Wanstead Tap

w tap

In front of me is a list of songs that is too long.

Some say that’s a good problem to have, that the converse is worse, but I want to tell a story of a couple embroiled in modern British life under the shadow of Brexit. I want to visit their past and future in happier and sadder songs. I want to sing a pop song about the struggle of our trans comrades. I want to laugh at debate without experts and rage at a system that burns people in their homes. I want to play punk for the animals and tell the tale of a revolution in a small Essex village that grew legs and marched on the capital. I want to mock an institution with its boot still on our necks, and genuinely laud their gardeners.

And I haven’t even started on Little Tommy and his crew.

A bill this good requires compromise, there’s only so much time and some crossing out to do. What gets left behind will get carried over, more on that later.

Steve

Jason Ringenberg

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Pictures or it didn’t happen.

Well there aren’t and it did. Hanging out with Jason Ringenberg after the show was too precious to sully with an awkward request for a selfie. Brave enough to open for The Ramones in Texas, it’s his decency that’s most striking. That and the determination to tell the tales that nobody else is telling, like the story of the Tuskegee airmen.

There’s a fleeting moment in tonight’s show, as Jason is describing the Tuskegee fighter pilots’ 100% record of protecting Allied bomber flights over Germany, when the expected applause doesn’t come. Maybe this crowd is particularly anti-war. Maybe the looming large of exit from political union with our European neighbours engenders some reticence. The power of the story remains.

To be in a band, you think, is to exercise mastery over your instrument and the art of performance. The reality is transport logistics, rigging stages and PA systems, rudimentary sound engineering, manual handling. Tonight I’m running Jason’s merch stall. There’s an unintended consequence in so much as before the first set I’ve met and exchanged pleasantries with half the audience making the shared experience of the show all the sweeter.

We reminisce about a time when I did take a fan photo: My now adult son posing with Farmer Jason in this club close to twenty years ago. We quietly ponder the swift passage of time. Don’t meet your heroes, they say. Sometimes their humanity can only render them more heroic.

Steve

Barnstormer 1649

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I first saw Attila the Stockbroker’s new-look Barnstormer playing semi-unplugged* in The Schooner in Southwick and it was such a great show that I caught up with it again at the Dublin Castle a few days later. It genuinely is early music meets punk, with recorders, crumhorms, cornamuses, guitar, bass and drums and songs about the English civil war, ranters, levellers and fiery flying roll Abiezer Coppe. (And you really need to hear about him!).

So we’re really pleased to bring the show to Walthamstow, complete with The Protest Family in support and a bonus spoken word set from Attila.

You can get advance tickets from WeGotTickets or if you’re local there are some for sale behind the bar in Ye Olde Rose & Crown. Or, if you think you’re likely to bump into me between now and then, I’ve got a few for sale too.

Don’t miss this one……

Steve

Ticket (business card) 2 (no background)

*Well, you’ve got to plug in a bass guitar somewhere really.

Steve White & The Protest Family – Snowflake

Snowflake – reviewed by Kai at Yeah I Know It Sucks

Yeah I Know It Sucks

Artist: Steve White & The Protest Family
Title: Snowflake
Keywords: punk folk protest singer-songwriter United Kingdom

Steve White is the protest artist that gives it to you raw and in your face. With a sense of humor, but not with the laughing laughers as he is certainly no comedian. He apparently is one of those special ‘snowflake’ people in the United Kingdom that got a lot of things to say, probably accumulated things that angered him and gladly found the right way to get it all out of his system and off his chest. A great thing as worrying too much about stuff & keeping it all in might be an invitation to get the cancers.

Here these worries and cases of social commentary are punching out songs with strong meaning, as if they are fists that want to beat some sense in the all-round senselessness of the times that…

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Far Right Round Up

Well if you were hanging around with us the weekend before last, then you were hanging around with some of the Hope not Hate crowd because they were behind the Billy Bragg/The Wakes gig at Islington Assembly Hall and our show with The Wakes at The New Cross Inn the following night. And what a weekend it was! Uncle Bill was on fine form on the Friday and if you enjoyed The Wakes that night then their extended headline show was even better.

