2021: That Was The Year That Was

And so we near another psychological milestone, as one day drifts inexorably into the next and we convince ourselves a new number on the calendar brings with it the might of meaning.

2021, just like it’s predecessor, brought more to forget than remember. We have lived through a period they will one day teach in schools, but as musicians we have struggled to cut through the static of indifference as priorities shifted, and, for the vast majority of people, survival instinct took centre stage.

Nevertheless, we tried.

Really hard.

Probably as hard as ever we have.

Because it seemed to matter more under the circumstances.

My year began pretty much where the last left off, with a ‘Live From T’Shed’ gig raising money for We Shall Overcome, and a new album- ‘A Northern Soul’.

Together with the ‘Smile A Day For Pauline’ campaign, and much support from the wider WSO family, we raised £9536 to keep The Station open through to the Spring. This was always priority No.1 for us during Lockdown, and the generosity of so many people during that winter lifted a massive weight from our shoulders during the cold, dark days of January, and shone a little light into the world. That same solidarity continued throughout a year in which WSO Central could never function as a pub or a venue, and as the new year turns we are funded to Easter and preparing for a MASSIVE all-dayer to kick new life into our spiritual home.

As restrictions eased we stayed within the rules but were able to put some live music on there to lift Pauline’s spirits, and our three ‘Live From T’Station’ gigs were an absolute joy, with my most treasured memory being a collaborative version of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ with Dan Lucas, Matt Hill and Jess Silk, which after so many months of gigging on my own in a shed to a phone on a tripod, was absolutely exhilarating.

As Spring approached, but Lockdown showed no signs of lifting for gigs, we launched ‘WSO We Shall Overrun’, initially an attempt to pool our miles- ran, walked and wheeled- in order to cover the virtual distance between Lands End and John O’Groats. However, when we’d smashed that within a week, the decision was made to attempt to wrap our collective arms around the world by circumnavigating the Earth at the Equator. When our ever-growing ramshackle tag team of volunteers smashed that, we decided to do the same pole to pole. Having also achieved this, the team is currently attempting the moon and back. Utter madness, but it brought a lot of people together and helped a few folks back outdoors to brave the real world after so many months of isolation. Our efforts have so far raised £9492 for grassroots community outreach.

I pitched in with a Summer of coastal walks which culminated in a knackering 23.5 mile walk from Crook Ness to Robin Hood’s Bay along the Cleveland Way. It was fantastic to discover some historical treasures as I clocked up the miles for the cause.

May brought a second album in the form of ‘A Northern Coastal Town’, telling the story of Hull during The Blitz. It was a set of songs I had wanted to write for many a year, and the extra time on my hands plus the approaching 80th anniversary galvanised me. Having researched local and family history, I released the album over the weekend of May 7/8th, which 80 years before marked the worst night of Hull’s war and the date my Great Aunt Ida and her daughter Sylvia were killed by a parachute mine while staying with Ida’s mother-in-law, Ada, at 83 Albany Street. I performed the songs ‘Live From T’Shed’ as per, and it was pretty emotional.

July brought an end to Lockdown and so an end to my ‘Lockdown Solidarity’ campaign. It finished having run for 66 weeks raising a total of £24,248 for 64 front line grassroots causes helping people struggling to get through those darkest of dark days. It had been an exhausting task, and it required the support of a LOT of people to work, but we nailed it, together, as always. Much love to Billy Bragg, Kevin Pearson, Rebekah Findlay, Jess Silk and Chip Hamer for pitching in with merch and creativity way beyond the call.

Of course the crisis wasn’t over and We Shall Overcome was calling, so Lockdown Solidarity quickly morphed into ‘WSO Solidarity Mission’. This is a tripartite campaign dividing all raised money three ways and sharing it weekly to Pauline Town, Mesopotamia Cafe in Nottingham and Hull Unity Shop. To date this has raised another £2809 to keep people fed and housed through the current crisis. It’s on a far smaller scale than its predecessor, but I had asked far too much for far too long to continue as before. After all, there’s only so many t-shirts and mugs you can sell folks before divorce proceedings beckon. Nevertheless, WSO Solidarity Mission will receive all merch money and all gig money beyond expenses until such time as we can see daylight again.

