Category Archives: Steve

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.

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.

Snowflake

CoverAnd 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.

Steve

Fake News From Nowhere

Fake News From Nowhere

Well we ought to know how this works by now. There’s a period between Protest Family albums where I’m working on new songs, some of which I like, but either the band don’t, or there’s no time to learn it, or it’s just not Protest Family material, and I get itchy feet,  record it and put it out myself. But we’re slowing down. The next Protest Family album is still only on the distant horizon, and there will definitely be a more than two-year gap between it (working title: Snowflakes) and Protest For Dummies, and the in-between album’s not an album, it’s an E.P. But anyway, here it is:

The death of facts

Sparked off for me by Michael Gove’s comment that the people of this country have had enough of experts.

Fake news has been around a long time. The authorities claimed in the aftermath of the Peterloo massacre in 1819 that the troops and yeomanry had been attacked by the protesters. Protesters including women and children, all in their Sunday best who had marched formally and respectfully to hear speeches about the struggle for their right to vote. Fake news. A century later The Sun and Margaret Thatcher used the same smear tactic to blame the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, leading to the 27-year long fight for justice for the 96.

What makes today different is the internet, the speed with which fake news can be disseminated, and the dilution of trustworthy news sources with sites peddling unintentional and deliberate mis-truths (or alternative facts if you work for Donald Trump). The opinionated bloke in the pub, who’s wrong but influential, has become a whole online business.

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Gove: “The people of this country have had enough of experts”

 

So that, and the need to kick back against the system that gave you austerity without understanding how the system works, but knowing that it sounds like it knows better than you, gives you the environment in which you believe the facts you want to, irrespective of the evidence. No one honestly believes that the Tories will invest £350 million a week in the NHS when we leave the EU, but it didn’t hurt to keep saying it. I desperately want to believe that David Cameron put his penis in a dead pig’s head, but I know that the story was made up, and, despite emerging evidence to the contrary, people that wanted to believe that Jeremy Corbyn walked past dozens of empty seats in order to be filmed sitting on the floor of the London to Newcastle train, still do.

My facts are indeed better than your facts.

Don’t look down

The challenge was to stop sloganeering for a few minutes. We all want change, but it can be scary, right?

So don’t look down.

If the queen had a hammer

I just don’t get the Royal Family, I really don’t. They even bow and curtsy to each other. It’s just weird and stupid and wrong and what makes them so much better than us that we keep them in the lap of absolute luxury?

The question of whether the queen casts a vote or not (she doesn’t) would be idle musing

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“It’s my country, so fuck you”

if it wasn’t for those pictures of her attending a cabinet meeting during David Cameron’s government, and the exposé of Prince Charles’ interference in parliamentary matters protecting interests close to him.

 

Does she have a pound? Well, she famously never carries any money, but her picture is on every last piece of it.

The patriotic working class? Yeah, I know. I didn’t make it up; it’s flag, faith and family stuff like “former Labour heartlands” and “traditional working class values” and the old favourite “metropolitan liberal elite”.

Heroes of the Peasants’ Revolt, Wat Tyler and John Ball get a mention, and rightly so. Let’s not forget Tyler’s big failing that lead to his ultimate downfall. He trusted the Royals.

Children in the crosshairs

Yes, I realise that it’s perverse that you can hear the follow-up to From the euro to the pound before you can hear the first song, but that’s how band stuff works. The Protest Family have adopted From the euro to the pound, so you can hear it live, but we won’t take it into the studio for a while yet, unless there’s pressure to release a single (remember them?). The life of a solo artist is much simpler and more immediate.

Both songs are attempts to see life and events through someone else’s eyes, in this case a couple, no longer together but bound together by their children. We know quite a bit about them from their two songs, but the key thing is that they don’t do politics (even when politics is quite clearly doing them), which means that they’re definitely not me.

I sort of understand Americans’ second amendment rights to bear arms against their government (I just wish they’d get on with it) but, like most non-Americans I really don’t get their gun culture, their obsession with guns or the enormous power of the gun lobby. I’d like to point out all the evidence that less guns equals less deaths by shooting, but we’d just recycle the fake news argument, and we’ve had that already.

Warning: It’s a sad song.

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A song for Saint Patrick’s Day

You know it’s not just Cambridge Analytica poring over all the stuff that you put on social media, it’s songwriters too, and when I saw that “somebody on the internet” had posted “Why don’t Irish people celebrate St. George’s Day?”, the blue touchpaper was lit. Your choice, a 1500-word essay on oppression, imperialism and privilege, or a three-minute sing-along folk song?

OK, not your choice, mine.

Saints