You may also have noticed our good friend Matthew trying to upstage Billy Bragg with his intro and, um, dancing on tables at the New Cross Inn. Here he is, in slightly more serious mode, introducing this month’s Far Right Round Up. We know songs about quite a few of them…..

The Wakes

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So, who are your influences?

I hate that question and it catches me out every time even though I know it’s coming. Answer that and stay fashionable. I’m a songwriter and I write about what’s going on around me, politically often,  from experience usually,  trying to see things through someone else’s eyes occasionally. I want to write a song with an opening line that tells a whole story in a few words (influence: Billy Bragg), I want to write a song with a clever, funny, persistent rhyme scheme (influence: Ian Dury), I want to write a song that the whole band comes in with a bang right at the beginning (influence: The Clash), I want to write a modern acapella folk song (influence Chumbawamba), I want to write a song about Brexit (influence: David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, EU directives, the electorate), I want to write a song that exorcises my rage and frustration (influence: Future Of The Left, Christian Fitness), I want to write a song with a killer hook and an immediate singalong chorus (influence The Wildhearts),  I want to write a song about the second-fastest milkcart in the West……

But enough about me.

The Wakes cite The Pogues, Dick Gaughan, The Clash, Dropkick Murphys and Bob Dylan, wisely using the word “including” to avoid making an exhaustive list, which should be enough to give you some idea. Proudly Glaswegian and anti-fascist, I was blown away the first time I saw them live and they come highly recommended by The Family.

You can make your own mind up at the end of the month. The Wakes are opening for Billy Bragg at Islington Assembly Hall on the 25th, and we’re lucky enough to be opening for them on the 26th at the New Cross Inn. If that wasn’t tempting enough, we’ll be joined by our good friend and Bragg favourite, Paddy Nash.

Philosophy Football are already calling it the gig of the year, and you can still get a ticket here.

I suspect that The Wakes’ and Protest Family’s influences Venn diagram has actually got more than one name in the bit where the circles intersect, so who’s going to edit their Wikipedia page and add Uncle Bill?

 

That Round-Up That They Do Every Year, Only They Didn’t Do It Last Year, But At Least It’s Back This Year

Round RobinWhen I looked through my diary it turned out that there was a bit more in it than I’d remembered. I thought it had been a quiet year on the music front, too quiet in fact, and when it comes to the Protest Family that’s undoubtedly true, but I did play a lot more solo, and solo unplugged than I have done for some time.

That’s not to say that it’s not been without its pitfalls. There was the gig where I gave up after a couple of songs because I couldn’t be heard over the din of conversation (that felt like a complete fucking failure on my part I can tell you) and the one that finished before I’d even taken my coat off. Then there was the show to six people, three of whom were the other acts and the sound engineer; but they’re always offset by the good ones, the good audiences, where the songs work and the magic happens, and playing with no safety net to an audience that had already been treated to Robb Johnson AND Attila the Stockbroker’s Barnstormer 1649 unplugged, and getting away with it, is one of this year’s personal highlights.

Ordinary GiantsActually, Robb features a lot in this year’s highlights. The launch of Ordinary Giants in November was just a joy; the narrative, the performances, the warmth in the room, it was lovely, and here I was all of a sudden rubbing shoulders with Boff Whalley, Swill Odgers, Matthew Crampton…the list goes on, and being treated as a peer. It was wonderful. I bought a few copies of the album as Christmas presents and Robb kindly threw in a copy of the Live at Walthamstow CD that Russ recorded when we previewed some of the songs from the show at the folk club in January, another great memory. I am toying with the idea of introducing Who Buggered Bognor into a Protest Family set sometime.

I’ve spent some time at the controls this year too, mixing live sound for Chris Parsons’ gig in Dronfield* and at the SUMAC for WSO Acoustic Punks & Poets where it’s always a pleasure to catch up with Rachel and Eagle and other old friends. (Thanks Pete for putting up with me again). I’ve been learning more about recorded sound too and I think that you can hear the results on Snowflake. I recorded to a click for the first time when I tracked Fake News From Nowhere and I used the same technique for Snowflake while improving how I mic an acoustic guitar for recording and being far more subtle in my use of compression.

