minister crossing a picket line). We eventually found out that what was left of the guests, including Empy* and Slate*, had gone to an Indian restaurant a few miles away to try to salvage the chaos (“better go for a curry instead”).

We had seen off the disgraceful threat to the strike. We disbanded our picket line and went to the pub (“you know this story ends up in the Rose & Crown”).

Those involved in organising the shambles might consider this: they could have postponed the whole thing a week before the event, held it on another night and raised some funds. Instead, they chose the dishonourable path and lost both money and credibility.  And Steve White & The Protest Family gained a dance number.

Lol

*Names changed to protect the innocent.  And the guilty.

Top picture: legalcheek.com.

Protest Family Migration

So, there I was this morning enraged yet again by the unbiased BBC reporting that hearts are hardening to the Syrian refugee crisis, as now 41% of those surveyed thought that we shouldn’t take any more in. No mention of the 59% of people who think that we should definitely be doing a lot more. Even if it’s down from 69% it still looks like a majority to me, but looking at the figures that way clearly doesn’t suit the narrative. (And before we go on to talk about the “M” word, has anyone noticed the complete lack of media coverage of the bombing campaign in Syria since the vote?)

But yes, the “M” word got a repeated airing in the BBC Radio 4 coverage this morning. Migration’s for the birds isn’t it? I thought people were immigrants or emigrés, not migrants. Migrant is a dehumanising term straight out of the bigot’s toolbox. How much easier is it to discriminate against people if you describe them as something that falls short of your definition of people. See also: the way the Nazis described the Jews and the way soldiers are taught to describe the enemy. Charlie Hebdo can fuck off too.

But I’m not here to talk about that.

The talk about travel does remind me that I should be talking about The Protest Family and our upcoming travels. Now maybe if you’re AC/DC or Bruce Springsteen your gigs for the next twelve months are already well mapped out, but if you’re us, maybe less so. What we do know is that we’ll be hitting the road a lot more this year than we have done in previous years, starting with a trip to Glossop next month.

Now Baby Jesus died on Good Friday and rose again on Easter Monday, leaving a very convenient long weekend in between. Easter Sunday might be a re-run of Christmas three months later, tofurkey dinner and board games with the folks, but that does leave you with a whole Easter Saturday to fill, particularly if the football calendar gets switched to the (Good) Friday. Never fear, we shall be performing at Glossop Labour Club with fellow WSO-er Ste Goodall. The Quiet Loner’s Defiance Sessions are gathering some momentum and it promises to be something of an evening.

Talking of Sundays, May the 1st falls on a Sunday this year and it’s Tony Hurrier’s inaugural May Day Festival of Solidarity in Barnsley where we’ll be joined by many of the luminaries of the socialist music scene. We’ve got to get to grips with the workers’ holiday before the Tories turn it into Margaret Thatcher Day or something equally horrid, so hit the streets and celebrate, and if it’s the street that the Polish Club in Barnsley’s in so much the better.

The weekend of the third Sunday in July is of course the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. Expect the usual Tolpuddle Unplugged shenanigans. More of this later, but also on a Sunday is the Burston Strike School Rally and another opportunity for band selfies in front of trade union banners.

Somewhere between Burston and Bridport we’ll have to squeeze in WSO, Stowfest and somebody’s birthday celebrations, but the fixture computer hasn’t spoken yet so watch this space.

Is that it? Probably not, but do join us around the country and do listen to the news with a critical ear.

S.

 

George of The Jungle

The story of a dragon-slaying Syrian, set to become one of England’s national heroes; it’s patron saint no less. If only he could get past the border guards at Calais.

Released as a video single on YouTube on Sunday 27th December.

It’s here.