‘A Northern Soul’ is eleven new songs written and recorded over the last 18 months and I can’t wait for you to hear it. My musical partner in crime Rebekah Findlay sprinkles her magic dust over six of the tracks and I’m also joined by the fantastic Jess Silk on ‘Hugs & Handshakes‘, a song dreaming of a post-Covid world where gigs are back and human contact is in 3D once more.
You can stream that, and ‘Music Will Find A Way’, a song about resilience in the face of adversity, and featuring the Rebekah Findlay String Quartet, on the Bandcamp link above.
The album was recorded in T’Shed, Findlay Towers and Silk Central, all remotely, and then mixed here before being mastered by Chris Miley at Strange Reality Studios…..so no lockdown rules were violated in its production.
There will be a ‘Live From T’Shed’ gig to launch it on Saturday March 13th, a date picked because it marks the anniversary of my last REAL gig before Covid kept us all under house arrest. It will be a mini-festival featuring Boss Caine, Jess Silk, Carol Hodge and Matt Hill as well as myself so will be well worth putting in that new diary.
Oh, and you won’t have long to wait for the next album……I have written it in five manic days and it is ready to be performed on Saturday May 8th to mark the 80th anniversary of the worst days of the bombing of Hull during WW2.
The album should be ready for that day, and is called ‘A Northern Coastal Town: Hull In The Blitz’.
“The cards aren’t always kind, Some they fold, but I always felt That even if you’re bluffing, son, You play the hand you’re dealt.”
It has been the cruellest of years for the cruellest of reasons, and 2020 has cost so many good people their lives or their livelihoods, so reflecting on this last 12 months would seem like the last thing any of us wanted to do. Yet this year has taught me so much about resilience and togetherness, and most importantly the ability of the human spirit to transcend separation, that it is worth picking over the ashes before we scatter them to the wind.
It started routinely enough, in fact I drove more miles in the first 3 months than even last year when I never seemed to stop. The mischief and mayhem hit Sheffield, Portsmouth, Belper, Otley, Hull, Nottingham and Ashton-under-Lyne before arriving at the King’s Arms in Salford knowing Lockdown was coming and this was likely the last show for a few weeks.
I finished that night standing in a circle of people singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ unplugged in the company of friends and comrades unsure of when and if we would see each other again.
These moments you tend to remember.
Then came 23rd March and THAT announcement.
To be honest, I knew it was coming weeks before, having followed the spread of the virus from Day One. That helped, because I’d been able to imagine a world with no gigs and make a mental list of what would need to be done in that eventuality.
Top of the list in block capitals was KEEP PAULINE GOING.
We Shall Overcome‘s heart and soul is Pauline Town and The Station Hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne. Losing them was unthinkable, but as the daily food parcels and rehousing operation relied on gigs to fund it, and with no live music, not only was the work there impossible, but without any income, Pauline was in grave danger of becoming homeless herself.
So we hatched a plan.
WSO ISOLATION FESTIVAL took place on Easter Saturday run in one Facebook group from a couple of laptops raising more than £28,000 to ensure Pauline‘s work could continue uninterrupted and meet the growing need as redundancies, furlough, and zero hours reality bit. It was a monumental effort of concentration and focus behind the scenes and would not have been possible without the solidarity, friendship and patience of Matt Hill and Pete Yen, nor the willingness of that fantastic roll-call of artists and the staggering generosity of everyone who threw in a donation.
The festival taught me a vital lesson in the psychological dynamic of live streaming. It wasn’t about the artist- it would always feel wrong to us, singing to a phone screen or a laptop with no response- it was about the audience.
We knew the festival would live and die on how much people felt a part of it, how much of the experience they could share with others. To this end we focused on the comments thread as much as the stream itself, encouraging people to use emojis and to type choruses in quotation marks to show they were singing along. We also asked for photos of makeshift campsites and bunkers which were shared all day creating a genuine festival atmosphere. Of course we were lucky, the experience was still new to everyone, but we gave it our best, and I’m so proud of what we managed to achieve that day. I sat there as Billy Bragg sang knowing I was exactly where I was meant to be, at that time, in that place.
