And so I sat down to write Where Tina Goes. Romantic as that sounds, it wasn’t at some antique writing desk, or in a room with great natural light and a pretty view, it was on the 06-something Chingford to Liverpool Street train for the first day of a course I was on.
It went pretty much to type. I got my thoughts down in order, the rhymes fell into line without too much force, the song had a beginning, a middle and an end; and said what I wanted to say. Standard Steve White/Protest Family fare. But something nagged at me that it wasn’t right, that I could do better.
I let myself stew over it for the day and went back over the words that I’d written that evening. And started crossing stuff out. Not the ideas, they were sound, but everything that the ideas didn’t need in order for them to come across far more succinctly and powerfully than they had in their longer form. “Martin knew something was wrong, but Tina was pretty cool” says so much more than what I’d originally written, by saying less. It was the lesson that I’d learned writing From the Euro to the Pound learned all over again. Billy Bragg says something similar when drawn out over the art of songwriting, just listen to the opening of Levi Stubbs’ Tears for quite how evocative a few well chosen words can be.
But if me at my most verbose is your thing, fear not. This double-EP also contains a classic piece of my writing. Think Like a Taxpayer is wordy, rhythmic, full of rhyme and slap-bang in the middle of Protest Family territory, protesting about tax justice very much in the vein of Pay Your Tax, with a nod to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.
Yes, From the Euro to the Pound is here too. I had a long debate with myself about whether there should be a solo release of this song. There’s a lovely Protest Family version already worked out, with Maddy Carty sharing the vocals with me, that (in my opinion) is the definitive version, and I think those of you that have caught us performing it live will agree, but it sits at the heart of a shift in my writing style and introduces the characters that also appear in Children in the Crosshairs and Royal Wedding Tea. I think I owe it to you to let you hear all three songs and get to know this couple as well as I have.
From the Euro to the Pound finds them split up, with a young family, in a cloud of austerity, redundancy and domestic violence. Children in the Crosshairs is later, speaking of separation and shared experience while Royal wedding Tea visits them sooner, still together and happy, despite some differences in their ideas about the Royal Family.
Past solo releases from me have generally filled the gap between Protest Family albums and given me the platform to share the songs that I like to play solo that will never make it onto a Family playlist. While that’s still true to an extent with Snowflake, we are a little way off the band hitting the studio. Doug’s struggles with illness and the benefits system, bringing Simon in in his absence, Andi’s (admittedly very quick) absorption of the Family’s back catalogue and our negotiations/coming to terms with percussion have all slowed us down, so there are more songs on this solo effort from me that either are, or will be Protest Family songs, and the better for it when they are.
You should really know by now what you’re getting with a solo release:
I play the bass, but not as well as Doug or Simon play the bass.
I play mandolin family instruments, but not as well as Lol plays them. (Although I’m still the band’s Irish bouzouki player, officially).
I play percussion, but not as well as Andi plays percussion.
(I’m probably the fourth best guitarist in the current Protest Family line-up, but they’re all playing other instruments, so hey, look at me!).
I don’t play the banjo.
I write a bit.
Flippancy aside, I think that what I’ve done is of value. To me, to us, to the movement, to the struggle for a better, fairer, nicer, more just world and way of living. And it’s shared with you in that spirit: pay what you want, pay what you can afford, pay what you think it’s worth, pay nothing with a clear conscience, I’m happy to give it to you, but listen, enjoy, share and pass it on. What the internet and social media gives us is double-edged; we can share our art, our craft, our work with the world so easily, but so does everybody else and it’s instantly diluted. I’m genuinely excited by the message and presentation of Where Tina Goes, the songs that started with From the Euro to the Pound and all the others, but people who aren’t me and you need to hear them if they’re going to make a difference, so please share them on if you feel the same.