Tune in to the Protest Family Facebook page this Friday to catch Steve performing some of the songs from part three of his pandemic in verse.
Part one, broadcast by Punk 4 The Homeless took us from the Queen in quarantine to Dominic Cummings on the run from Downing Street. Part two, hosted by The Kimberley Jam went all the way from week two of the lockdown to Joanna holding her breath.
Part three will re-visit Joanna and Jason, introduce Derek and take us from the birth of Wilfred Johnson to the present day, taking in statues, demonstrations, eye tests and tracking and tracing along the way.
Access to the stream is free but donations to Tommy’s Kitchen’s Feed the Homeless fund raiser are most welcome if you can spare a couple of quid.
EDIT: Thanks everyone that made it to the live stream, it is archived on the Facebook if you wanted to take a look or re-visit it. Your generous donations raised over £300 for Tommy’s Kitchen, thank you.
Steve’s speech to the 2019 TUC Congress on behalf of the FBU:
President, Congress: Steve White, Fire Brigades Union.
On the 14th of June 2017 a fire occurred at Grenfell Tower in west London that killed 72 people. 72 people who had every right to believe that their homes had been built, maintained and refurbished with their safety from fire in mind. Those 72 people, and hundreds of others: bereaved, survivors, residents, deserve justice.
Last year, phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry considered the events of that night, considered 668 statements from firefighters, operational and in control, and heard oral evidence from 88 of them.
I want to thank our members, at the incident and in control rooms, who were faced with a situation that they were never trained to deal with, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to save as many lives as they could.
I want to pay tribute to every member who gave a statement to the Inquiry, re-living that night sometimes at great personal cost, and to the members that we witnessed day after day giving oral evidence to the Inquiry, honestly, and clearly to the best of their ability.
I also want to place on record our thanks for the immense work of FBU officials from around the country who ensured that every member who gave evidence to the Inquiry was supported by their trade union. Our message to our members is clear: The FBU have got your back.
Congress, I also want to pay tribute to the community who continue to respond to this tragedy with dignity and tenacity.
We are all still waiting for the Inquiry’s interim report.
It is bound to be critical of the London Fire Brigade.
It may also make criticisms of individual firefighters.
Rest assured that we will respond robustly if any of our members are attacked by the Inquiry. It is our duty to ensure that our members are not scapegoated for the failings of those above their pay grade, be they fire service bosses or government ministers.
Phase two, what happened before and after the fire, is unlikely to start until next year and may go on for years. The FBU will continue to participate in the Inquiry as long as necessary. We have made detailed submissions about the fire safety regime, deregulation and the failures of politicians over many decades.
We need to remind politicians that the people who lived in Grenfell Tower are not to blame for what happened.
We need to remind politicians that firefighters are not responsible for the fire at Grenfell Tower.
The owners and senior managers of the building, the construction firms, the contractors, those who sold and installed the cladding, the fire doors, the windows, all need to answer for their role in this tragedy; as must local councillors who made decisions to contract out the building and ignored their own residents’ concerns and, above all, Westminster politicians who watered down fire safety regulations, imposed austerity on the Fire and Rescue Service (and indeed on all of us) and who failed to respond to the advice of coroners, fire safety experts and the warnings given by this union.
Congress, I ask you to support us in our campaign, Grenfell: Never Again.
We seek to engage with the community and other campaigners to demand:
The removal and banning of all combustible cladding. (And comrades, I’m sure that you all saw pictures of the fire at Worcester Park in the early hours of yesterday morning and asked questions about its construction).
A national review of the Stay Put policy.
The strengthening of tenants’ rights.
New national structures for the Fire and Rescue Service, and
An increase in specialist fire safety officers.
Comrades, we must make sure that nothing like Grenfell Tower ever happens again.
Congress, I move.
Justice for Grenfell!
We might know a song about that (but you’ll have to ask us when you see us).
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.
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.
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
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.
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?