These moments are rare in life.
It was unforgettable. And it set the tone.
While WSO ISOLATION FESTIVAL was a genuine one-off, I decided to hold a series of fundraising gigs under the banner ‘Live From T’Shed’ and the first took place on Saturday May 2nd.
Running from a dedicated Facebook group I tried to encourage the same sense of belonging, of being in a venue around friends, that we’d had on April 11th and I have loved each and every one of them. So far there have been two all-requests shows and four dedicated to the history albums when I played ‘No Pasaran’, ‘Never Be Defeated’, ‘Headscarves & Hurricanes’ and the ‘Potter’s Field’ songs and spoke of the stories which inspired them. Each had a dedicated GoFundMe and each a cause we were playing for.
So far, those six live streams have raised more than £12,000 with a further £1000 from a WSO Songwriting Workshop. This money helped grassroots campaigns and frontline support networks up and down the land including Mesopotamia Cafe in Nottingham, Black Country Food Bank, Orgreave Truth and Justice, Hatfield Main Memorial Garden Fund, Hull Unity Shop and many more. If you missed them they are all archived on my YouTube channel. You can start here….
Or in the Facebook group under the ‘Announcements’ tab here:
Even the WSO Washing Machine Workshop which proved such a surprise hit…..
Though some of that fundraising was done in the face of a crisis of my own.
After catching water in buckets for months, from a series of leaks in a fatally damaged roof, T’Shed- my rehearsal room, recording studio, and now only venue- gave a great crack and the central joist snapped leaving the ceiling hanging precariously and in grave danger of collapsing completely. After securing the funding through one of the streams, Mark and Alfie McKay came to the rescue and transformed my beloved home from this:
So I have a new home, safe and warm and dry thanks to the solidarity of people up and down the land. I cannot thank those who donated enough as this genuinely means the world to me and I owe you big time on the other side of all this.
The ‘Live From T’Shed’ gigs were not the only gigs I did this year, and some weeks have been so busy I don’t know where I found time to actually drive to shows before!
I just wanted to post my heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to the ‘Save T’Shed Appeal’ over the Summer. Here’s a final update on what is an incredible transformation.
As you know, T’Shed is more than any old outbuilding, it’s my rehearsal room, recording studio, and since March, my only venue. Sadly, after years of neglect and more than a few makeshift repairs, she began to leak significantly in more than 30 places and the main beam in the roof snapped threatening to collapse the whole thing. I propped it up as best I could and carried on through the cold, the damp, the mould, and the imminent danger, because I had nowhere else to play and not enough money to fix it.
Then slowly the other struts in the roof began to bend under the extra strain, and my hand was forced.
So we ran an appeal at ‘Live From T’Shed #4’ and the rest I’m delighted to say, is history.
Thanks to the incredible skills and work ethic of Mark and Alfie McKay, we went from this…
And a little bit of this….
Plus a little of this….
It truly is an INCREDIBLE transformation, and thanks to your solidarity and the amazing work put in by Mark and Alfie, I am now warm and dry and safe, and surrounded by inspiration.
So I guess it must be time for a new album.
I cannot begin to describe the joy and relief this has brought me, and as soon as we are able I’ll be out there saying thank you the only way I know how.
#LockdownSolidarity the massive merch giveaway I started soon after Covid killed the gigs smashed £10,000 raised a couple of weeks ago so it’s worth taking stock with what has happened.
Here’s my Facebook post tonight….
Every once in a while it is worth taking stock of what has been achieved with your incredible support during Covid.
We kept Pauline Town going for the year thanks to WSO Isolation Festival on Easter Saturday.
We raised more than £2000 so far for Hull Help For Refugees with you sponsoring my daily mile.
We’ve helped support WSO musicians through WSO Fight The Good Fight Club.
And there’s #lockdownsolidarity.
Here are the totals so far.
