2017: That Was The Year That Was

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Well that was 2017.

I keep thinking that one of these years will be a quiet one. Musicians have those. For some reason we just aren’t what the year needs. Sometimes we get two in a row. Sometimes three. Sometimes we quit before our time comes round again. Sometimes we keep the faith and our patience is rewarded. One thing’s for sure though, we never escape unscathed. We all get the quiet ones, and my time will come round again.

Thankfully, 2017 wasn’t that year, and a MASSIVE thank you to all you cheered, sang, applauded, shook, rattled and rolled; to all who bought CDs, downloaded, played videos; to everyone who booked me, did sound and lighting, fed me, watered me and put me up…..and put up with me; to all who encouraged me, messaged when times were hard, commented on threads, shared and retweeted; to all who supported We Shall Overcome, donating to causes up and down the land and helping untold numbers of people when they needed it most. You all keep me going.

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The year started with a new album. It usually does. This time around I was really proud of it and I knew it contained my best songs, and best poems. ‘The Future Needs Us Now’ was officially released on 6th January and both the title track and ‘Blue Town’ were played by Tom Robinson on 6Music, and the poem ‘Why Are You So Angry?’ went viral several times on live videos. I recorded some of the key songs, and some old favourites, with Michael Lee Toas and the resulting 23 videos were released as ‘The Shed Sessions’. You can find them under the header elsewhere on this website, but the aforementioned poem is here:

The album was launched at The Station, Ashton-under-Lyne at a big WSO All-dayer which raised enough money to help Pauline Town get a number of people off the streets and into accomodation; a great start for the record, and if that was all it had achieved I’d have taken that. It was a cracking day and set the tone for another hectic year on the road.

May Day 60 Joe

I managed to haul my way through Doncaster, Dewsbury, Scarborough, Wakefield, Salford, Nottingham, South Kirkby, Milnsbridge, Pickering, Barnsley, Leicester, London, Sheffield, Hull, Carlisle, Manchester, Saltburn, Chesterfield, Belper, Glastonbury, Southport, Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Newcastle, Redcar, Wigan, Stockton-on-Tees, Selby, Belfast, Huddersfield, Bolton, Louth, Bradford, Warsop, Stainforth, Portslade, Leeds, Durham, Liverpool, Goole, Scunthorpe, Otley, Darlington and York…..many of them more than once; and once again I was met with amazing people trying to change the world for the better. On the way, on top of all the We Shall Overcome campaigns the gigs were supporting, I helped Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, the Labour Party election campaign, Punk 4 the Homeless, Love Music Hate Racism, International Brigades Memorial Trust, Hope Not Hate, and several campaigns supporting refugees to name but a few, but some of the help we raised was for individuals struggling with health or housing and these matter as much, if not more as they show the direct correlation between live music and help on our streets. As I keep saying through the mic, gigs are one of the few places we gather as a community with a shared purpose, and they can be used for so much more than just selling CDs and t-shirts and expanding a mailing list. It matters.

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There were obvious highlights out there. I loved both trips to London, first for The Clash 40th anniversary gig….

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and then for the Betsey Trotwood all-dayer where I did both a set of songs AND my very first poetry gig, and I can’t thank Chip and Nadia enough for making that possible. Nor can I thank Lynda and Ernest enough for finally making me get on a plane and play Belfast! I had a phenomenal couple of days with them being shown the sights of an incredible city, and I’ll never forget my time there.

May Day Festival of Solidarity was once again a blinding weekend and putting that bill together with Tony, and watching set after set of musical genius, is something I hope we can do together for many years to come.

And of course, Glastonbury Festival where, thanks to Billy Bragg, I got to play the Leftfield stage, and soak up an unforgettable weekend of music and comradeship.

I gave Glastonbury my all, but then I did the same in Wigan a few days later, and the town after that. Some of the gigs were rammed, others a little more intimate, but I know you always got everything I had, and I don’t treat one gig any different from the next because you are never playing for who isn’t there, only ever for who is. Glastonbury was great, but they only come round every……well, for me, thirty years! There was more work needed doing.

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We Shall Overcome exceeded all our expectations, and we finish the year having clocked up 700 gigs in 142 towns and cities across nine countries on three continents, all since we kicked it off in May 2015. Those events have raised an estimated £350,000 worth of food, cash, clothing, bedding, furniture, tents and electrical goods for those suffering at the sharp end of austerity; and as #WSO2017 makes way for #WSO2018 we take a big deep breath before launching ourselves headlong into the fight of our lives, because if we are going to change things for the better in this country I believe it is now or never. Socialism has struck many blows this year, not least in the June election, but the fight is far from over and if we rest on our laurels, the powers that be will rally and defeat us. We cannot allow this to happen, and We Shall Overcome will be there for anyone who needs us whether supporting the homeless and hungry, helping raise funds for striking workers, or just reminding people that our own fates depend on those of our friends and neighbours, that communities need the encouragement and heart of people active within them in order to survive; that together we are stronger.

The General Election brought a flurry of gigs and campaigning, and I raised funds for local CLPs as well as playing a number of dates on the Stand Up For Labour tour. I recorded two songs for the Corbyn campaign and loved hearing those choruses coming back at me in every town I visited.

I was proud to play a small part in turning the tide over that few weeks in May and early June, and I will continue to support the fight against the Tories in whatever way I can, however long it takes.

I finished the year releasing another single with The Hatfield Brigade. ‘They Could Not Break This Town’ was great fun to record, and will be a live favourite for years to come I am sure of it.

The video is here:

and the song can be found on the new album.

Which brings us right back to where we started. On Monday January 1st I launch another record. ‘Not On Our Watch’ was recorded in breaks between the madness, and completed with the addition of Rebekah Findlay‘s magic dust in November. I can say hand on heart you get everything I had to give this year, and I am very proud of it. I hope you give it a whirl and find something on there that reaches out and plucks on your heartstrings. That’s what I make them for.

So there we have it. That was the year that was. As the new year turns we start where we left off. Benefit gigs, solidarity gigs, WSO organising, another May Day Festival of Solidarity, the exciting prospect of MLT Productions launching the We Shall Overcome documentary film…..I’ll be out there doing Woody’s Work as always and it would be great to see you.

……oh, and look out for The Armistice Tour in late October/early November. I’ll be playing the ‘Potter’s Field’ songs for the first time in nine years and there will be an accompanying album. So watch this space x

Goodbye to one year, and hello to another.

Maybe this will be that quiet one?

Don’t bank on it.

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