Together with my comrade-in-crayons Kevin Pearson, and in association with Unison, two more children’s books landed this year. ‘Pride’ and ‘The History Teacher’ received rave reviews from a lot of people with titles in front of their names as well as the folks who actually matter, and we are phenomenally proud of them. Three more are written, and we hope to have news of at least one early in the new year. A big thank you to Joe Gibbins and all at the union for their support and enthusiasm, and to the schools and libraries up and down the land who have embraced our little books in the spirit they were written.

‘Pride’ also performed another service.

Late in September the Hatfield Main Memorial was unveiled outside Pit Club in Stainforth. After years of incredibly hard work by Mick Lanaghan, Les Moore, Norman Moore and the committee, this brilliant and culturally important monument to a community of heroes finally saw the light of day and I was delighted to sing at the ceremony.

I performed ‘Farewell Hatfield Main’ with a quivering bottom lip and subsequently released it as a download-only single. Between that and sales of ‘Pride’ we managed to raise a significant sum of money toward the final stage of the project, the lighting. I’m delighted to say this was completed just before Christmas. And it is STUNNING.

As you know, being the Official Bard of The Hatfield Brigade means the world to me, and seeing this memorial in all its glory makes my heart sing. It will outlive us all, and is a fitting reminder of their hard work and sacrifice.

As gigs became possible again I made myself as busy with the mischief and mayhem as I could. It was so good to be back on the road, and although, like many of my fellow musicians, that first couple of shows were a little rusty and awkward, I soon blew off the cobwebs and picked up where I left off. I managed gigs in Nottingham, Oldham, Filey, Durham, Newcastle, Portslade, Rawtenstall, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Scarborough and Leeds as well as the Battle Of Stockton event and a wonderful day at Wigan Diggers Festival. Hopefully Covid won’t halt the recovery of live music in 2022, because we all need it, artists and audiences alike. The human connection it brings is a huge part of who we are.

All of which I suppose leads us to the low point of the year. In truth though, I am passed caring. I will give no more oxygen to the Cancel Culture or its facilitators. Suffice to say I learned a lot about who my real friends are, and unsurprisingly it was you lot, the folks who come to the shows and play the music; the people who sing along and support the merch campaigns and live streams; the friends and comrades who have been there for me time and time again, year in year out, like an extended family. I had the worst 12 hours of my life followed by a lesson in the true meaning of solidarity from thousands of amazing people sharing comments, phoning, texting, messaging, posting and tweeting. Over and over again I had those words we have sung together up and down this land posted in my name:

“You take on one of us, you take on all of us.”

When it was my turn to need a hand back to my feet, there you all were.

It was truly inspirational.

And Tony Booth‘s fundraiser doubled the prize money meaning we got more than £10,000 out to genuine anti-fascist, anti-racist, pro-community support networks in time for Christmas.

I was moved to tears so many times. I will never be able to thank you enough.

Perhaps the moment that best sums up my year was the day in September when a whip-round at the Battle Of Stockton event was handed to me for the Scarborough event I had that evening for our town’s Afghan refugees. One community supporting another community in every sense. One heartfelt gesture of solidarity which meant so much more than the. money to all of us. Moments like that are what life is all about.

Thanks to that same spirit of solidarity, through the smiles and the miles, the rough sleeps and the live streams We Shall Overcome was able to share £4400 in £200 donations to 22 causes in time for Christmas, and as we move into our seventh year the level of support we receive continues to inspire us to push on, past these turbulent times and into a better future for all.

Oh, and we planted 150 trees. One for each sale on Bandcamp since October. This one sale, one tree campaign will carry on going forward.

So as we wave goodbye to 2021 I need to thank everyone who kept me going this year, but especially Pauline, Pete Yen, Matt Hill, Vicky Blake and Joe Gibbins constants at my side no matter what the situation.

2022 will bring new challenges for sure, but we will face them and defeat them and move past them as always.

I will soon start recording a new album, there are three new children’s books written, there will be as many gigs in as many places as will have me and I will raise every penny possible to help support our communities.

That is a promise.

Just don’t nominate me for any awards eh?

Love and solidarity

Photos by Neil Terry, Adam Samuels, JenFoto and many more. THANK YOU!

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