WK1 £125 for Mesopotamia Cafe in Nottingham WK2 £130 for Teardrops in St. Helens WK3 £540 for Dundee Food Bank WK4 £532 for The Florrie in Liverpool WK5 £501 for East Worthing Food Bank WK6 £335 for Help The Homeless in Glastonbury WK7 £346 for Kitchen For Everyone in York WK8 £915 for Feed Newport WK9 £635 for LoveGlasgowHateRacism WK10 £453 for DN7 Food Bank WK11 £713 for East Durham Trust WK12 £630 for Unity Shop in Hull WK13 £462 for Tommy’s Kitchen in E17 WK14 £448 for IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Service) WK15 £450 for Bradford Metropolitan Food Bank WK16 £350 for One Heart in Bangor WK17 £430 for Leeds South and East Food Bank WK18 £400 for the Tony Smith Solidarity Fund WK19 £330 for Little Sprouts Health and Well-being in Stockton-on-Tees. WK20 £364 for We Are One in Grimsby WK21 £323 for Furness Refugee Support WK22 £175 Helping Hands in Bournemouth WK23 £238 for Fans Supporting Foodbanks WK24 £143 for PCS Tate Commerce Strike Fund WK25 £230 for Women Shall Overcome in Widnes WK26 £110 for We Shall Overcome Sussex/Leeds WK27 £240 for The Welcome Centre in Huddersfield.
on top of that #RefugeeSolidarity has managed…
WK1 £100 for Sea-Watch and Furness Refugee Support WK2 £166 for Sea-Watch and Care4Calais WK3 £155 for Sea-Watch and Safe Passage WK4 £160 for Sea-Watch and Hull Help For Refugees. WK5 £85 for Sea-Watch.
Plus we have hat-matched more than 20 beanie hats for WSO Homeless Outreach from sales of the new Joe Solo woolie hat.
And the £5500 raised from the Live From T’Shed gigs.
……and I haven’t forgotten you got me back online when my laptop blew and re-roofed t’shed digging me out of two crises of my own.
More than six months and still no end in sight, but I won’t let up until we see the other side of Covid.
Thanks for your incredible support so far. Solidarity Joe
‘Live From T’Shed #5’ takes place Saturday September 5th at 8.30pm in my dedicated live stream group on Facebook, and it’s a performance of my ‘Headscarves & Hurricanes’ album about Hull’s Triple Trawler Tragedy and the subsequent campaign by the ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’ to change maritime safety law.
This may sound like dry folk history, but the story is not only poignant, it is a lesson in community solidarity and direct action that is every bit as relevant today as it was in February 1968.
There will be a short introduction by author Brian W Lavery whose books inspired the album, and it will be an honour and a pleasure to be introduced by such a damn fine writer and damn fine comrade.
and this time round the GoFundMe appeal is a little closer to home. My poor shed, which is second home, rehearsal space and recording studio to me, has had a serious roof collapse and is leaking water badly when it rains. The contents have slowly moulded and rotted away and it hasn’t been a very pleasant place to sit for many months now. I’m hoping to fund a replacement roof for ‘T’Shed’ via:
I always said #lockdownsolidarity would continue until we were able to gig again and I could do what I do in person; but it is becoming increasingly clear that not only is that a long way off, but owing to the government effectively throwing the grassroots music scene under the bus, the world we eventually return to will be a very difficult place to run fundraising events just when they will be needed most.
With this in mind Lockdown Solidarity will continue indefinitely.
Every Sunday I will shift cause and attempt to spread it around as I have this last 18 weeks, because it must be clear to everyone now, we are at the start of a very long journey through the aftermath of Covid-19, and millions will carry its burden for years to come; and while it might be a bottomless pit I’m shovelling merch money into on a weekly basis, I have to do SOMETHING because something has to be done.
So proud to be working with Hull and District Trades Council on the new Unity Shop; and with my brothers and sisters at We Shall Overcome who will continue to innovate and inspire in whatever form the live music scene allows (and no doubt some forms it doesn’t) including our WSO Fight The Good Fight Club supporting the musicians who support us. Grassroots organising is going to become an increasingly vital tool over the coming years, and we will be there on the frontline as per.
