Ahead of the official launch gig for ‘NEVER BE DEFEATED’ at Stainforth Pit Club on Saturday February 6th, there have been some wonderful reviews landing in my inbox. The album has had some fantastic support already and I’m overjoyed, not just because people seem to like the record, but because the story of the Hatfield Brigade during the Miner’s Strike needs to be heard, and that is putting a great big smile on my face.
First up is a fantastic review on the excellent Louder Than War website by Dave Jennings:
Louder Than War’s Dave Jennings reviews Joe Solo’s concept album about one of the most turbulent periods of recent British history.
This is a concept album with an interesting twist. The concept is of a country gripped by a vicious and bitter civil war. On one side is the workers in an industry that has been decreed too expensive to continue to run but their livelihood and future of their communities is dependent on the continued existence of the industry. On the other side is an ideologically driven government that is utilising the law enforcement forces to ensure total victory over “the enemy within”. The ‘concept’ of course is all too real and the story that unfolds here is that of the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike as told by those involved.
Joe Solo has produced a musical testament of one of the most turbulent periods of recent British history. The album tells the story through the eyes of those who stayed out on strike at Hatfield Main Colliery, South Yorkshire which finally closed in 2015. Solo has conducted extensive interviews with a number of participants and woven these together to produce a unique perspective on an event from which wounds are yet to heal.
The acoustic folk style of the songs is well suited as this is an album where you really need to hear the lyrics, fashioned as they are from the individual stories he has gleaned. The opening tracks of Coal Not Dole and Solidarity set the scene well as they describe the importance, running through generations, of union in mining communities. As Solo repeats the mantra “don’t cross the picket line” we develop at least some understanding of the importance of organised industrial labour but it is the aspect of family unity that maybe is even more important. Solo has enlisted Rebekah Findlay to provide the voices of the miner’s wives, such a vital force in the longevity of the strike and she delivers impressively. The vocals of Findlay serve to offset the harsher vocal tone of Joe Solo (necessarily so as the issues in the tracks he sings require it) and give the album greater depth and heightened musical accessibility.
However, the music is not the main aspect of this album, good as it is. The real triumph is the way that Solo has immersed himself in the characters and the moments of a defining period of British industrial history. Sometimes, the best way to understand important historical events is by seeing them unfold through the eyes of those involved and you can’t fail to be moved when Solo compares the stealing of potatoes to feed a hungry family, with stealing people’s futures and livelihoods. These songs are essentially personal vignettes that capture moments of anger, injustice but more than anything, as the album title suggests, a lasting feeling of pride.
And Saturday’s Morning Star contained an interview with yours truly by the great Bob Oram:
“Joe Solo was 14 and a punk rocker at the time of the Miner’s Strike and it was his first taste of how bad politics hurts ordinary people.
“It was my political awakening. It made me think. There was a poisonous agenda in the media at the time that didn’t quite make sense. When you’re a kid you tend to see things in black and white, and I couldn’t see how on one hand the telly could criticise some people for not having a job, and then criticise others for fighting to save the one they had! They couldn’t have it both ways. And yet they did. So as a punk rocker, it naturally made me think the Miners were the good guys, the press were just the government in print, and anyone who fell for it was an idiot. I’ve never really recovered from that.”
No surprise then that his latest album ‘Never Be Defeated’ about The Strike is one of the most achingly heartfelt and moving albums around.
An aural history and tribute it recounts the story of The Strike through the eyes of the men and women of Stainforth and Dunscroft, South Yorkshire- The Hatfield Brigade. It is an intense piece of work that melds working class culture, pride, solidarity, anger, passion and hope into a body of work that will stand the test of time. Many artists write a song about the strike but Joe has given birth to thirteen, and they follow its course from the ballot and the initial success picketing Nottinghamshire pits to Thatcher mobilising the police against them to the bitter but proud return to work at its conclusion. There are songs about the brutality of Orgreave, the riots in Stainforth, and the black humour which held the mining communities together when winter started to bite. There are numbers too about the horror of being called back to work before a deal had been struck to reinstate those who had been sacked, together with songs which even at 30 years distance celebrate the unbowed defiance felt at The Strike’s conclusion.
“I knew what stories I wanted to tell, and wrote those first, and when I saw a gap in the narrative I wrote songs to fill them in. Then there’s the two songs about the women fighting first on the home front, and then becoming empowered and taking to the picket lines. Both are sung by the brilliant Rebekah Findlay, who absolutely nails them…..and we finish with the true story of the Picketing Gnome of Hatfield Main, a light-hearted morality tale of kidnap and liberation.”
“With any luck, by the end of it you get some feel for what it was like to be on the receiving end of Thatcher’s cosh and have your entire way of life stolen from you by the malice of the spreadsheet and a government intent on destroying their industry”.
It is truly a musical tour de force and its genesis began in a chance meeting at Stainforth Pit Club as part of the 30th Anniversary of The Strike with the Hatfield Brigade.
“After that you are never quite the same again. I was hooked on their stories from the word go.”
He kept in touch with Mick Lanaghan and the brigade and they asked him to sing at the 30th anniversary of the end of The Strike. This he did, but “the more we talked the more ideas kept coming and I knew there was an whole album waiting to be told. From writing that first song to finishing the record took six months.”
It was a process of “watching and listening” via “phone calls, email threads and Facebook posts; and they lent me some German documentary footage from the time, while I soaked up as many newspaper cuttings and archive interviews as I could find and listened to speeches; two of which especially, by Sheena Moore and Carol McCardle, really hit home. They helped me put together the two songs from the point of view of the women which I am really proud of. I knew the set-pieces of the Strike, and knew they would form the backbone of the record, the rest was getting the details right and telling their real stories as best I could. Their stories are amazing and I didn’t need to do much apart from make them fit the music. I really loved writing it, and I hope that shows.”
Solo, though not from mining stock wanted to give something back. His family have mended washing machines for three generations so, “I know about trades being passed father to son and the pride that comes with it.”
“Sadly you don’t get that much anymore. I think it helped bind communities together and the loss of those industries and those trades are a huge part of our problems today. I’m proud to walk in my father’s, and his father’s footsteps, and if you understand how much that means to people, then you understand their anger when it is taken away”.
But Never Be Defeated has its bittersweet moments too. Solo grins as he tells me why the song ‘Last Man Standing (The Ballad of Tony Clegg)’ is such a fitting postscript. Clegg, a man who suffered more than most during The Strike, got the last laugh because Thatcher died on his birthday and the final lines of the song Joe wrote for him are:
“The Devil? Well, I’ve seen her off.
She played me for my soul.
But you never bet against a man
Who come from mining coal.”
The interview over Solo heads back to his day job, endless gigs, selfless activism, passionate and inspirational ,if you see no one else this year play live, go and see him if you can. You will not be disappointed.
As he goes he says, “I am proud to call them all comrades and friends, and consider being granted honorary membership of The Hatfield Brigade one of the best days of my life. They are all still an inspiration, and they’d do it all again tomorrow, because they know they were right.”
Great to have such fantastic support from such amazing sources.
So happy to have them onside.