We Shall Overcome’s beating heart, The Station in Ashton-under-Lyne, is a pub again after supporting thousands of people through Covid. A full 26 months of being a community hub kept alive by volunteers, donations and love finally resulted in a return for live music and a night I will never forget.
It was RAMMED. The pub itself was fuller than I’ve ever seen it, but there were as many again in the beer garden and out front. So great to see the levels of support for Pauline Town from the local community, and the MASSIVE travelling contingent who arrived from miles around.
Fantastic music and poetry from Monologue John Bartley Matt Johnson Lytisha Tunbridge Daniel Lucas and Jess Silk and I had an absolute blast closing the night with a ‘No Pasaran’ sung by Matt and Jess, and an acoustic ‘We Shall Overcome’ sung by the whole pub.
So good to see so many happy faces sharing hugs and handshakes, and even better to see the smile on Pauline’s face to have all that life back in her pub.
The Station is going to continue as a PubHub, distributing meals and food parcels Monday to Wednesday then continuing with that but opening as a pub and live music venue Thursday to Sunday. You will still see me banging the drum for help with buying in the food and housing the homeless, but the important bit is this, we made it to the other side.
So to everyone who supported Isolation Festival, We Shall Overrun, Lockdown Solidarity, the ‘Coronaverses’ book compiled by Janine Booth, the collaboration songs by Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds and Johnny Campbell, the live streams from John Baine, the WSO merch from Billy Blagg, the jewellery from Kevin Pearson, the Poetry On The Picket Line bundle from Chip Hamer, or who stopped by the pub with food or cash for Big Sis, this was your achievement, OUR achievement, the finest example of collective action I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of, and We Shall Overcome’s greatest victory.
We did it.
Just mint x
Pics by Kate Clark Neil Terry Matt Hill Pete Yen and apologies if I missed a credit x
Fantastic afternoon in Wakefield at With Banners Held High. So great to see Working Class politics back on the streets and to hear those voices of defiance ringing out once again.
Locked away at home with only the telescreen spewing forth the daily bilge it is easy to feel isolated and deflated, but staring back along a line of banners raised proudly to the sky you are instantly reminded that we have strength, we have power, and we can absolutely do this.
Fantastic speeches from everyone, but especially moved by Daz Proctor, Vicky Blake and Sarah Woolley who smashed it.
Earlier I joined Heather Wood, Samantha Townsend, Lynn Gibson and Laura Lee Daly of the Women’s Banner Group on the march, immediately behind Sean Hoyle and Alan Mardghum and you cannot be in better company than that.
The Hatfield Brigade couldn’t make it, but I sang ‘Farewell Hatfield Main’ so they were there in spirit.
Gave em ‘Why Are You So Angry?’ early on, then we had a good old singalong to close the afternoon.
Brilliant event, and massive shout out to the organisers for helping put the wind back in a LOT of sails.
And so good to get a pic with two absolute legends of the movement, Anne Scargill and Betty Cook. Examples to all of us as to how you fight, and keep on fighting.
“…. his songwriting just gets better and better: he writes northern soul on an acoustic guitar, and his perceptive, heartfelt and above all supremely intelligent words shine in every song. Joe is a true working class intellectual.” – Attila The Stockbroker in The Morning Star
“If you want to know what Punk really is, then this is the place to start and finish, never put yourself before anyone else, always fight for the right to be human and definitely keep the fascists on the back foot. Joe is a real life man of the people.” – thepunksite.com *****
“There’s a line that can be drawn from Woody Guthrie to The Clash, and it is between these two reference points that Joe Solo sits. A protest singer with a punk heart. A big punk heart…..This is what music can be. – Reservoir Droogs
Catching up on a month of incredible and inspirational events starting with the return of May Day Festival Of Solidarity on Sunday May 1st.
Two years ago our traditional home, the Old School House in Barnsley, fell victim to Lockdown and we feared that was the end of the festival of music, poetry and politics put together by Tony Wright and myself. But new owners renovated the place and were keen to have us back, and I am so glad they were.
What a fantastic day.
The venue was rammed from the first minute, and every one of the artists and speakers absolutely SMASHED it.
We got blinding sets from Del Scott Miller, Johnny Campbell, Parson’s Lot, Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds, Steve White and the Protest Family, The Wakes, Jess Silk and Headsticks; and I massively enjoyed a big singalong campfire set to close the night.
We had fantastic speeches from Joyce Marshall for Hull Unity Shop, John Dunn for Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, John Stewart for RMT and Mick Lanaghan for the Hatfield Main Heritage Association, and our comperes, Karl and Red Rosa from Poetry On The Picket Line were brilliant. We raised £250 for OTJC and £150 for We Shall Overcome too, so a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who travelled from all over this island to support us and put May Day Festival Of Solidarity back on the map with a bang.
First review of the new album from the excellent Reservoir Droogs page on Facebook.
Joe Solo – “Never Let Them Win”
There’s a line that can be drawn from Woody Guthrie to The Clash, and it is between these two reference points that Joe Solo sits. A protest singer with a punk heart. A big punk heart.