The knock-on effect of giving all merch money away is that Joe Solo releases will become streaming and download only for the foreseeable future. There will be a vinyl compilation of my work with Rebekah Findlay, which will hopefully be crowdfunded, but after that the songs sell so little there’s no real point in physical formats anymore- they cost money, and that money would be better spent helping folks.
And helping folks is what I will spend the rest of my days doing. A virus on top of decades of appalling leadership, corruption and greed have sealed that fate.
Wk17 of #lockdownsolidarity raised £430 for Leeds South and East Foodbank which I will send them over later.
Wk18 is a slight shift in emphasis, but is no less a vital act of solidarity than any other.
I’ll fill you in on the story.
A couple of years ago Tony Smith was at the heart of a hugely successful strike at the FCC refuse collection site in Hull. One of the lads had undergone extensive cancer treatment yet the company offered no sick pay scheme for its frontline workers forcing him into a choice between turning in for work mid-chemo, or losing his home on Statutory Sick Pay.
I first met Tony when I sang on their picket line, and I was proud as punch when that strike won Sick Pay, not just for the handful who’d fought, but for 2500 men and women nationally.
This was symbolic as it was the trade union movement on the offensive for once and making gains, not just fighting rearguard actions trying to stop pay and rights being taken away.
Since then Tony has been a target for a management revenge campaign which came to a head when he raised the issue of remnants of asbestos waste being declassified to allow them to be disposed of more cheaply by the company which was clearly putting profit before the wellbeing of its workforce.
Tony raised this, which as Health & Safety Officer he was duty bound to do, and FCC have responded by suspending and then firing him on manufactured charges to keep him quiet and get him out of the way.
This leaves a comrade, a brother and a friend without income from the middle of this month, and while we rally to his side with appeals and protests on one level, and lobby the council to not renew FCC’s contract on another, the immediate concern is getting him through and keeping his bills paid; in short #Wk18 of Lockdown Solidarity is raising money for a support fund for Tony Smith.
You take on one of us, you take on all of us.
You know the drill. All merch money from Bandcamp goes to a different cause every week, so all you need to do is bag CDs or downloads, t-shirts or tote bags, bundles, bandanas, artwork prints or mugs and I’ll do the rest. If you’ve got all that but still wish to donate to helping Tony, message me for PayPal details and it will all go to the same place.
We stand together and we fight for each other. It’s the only way we’ll ever win.
We launched the brand new We Shall Overcome initiative ‘Fight The Good Fight Club’ on August 5th with a cracking night live from an increasingly dilapidated shed.
FTGFC is a Wednesday night music club which runs from 9-10pm each week bringing you a live stream from an artist who has helped support WSO this last five years but now, thanks to Lockdown, has lost the gigs which pay their bills. It is the movement standing in solidarity with those who are its lifeblood in better times, and we would love you to join us in the dedicated group here:
Every morning between now and Christmas Eve I’ll be running a mile before work and asking for donations for Hull Help For Refugees. I started 32 days ago in response to an urgent appeal for tents, and so far this sponsored pain has raised £769 for the cause via a dedicated GoFundMe at:
If you can spare a donation, no matter how small, please hit the link and help me help them. A tent costs roughly £13 so we have already made a significant difference, but so much more can be achieved between now and when I finally hang up my jogging shoes for the Winter.
New Wednesday night live stream music club starting August 5th.
Each week from 9pm we will introduce an artist who has helped support We Shall Overcome, only this time out we will be helping to support THEM.
As Lockdown continues for musicians we wanted to put together a regular night where instead of gigging for a cause as we are forever asking them to do, we ask for donations to help support them through these desperate days. So there’ll be links to throw in a few quid as they play, and opportunities to chat on the threads afterwards and to share links to merch.
I’m playing the first one on August 5th to raise money for Help Musicians UK and to introduce the night itself. After that the next three will feature Jess Silk, Bedford And Simmonds and Calum Baird.
Join the group and help us support those who have done so much for WSO.