Dandelions…

Protest plunker Russ takes some time out from trying to find where his wife has hidden his banjo to write about an extracurricular project he’s been working on…

This summer marks the hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme. One of the bloodiest battles in military history it cost more than a million casualties and achieved precisely nothing.

For many years the Somme, and the first world war in general, have been symbols of the waste and pointlessness of war. And especially how it’s the ordinary working folk who bear the brunt of the brutality and deprivations of conflict but never seem get very much out of it at the end. The Kings and Queens, the Generals and the rich folk play their games for high stakes one way or another but life for the ordinary folk just rolls on the same win or lose, just with less limbs and more broken hearts. Lions led by donkeys.

Lol laying down some hot anti war punkolin © ...
Lol in the studio laying down some anti war punkolin© …

Protest Family pal Steve O’Donoghue has written a powerful song recounting how his grandfather would refuse to wear a poppy because he refused to accept that the lions who fought in the trenches should have to stand side by side with the donkeys who sent them. I thought the song was direct and strong enough to make a real contribution so I took it to the No Glory campaigning group and to my delight they picked it up and are including it in their Somme centenary campaign to remember the truth about what happened in the so called Great War.

No Glory gave me a modest budget to turn Steve’s six minute unaccompanied folk song into something with a broader appeal. It was a fascinating process to develop the song. To songwriters every verse is like a child and it was a nerve wracking moment when I showed Steve how I’d edited the song to be half its original length, but he took it quite well!

When the Protest Family record we go into the studio with a pretty well rehearsed set and play more or less “live” in one go. With Dandelions I put together a super rough Garage band demo but didn’t have time to rehearse or work on the arrangements with the musicians I’d recruited. So we recorded the song by getting everyone to play as much as they could in the time available and then assembling the song in the final edit. So for example we got John on the drums to run through the song playing random rolls and fills so we could pick them up as needed at the end. I’ve never worked like that before and I was glad to have PF producer Steve Honest to hold my hand and take care of the studio wizardry.

All the kit!
Folk music..!

If I’d had the time I would have liked to have got my Protest Family comrades involved a lot more, but in the end I had to settle for Lol who put some superb mandolin down with the absolute minimum of fuss as he always does. One day he’s going to realise quite what a good musician he is and we’ll all be buggered.

I was really delighted that the entire ensemble that we did end up using, myself, Lol, John Davis on drums and the wonderful Eleanor Firman who is a respected classical composer and who took care of the orchestration all live within about a mile of each other. What astonishing talent there is behind every front door!

No Glory put a great video together to go with the song and you can see the end results here…

The song will be performed in a cut down acoustic setting at the No Glory commemorative concert in Hampstead on June 19th.

http://noglory.org/index.php/events/557-19-june-london-have-you-forgotten-yet-the-truth-about-the-somme

I wish we could sing it so loudly we wake those fallen lions from a sleep that they have slept too long. Then the donkeys would have something to be frightened of

 

 

“From the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Bryant & May…”

matchwomen strike committee
The Matchwomen’s strike committee, 1888

On 2nd July, we’re playing the Matchwomen’s Festival for the third time in its four year history. Our greatest hit*, Right To Strike, begins with a tribute to some of the pioneering trade unionists of the 19th century.

You might be thinking, “How have a bunch of smelly blokes from east London got so involved with a women’s festival? And what’s Brian May got to do with this?”

Let me explain. First, it’s nothing to do with Brian May. Bryant & May was a company that made matches, originally in Bow in east London. In 1888, about 1400 women and girls working in their factory went on strike over long hours, poor pay, excessive fines and the horrific effects of working with white phosphorus, including mutilation and premature death. They formed a trade union. Soon, their resoluteness and ultimate success inspired the formation of trade unions across the country.

The union movement is important to us as a band and it matters to you, whether you realise it or not. Apart from anything else, without the work of trade unions, most of us would simply have no effective employment rights. That’s one reason why we’re proud to be playing the festival again.

The other reason is women. “Ah, so you’re playing it to attract women?” Er – no. We’re all taken, thanks. The Matchwomen’s fight proved that women didn’t have to be passive. Women could organise. Women could gain control. Women could win improvements for themselves.

That message continues to be vital. Between the members of the band, we’ve got six daughters. But we’ve also got partners, sisters, mothers, friends, workmates, neighbours… we want them to be inspired by those ‘ordinary’ women from the century before last. As we are.

