From picket lines to private parties, it’s been an interesting year for the Protest Family. Gigs for workers on indefinite strike at both Lambeth College and the National Gallery turned into celebrations at the successful conclusion of their disputes; UCU members fighting off new contracts for existing staff and the National Gallery strikers winning on all of their demands except privatisation of the gallery, including re-instatement of their union rep Candy Unwin.
Singing Bad Day For Bojo over and over again outside Leytonstone station may not have halted the tide of Boris Johnson’s ticket office closures but an early start on the RMT/ASLEF picket line did see the network brought to a standstill along with the mayor’s plans to push through the introduction of the Night Tube. We all want the tube to run all night, let’s hope that now we can have it safely, and delivered by workers whose work/life balance is protected by well-negotiated contracts.
Both private parties were wakes, one for a comrade who was already dead, the other for the woman who stuck around long enough to have two living wakes a year apart and one more Tolpuddle Festival than she thought she was going to get. We lost Sonja in September, a great friend, an indefatigable campaigner and a great advocate of the band. She badgered Billy Bragg ceaselessly on our behalf and the ultimate fruits of her labour may yet still be to be seen.
Festival sound engineers ranged from the nonchalant to the point of not caring in Plumstead to the brilliantly professional at Rhythms Of The World in Hitchin to the absolutely nothing is too much trouble of Matt from Wilding Sound in Walthamstow who helped us out so much at this year’s Matchwomen’s Festival. Festival weather had its ups and downs too, glorious sunshine in Canning Town but an absolute soaking for our audience in Hitchin who were at least treated to the rain stopping by the end of our set.
Two gigs at The Sov this year (one unplugged) was bettered by three We Shall Overcome gigs. Well for me and Doug at least, as we provided the opening entertainment at We Shall Overcome What’s Cookin’ on the band’s day off between gigs at the Bread & Roses and Ye Olde Rose & Crown. That’ll make three gigs at the Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club too if you count that one along with An Evening Of Radical Entertainment for the Leytonstone Festival in July and the Christmas What’s Cookin’ show with Graham Larkbey & The Escape Committee.
How we got the whole of The Protest Family, The Escape Committee and former member Rory on stage for the encore at What’s Cookin’ I’ll never know. However my favourite stage invader this year has to be Attila The Stockbroker who joined us on fiddle at this year’s Stowfest gig and exclaimed “I wish I’d thought of that” from the side of the stage during George of The Jungle so loud that the whole room heard. We even got him to play Sean Thornton with us.
We’ve got high hopes for George of The Jungle now that we’ve got a recording and accompanying video for it, but we’re wide-eyed naifs in the world of Getting Your Thing To Go Viral. We’re sharing it with everyone we can think of, but we don’t have industry chums or influential pals and we’re dubious about the ethics of the whole world of plugging, not that we have a budget anyway. So it’s a wing and a prayer, a lot of hard work behind the scenes with little idea of it’s value, and a We’ll See. Pay Your Tax got a few thousand views on YouTube quite early on then came to a massive standstill. Who knows what George of The Jungle will do?
But this is supposed to be a round-up of our year. Unplugged at The Sov might have been unplanned, but this was the year that we found our unplugged voice. It’s how we rehearse, but we’d not really pulled it off successfully until last year’s birthday party. This year the unplugged Family’s had a few outings: Show Culture Some Love at Congress House, Hove Folk Club, and of course on the picket line. It’s been very rewarding to do and it’s definitely another string to our bow.
So, more unplugged in 2016, more gigs out of town (watch out Glossop!) and more banjo (maybe). There’s a new album in us too, we’ve nearly got all the songs. Hopefully we’ll do that next year too.