Joe Solo is an award-winning musician, writer, poet, activist, broadcaster and washing machine engineer from Scarborough. His musical odyssey began in 1987 fronting a bash-em-out band at school, and has seen him play nine countries either as lynchpin of pop-punk upstarts Lithium Joe or hammering out his unique brand of Folk, Punk and Blues in his own right.
On top of releasing twenty one albums since 2004, Solo has written a series of children’s books for Unison on social justice and equality; runs a research project on the Hull Pals Battalions in the First World War; hosts a weekly Monday night radio show; has had one of his poems used in an international campaign to educate on dementia awareness; co-runs ‘May Day Festival of Solidarity‘ an annual event bringing together voices from music, poetry and politics to celebrate International Worker’s Day; and has still found time to open for the likes of Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Billy Bragg, Chris Wood, TV Smith, Louise Distras, David Rovics, Grace Petrie, Attila the Stockbroker, Otis Gibbs, Robb Johnson, Edgar Broughton, Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds, Emily Portman, Pete Wylie, and The Blockheads; whilst his songs have been played by John Peel on Radio One, Mike Harding on Radio Two and Tom Robinson on BBC6Music.
In May 2015 Joe helped create WE SHALL OVERCOME, a campaign pushing for a positive response from the music community to the poverty and hardship inflicted on ordinary people by the government’s austerity program. Since October 2015 the movement has organised more than 1100 gigs up and down the UK and beyond, raising an estimated £650,000 in cash, food, clothing and bedding for those hardest hit. WSO scooped the ‘People’s Choice’ gong at the annual Yorkshire Grassroots Music Awards on 16th October 2015, and on the back of his efforts The Morning Star named Solo ‘Human Being of the Year’.
In October 2016 Joe was awarded the ‘Outstanding Songwriting’ prize at Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Music Awards for his work on the album ‘Never Be Defeated’ telling the stories of the men and women of Hatfield during the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike; and their annual songs together, under the name Joe Solo & The Hatfield Brigade, raise much-needed cash for the DN7 Hardship Fund set up to help those struggling in the former pit communities of South Yorkshire. Just before Xmas 2016 they performed on stage together with a very special guest, none other than Jeremy Corbyn.
After 30 years of writing and gigging, Joe made his Glastonbury debut in June 2017, taking to the Leftfield stage a skip in his step and a tear in his eye. As he said later: “It only took 30 years! Imagine what I could do in another 30!”
On Saturday September 8th 2018 Joe Solo was presented with the Gerrard Winstanley Gold Spade Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Socialism’ at Wigan Diggers Festival. The only previous winners had been Tony Benn, Maxine Peake, Jimmy McGovern and Ken Loach.
Throughout the Covid Lockdown in 2020/21 Joe sold music and merch from his Bandcamp and donated the money to a grassroots cause each week as part of his #LockdownSolidarity campaign. The initiative eventually raised £24,235 which he donated to food banks, community outreach services, soup kitchens, refugee support, and domestic violence units up and down the UK. He also ran the We Shall Overcome Isolation Festival on Easter Saturday 2020, pulling together some of the finest voices in political music raising a staggering £28,000 to ensure WSO could continue to function without the gigs which are its lifeblood; while his ‘Live From T’Shed’ gigs raised half that much again. Then, to get the world moving again, he organised ‘We Shall Overrun’ a collective tag team of volunteers whose cumulative miles running, walking, wheeling and swimming circumnavigated the globe twice raising £10,000 for the hardest hit.
Live, Solo has a growing reputation as both a performer and raconteur, being both thought-provoking, comical and punch-the-air political often in the same breath. He is not an artist you forget in a hurry.
“Fire, integrity, commitment….writes some of the hardest hitting and most pertinent songs ever.” -Mike Harding.
“….constantly sets a new bar for passion in performance.” – The Morning Star.
“The perfect protest singer.” – R2 Magazine.
“Anyone who thinks the art of classic songwriting is dead, needs to listen to Joe Solo.” -TV Smith.
” I was struck by the passion of his delivery combined with his sense of fun – a true entertainer in the very best sense of the word.”- FATEA.
“I heard this noise coming off the stage, I went WOW, whoever that is I’ve got to go and check him out and there was just this one man on the stage blowing up a storm with an acoustic guitar!” –Tom Robinson, BBC 6Music.
Photos by Jason Shipley and Neil Terry.