Lol
*It got to about number 1,000 in the Amazon download chart, you know.

matchfest top 2016

It’s a Half an Inch of Water

From ABC to Deacon Blue and Madness to Right Said Fred, the list of bands who take their names from other band’s lyrics is worth a Wikipedia page all of its own. But I can only think of one band named after a mondegreen.

Now a mondegreen, as you well know, is a mis-heard lyric, and in this case it’s the line “It’s a half an inch of water” from John Prine’s That’s The Way That The World Goes Round that gives Paddy Nash & The Happy Enchiladas the non-eponymous bit of their name.

We first met Paddy and Diane at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in 2012, where we played a number of gigs, official, unofficial and very unofficial with them before deciding that they were wonderful and we were following them home to Derry.* **

13138766_1276992408996208_5842920141077445160_n
You know who you are….

So, we were delighted to be able to return the favour and put on a couple of shows for them in London. Despite some initial (and last minute) fretting from us as organisers, the Veg Bar gig was magical. The atmosphere was great, and the audience outstanding. We’ve had a few stand-out shows over the years but I don’t think we’ve ever had a crowd sing along to every word of pretty much every song from every performer before, and it definitely brought the best out of all the acts.

 

The Sunday was a more relaxed affair at Walthamstow Folk Club and the folk club format really suited them, rewarding us with some of the stories behind the songs and two sets of  songs with light and shade exploring a range of emotions. They really are extraordinary storytellers and performers.

There’s a load of stuff out there on YouTube and what have you if you want to explore their music further, but if you want a better sense of them, then try their appearance on Radio 4’s The Listening Project.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02np2j6

Wedding or Camper Van? Well, we’ll be seeing the van in Tolpuddle this July.

* Or Derry/Londonderry as it was known at the time.

** We know a song about that.

 

 

On Not Going To Yeovil

So when was Orient’s season over?  Last week after the Star Man Dinner kerfuffle? When Dean Cox and Unlucky Alf got injured? Not until the beer runs out?

Actually, that’s an easy one: It was officially over a fortnight ago at AFC Wimbledon when any over-optimistic talk of the play-offs was finally quashed. Well, you say easy. Not so easy if your mates from Derry have planned a trip over for the last weekend of the season, are playing gigs in Brighton and London on either side of your last fixture, if you’d really like to put on a gig so that you can play with them again, and there might, just might, be something on the last game.

This is where you find out which of your band mates (and fellow Orient fans) are optimists, which are pessimists and which are obsessed with football statistics. Thankfully, after extensive negotiations, we reached a position that the Yeovil game was only worth going to if promotion or relegation rested on the outcome and even then only promotion outright, not making or failing to make the play-offs. Which gives you a probability argument if you like maths or a football argument if you’re actually watching them play. So, as soon as the maths and the O’s woeful form allowed us, we booked tonight’s gig at the Veg Bar in Brixton.

We’re basking in the glow of a fabulous trip to Barnsley last weekend for the May Day Festival of Solidarity, and looking forward enormously to being reunited with Paddy & Diane and Robb Johnson. I’m looking forward to the venue too, having seen a Loud Women gig there earlier in the year, just a little worried about the PA, but we’ll be there early enough to sort any teething trouble out with any luck.

We’ve got loads to talk about too. Electoral success for Eamonn McCann and People Before Profit in Belfast, New London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the results of the poll on the future of Have I Got News For You. There will even be a few vaguely disappointed Orient fans to sing a song for.

Thank you AFC Wimbledon.

Have I Got News For You?

Yes, it was the first day of May 2008. Yes, I did stay up half the night listening to the results coming in. I couldn’t quite believe it. Maybe it was my natural optimism*. Maybe I couldn’t quite get my head around people threatening to vote for Boris Johnson because Boris being Mayor of London would be a laugh. Maybe I just couldn’t see past Ken Livingstone**. Ken had made the job his own over the previous eight years, a big personality, with vision, and maverick enough to be anti-the government of the day and pro-London. There was good and bad with Ken of course, the revival of London buses and free travel for under-18’s in full time education on the one hand, the privatisation of London’s fleet of fire engines on the other. Being back in the Labour Party didn’t hurt in 2004 but this time out it probably didn’t help. The (perceived) bigger maverick got the vote.

Not that there was much in it. 1, 043, 761 people had Boris Johnson as their first preference vote, a statistic that I have quoted from the stage on more than one occasion. First day of May 2008. And not long after, a song was born.