His grassroots support of worthy causes is fast becoming legendary, but it’s to his credit as a songwriter, a performer, that his music doesn’t sit in the shadow of his activism. Rather it has a direct symbiotic link. And you can hear that evidenced on every track of his latest album Never Let them Win.
The social commentary on display is a nail on the head response to so much that is going in our communities, but beyond that it is the heart on sleeve passion that underlines every word from his lips, every chord that is struck, that lifts this album from being a very good example of protest folk punk to another level entirely.
There’s quite simply nothing disposable about this selection of songs.
Listening to it I’m of a mind to say that it is a stone hitting the surface of the water and the ripples circling out will change lives.
It will quite literally change lives as profits from sales are going to a number of worthy causes, but it will also do it in the sense that the material will serve as a catalyst for further thought that can then lead to activism.
For someone somewhere they will listen to this and it will matter. They may have reached a fork in the road in their lives and this album could be the signpost that directs them down the path towards becoming a more socially conscious member of society.
And that benefits us all.
This is what music can be. There’s a place for light fun, but we need this too.
Delighted to announce my new album, ‘Never Let Them Win’, will be released to stream/download via Bandcamp on Friday March 4th. There will be a pre-order option for CDs and the other streaming services will follow in April.
‘Never Let Them Win’ is 10 new songs which loosely use my own life to demonstrate how we reached this point in our socio-political history. In short, it is both personal and political.
The album features my long-time musical partner Rebekah Findlay on 6 of the 10 tracks, plus a massive collaboration featuring Carol Hodge on piano and a chorus of voices including Jess Silk, Daniel Lucas, Matt Hill, Johnny Campbell, Naomi Bedford, Paul Simmonds and Mark and Kirsty from Commoners Choir. It’s pretty special.
The cover art was designed by my Comrade-in-crayons Kevin Pearson based around the incredible photography of Jason Shipley and is probably worth the admission price on its own.
As ever, all money raised over the cost of pressing discs will be donated to We Shall Overcome causes through my WSO Solidarity Mission campaign. This will see it split three ways between Pauline Town, Mesopotamia Cafe in Nottingham and Hull Unity Shop.
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.
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 Joe
Photos by Neil Terry, Adam Samuels, JenFoto and many more. THANK YOU!
Those of you who have followed me this last month or so will know it has been a rough ride, but thanks to the wonderful Tony Booth and the hundreds of people who responded to his moving demonstration of solidarity, we have managed to turn that into something pretty special.
Tony’s GoFundMe campaign eventually raised £10,320.53 after the site’s fees.
It cleared yesterday.
I wanted everyone to know where their help went, so here goes.
The three main causes I support with music and merch sales got pole position because it was there I had originally pledged the prize money; so £1750 went to Pauline in Ashton-under-Lyne, who is keeping WSO Central running against all the odds. This money has already gone to secure three flats and a house meaning seven people will have a proper home this Christmas instead of facing winter on the streets.
Another £1750 went to Mesopotamia in Nottingham where Rachel and the team perform miracles every day keeping the community together in spite of the pressures currently tearing people apart.
£2000 went to Hull Unity Shop whose anti-fascist, pro-Working Class manifesto is helping keep the Far Right off the estates with solidarity parcels of food and hope.
£1000 went to 0161 Community in Manchester who mirror the stance of Hull and reach out into struggling communities with a message of unity and resistance to fascism in all its forms.
£1000 went up to Glasgow St. Pauli who do fantastic work with the Scottish Refugee Council and United Glasgow FC and who immediately pledged it to a non-referral food bank locally to help rescue Christmas for those going without.
£500 is heading to Clapton CFC whose message of positive anti-fascism is giving hope to tens of thousands worldwide, and who run a support campaign for members struggling to survive.
£500 went to the UVW Strike Fund to help workers in struggle this winter. United Voices Of The World support mostly migrant workers on the lowest pay and worst conditions who have often never witnessed trade unionism or ever had someone stand at their shoulder. As such they are some of the most exploited people in the country, and I’m glad to help them fight for better.
£500 went to the We Shall Overcome Christmas pot adding to the £500 donated by Coast and County Radio, and the big share out will be announced tomorrow in Good News #2.
I asked Tony if he would choose a cause for £1000 as a gesture of thanks for his solidarity. He chose Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, and we subsequently donated the remaining money there.
The £320.53 is going to help support a musician much-loved by the WSO family, who is currently struggling as a full-time carer for a very poorly partner, and to whom we want to pass on our love and solidarity in these tough, tough times.
So there you have it. All gone.
It will be out there tomorrow fighting fascism by shining a light in its darkness and driving it back to the shadows. The Far Right thrive on poverty and hopelessness. What we try to do is combat that environment by giving people hope, not just in the form of food but in the means by which that food is raised- Unity and Solidarity. It says we are a community and we will not leave you behind.
Tony and all those who contributed have changed a lot of hearts and minds this Christmas, and have turned some of the bleakest days of my life into some of the best.