2023: APRIL

April was dominated by the now familiar blend of perseverance and panic that comes with organising May Day Festival Of Solidarity, so the last few weeks have passed in a blur; but here’s the best of what I can remember…..

On April 7th, ‘Answer Machine’, the first new Lithium Joe song in 22 years, hit the streaming sites. Recorded at Fairview Studios last November by John Spence, the song is about the brick wall you meet when preprogrammed responses are the only conversations in town, and you’re battling what Antonio Gramsci called the ‘Cultural Hegemony’ of the Establishment and its media. All that with the Beatles backing vocals and our trademark sound intact.

I did an interview with BBC Introducing Humberside, which was broadcast ahead of our first radio airing on Saturday 22nd. I’m so proud that the Lithium Joe story has a new chapter after all those empty pages, and you can catch the video here:

The weekend before, I’d hit Leeds for We Shall Overcome and Harrogate to play the NEU National Conference…..to keep me out of trouble.

There was the second ‘Solidarity Social’ at the Railway Club in Scarborough, this time raising funds for Surfers Against Sewage….

…..and the trip up to Newcastle to play the Cluny 2 as part of Folkish Explosion….

I spent three consecutive days on the picket line with Junior Doctors….

But for the most part, it was all about our sixth May Day Festival Of Solidarity. I probably said it best on Facebook:

“Every year, Tony Peter Wright and meself walk into an empty Old School House in Barnsley around 12.30pm, and every year we see a bare room with cold white walls and dark wood arches and think- how the hell do we turn this into a festival?

And every year we get taught the same lesson.

We don’t.

YOU do.

You pack with place out and fill it with camaraderie, hugs and handshakes, and by the end of the night we finish with a lesson in the possibilities of shared human endeavour, of unity of purpose, of yes, solidarity.

You lot are the festival.

And yesterday you smashed it.

So many folks to thank, but the venue staff and Ruth and the sound team must get a special mention for a very long shift in a very packed schedule; and a shout-out to poor Simon Ibbotson, our ever-present house DJ who fell ill on the day and couldn’t be with us. He was there in spirit as we found a Trojan playlist and piped in Ska and Reggae between acts in his name.

Big shout-out too for Chip Hamer whose stellar shift as our compere held the whole day together, and who kept us in time throughout.

The speeches were TOP quality with Joyce Marshall telling it like it is for Hull Unity Shop, John Dunn pulling no punches for Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, Heather Wood of Women’s Banner Group causing more than a few dusty eyes with poetry from the Miner’s Strike ahead of next year’s NATIONAL WOMEN AGAINST PIT CLOSURES 40TH ANNIVERSARY, Sarah Woolley doing our union the BFAWU proud and John Stewart updating us on the RMT dispute. Huge thank you to all for giving us their time and often very poignant words on behalf of workers everywhere.

And the music and poetry. Wow.

From the emotional return of Matt Hill following life-changing surgery, delivering a wonderful set to open us up; Chip and Nadia Drews of Poetry on the Picket Line bringing the Rebel stanzas; through Bard Company delivering us another reminder of the power of their ‘Northern Powerhouse’ album; Dakka Skanks smashing it and making a whole new army of fans; Carol Hodge being just sublime; Jess Silk doing what only Jess Silk can; and Commoners Choir to sing us home with their mischievous beauty and gentle malice; we had it all.

It was so moving to end the night onstage with Commoners and the crowd pulled to the very front so we were all one big f***-off Socialist choir daring the world to interrupt. A fantastic end to a truly belting day.

Every year we walk into that empty room wondering if this one will be the last, and every year we walk out thinking the same thing- why would you stop doing THAT?

Thanks everyone. You were BRILLIANT ✊️❤️👊

PS Thanks to all whose pics I have liberated for the cause ✊️

Now we head into May, and the mischief and mayhem continues with trips to Wakefield for ‘With Banners Held High’, London and Ulverston for We Shall Overcome, and Bearded Theory for the hell of it.

See you out there ✊️❤️👊

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