The idea to write about all that dodgy stuff in Boris Johnson’s recent past; the racism, philandering, dodgy-dealing, arranging to have journalists beaten up etc., came quite quickly, but the Mayor Boris Blues just didn’t quite hit the mark. As fellow song writers will know, there’s got to be a hook and there’s got to be an angle, and both of them came together around the idea of Have I Got News For You. It also gave rise to one of my favourite couplets of all of those that I’ve written:

“Anna Fazackerly, now it’s me and you, getting screwed by the bloke off Have I Got News For You.”

But it’s nearly over. The London mayoral election happens again on 5th May this year and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson won’t be standing. Having treated the job of Mayor as a part-time gig for the last eight years, he’s leaving to concentrate full-time on his campaign to be the next leader of the Tory party***.

So there’s been talk of retirement. Not his, but in the band there are voices suggesting that we retire Have I Got News For You.

Oh.

I’m against it. I think it stands up as a historical document that’s worth airing from time to time. I also think that it’s a valuable tool in our armoury against a Johnson-led Tory party, as and when that happens. But mine is just one voice. We’re definitely going to sing it at one of the next two gigs as they’re either side of the vote, but after that it might be up to you lot. You know where to find the Protest Family. You tell ’em.

Steve

 

* Yeah, right.

** We’re not here to talk about that.

*** Of course he’s going to deny it.

 

Pay Your Tax

Pig-Fucker in Panama Papers Pickle

Is anyone surprised that David Cameron benefited from offshore investments that paid no tax? I’m only surprised that he wriggled and tried to hide it when the Mossack Fonseca story started to break. After all this government by the rich on behalf of the rich seem to get away with pretty much whatever they want, and we may chortle at his “It’s a private matter” whining, but it’s not like he’s going to give any of it back now is it? You might call for his head too, but there will be no challenge to his leadership this side of the EU referendum, the knives are still being sharpened.

Regular listeners will know that the words to Pay Your Tax vary considerably live, giving us the chance to have a pop at the latest tax dodger du jour. If the song makes it to the set lists for either Barnsley or Brixton, Camerons junior and senior are very much in the cross-hairs. And Cameron’s the perfect target. Although the song lists corporate tax dodgers (along with the occasional dig at Gary Barlow) their “it’s not illegal, just immoral” defence holds water. The real enemy is the system of government that allows the super-rich and the multinationals to benefit from massive tax avoidance only barely hidden from public view, and Cameron is both author and beneficiary of this corrupt regime.

David Cameron, we’re coming for you.*

 

* In rhyme, with mandolins and shit.

Glossop Labour Club

glossop labour club 2bw

“Glossop Labour Club is an independent social club. It is not affiliated to any political party, but is home to people who share a progressive outlook on life.”

Ooh, that’s interesting: setting out your “No, we’re not affiliated to the Labour Party” stance in the opening paragraph of your web site. The authors of Glossop Labour Club’s site go on to add that they’re one of the oldest Labour/Socialist clubs in the country, founded in 1906 by the ILP, two years before the national party existed.

Our kind of folk, but folk we’d mostly not met before; and though a warm and friendly audience, one that was prepared to subject our songs to some scrutiny. From the stage you could almost feel people listening, working out what we meant and realising that yeah, we are all on the same side. It’s great when that happens. I remember a conversation at Tolpuddle the morning after we’d played when a fella we’d not met before (let’s call him Hugh) came back to us with a couple of lines from the first verse of No Pasaran In E17 for a fuller version of the story.*

Talking of anonymous contributors to the story, I used a fictional friend (let’s call him Dave) as part of the intro to Victoria Says. Fictional Dave is of course based on a real friend called, um, Dave, but being 200 miles away from home I thought I’d got away with it. Turns out that Dave (the real one) had a mate in the room who he’d encouraged to come along if we were ever playing nearby. Busted. But in a good way.

Anyway, an hour long set gave us a good opportunity to set out our stall to a new crowd. We started with a bang, messed around with spoons and poetry in the middle, and finished on a high with a Pete Seeger singalong and our version of the National Anthem. We got a lovely review in the Morning Star too.

With a bit of TLC, the Protest Family tour bus made it to and from Glossop without incident and we’ll hope for the same again as we head to Barnsley on May Day for the Festival of Solidarity in the Polish Club. That’s one you don’t want to miss, a gathering of the great and the good of the lefty touring scene, with an average age slightly lower than the Pensioners Against The Cuts Tour.

May Day Festival of Solidarity

You should come.

Steve

* Hugh: “So what you’re saying is that the RMT used health and safety to perform an overtly political act and oppose fascism?” Us: “Yeah”.