Sound

There’s a button here somewhere that does something.

At the risk of pre-empting the outcome of a band meeting, I’d like to multi-track the next Protest Family album which will mean all of us learning to love the click, a departure from the way we’ve recorded the other studio albums which we cut live to our own natural rhythm. There’s something to be said for that approach, it captures the energy of us all working together, but it’s tougher to do with drums, and the next album will definitely have drums on it. Looking (and listening) back, the electric guitar songs on Protest For Dummies are crying out for percussion. We’ve got a good seven new songs ready to go, so it’s a conversation to be had sooner rather than later, but if we do it my way it’ll mean considerably more studio time and therefore expense, so we’ll have to think about how we deal with that and whether we’re brave enough to go down the crowdfunding route.

 

Which brings us to Family matters.

We recognised at the end of last year that things were slowing down for us. Protest For Dummies hadn’t sold as well as its predecessor and gigs were getting fewer and further between and were tending to come from the same places that they always had. None of us have industry connections and our best attempts at marketing The Protest Family better never really amount to much, but we were all agreed that it was time to experiment with drums and to re-launch the band with a bigger, bolder sound that might, just might, generate a bit of traction. Andi Bridges was always our first choice of drummer and, happily for us, he was keen to come and play.

I suppose with hindsight we were naive to think that we could carry on setting up and mixing the band like a folk act and add a loud drummer, but rehearsals at Bally** didn’t really give us that insight and it wasn’t until we started our soundcheck for the gig at the Rose & Crown in April that we realised we might have a problem; the problem being that we just couldn’t hear ourselves or each other properly, even with the foldback up so loud it was permanently at the point of feeding back. Worse, the audience couldn’t hear the vocals anymore, and worse still we were becoming a sound engineer’s nightmare. Stoicism and the patience of our friends in the audience got us through that show, and hoping it was just issues with that particular PA system, we took the same set-up to the Black Bull in Gateshead** a week later with predictably similar results. (Again, hindsight is a wonderful thing).

Andi

Too loud

Bands will tell you that in such circumstances there is only one solution, one that we immediately sought, and that is to blame the drummer. We told Andi that he was too loud and encouraged him to play with matchsticks, toothpicks, brushes or anything that would make stage volumes more manageable, while still aiming to put the whole band’s stage sound through the monitors.

 

Fortunately we needed to be flexible for our next gig, at East Ham Working Men’s Club on May Day, so Andi downgraded to cajon and hand percussion. Handy, as we ended up playing unplugged.

That experience lead us to the cajon-based kit that Andi’s playing with us currently which he used at the Matchwomen’s Festival and at our WSO event at the Rose & Crown in October. (By the way, that event raised over £1000 for services looking after those hit hardest by austerity in our community, so thanks to all that came, sung, danced, enjoyed the music and dug deep. And thanks Tom Ferguson for letting us hijack your birthday party like that). The pared down kit made things better, but still not right.

During this period we’d also recruited Simon Armstrong on bass to cover for Doug’s continuing absence, and it was him that finally persuaded us that although the “band that turns up on the bus” thing is all well and good, what we really needed to be doing was be grown-ups and take responsibility for our own stage sound by bringing our own amplifiers with us. Retail therapy for some, looking for money down the back of the sofa for an expedition on eBay for others, but we got there in the end and we arrived at our show on the 1st December with a bunch of shiny new kit and a plan. And I’ll tell you what, it worked a treat. No wonder (most) everybody else does it that way. We sounded great on stage and we sounded great to our audience. Finally.

So if there’s one Protest Family story from 2018 it’s this: Steve White & The Protest Family sound better than ever with percussion, it just took us a year to get there. Come and see us at the New Cross Inn on 26th January and we’ll show you what we mean.

Merry Xmas!

Steve

 

*Dronfield is in NED, which took me ages to work out means North-East Derbyshire. Good luck Chris Peace in your campaign to become their MP.

**Recommended.