The man arguing with his girlfriend near the sugary drinks cabinet has a hooded top on declaring, “If it has Tits or Tires, I can make it squeal”. It is an unusually large font for a hooded top.
His authority with fat men and tricycles may be undeniable, but his ability with the self-checkout was less impressive. I was passing through Euston. My destination was a Grace Petrie gig. It seemed the right sort of slogan to see on the way to a gig of radical feminist punks, socialist R’n’B and Grace Petrie’s poetic, witty, powerful, sing-a-long folk pop.
Foolishly glancing at social media before my battery thoughtfully expired, I thought of how the speed of memes and information seems to have given us the emotional range of a Friday drunk – everything is an unruly and righteous outburst. Will we ever be sober again? Things we once knew to be illusions if we exposed them to daylight are now cast in granite.
I have given up trying to persuade people around to my way of thinking, I am just hoping I can survive amongst them. Like Gordon Jackson in The Great Escape or Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I just hope I can get to the end of the road without revealing my true emotions as I scream at a man-headed dog.
I am an old man in a duffle coat, but nowadays the grey and flaked are not viewed with as much suspicion at a gig. I order a pale ale and go to watch band number one – Dream Nails. They could be from 1978, something of an all female X-Ray Spex. I wonder if it matters that the music is a throwback and then realise that there is no reason for punk as it was to still be a vehicle, just as trad jazz is still found in pubs on a Sunday. Dream Nails are noisy and joyful and playfully political. I particularly enjoyed their inflammatory hex upon Donald Trump. The armpit hair shone with Christmas glitter. Their parents were in too. There was a time when it seemed that the parents of radical feminist punk bands weren’t likely to be in the venue, but now there are parents, and grandparents, who were in radical feminist punk bands themselves. Punk is 40 and it still works.
Watching passionate, youthful calls for rebellion, I hope they can maintain that momentum of sentiment. Sometimes, I stand and worry for them. Would it have been better to have believed in nothing, to be dipped in cynicism from an early age, rather than be constantly wrenched by these retrograde steps? But that is not an option. I hope they stay pogoing with vim and good rebellious intentions.
I saw less of Thee Faction, heads had got higher by then. Socialist garage punk r ’n’ b is something I am going to go and see again. Choose Your Enemy was nothing less than jaunty, with a Braggish poppiness of the late 1980s . I am off to buy the album right now. When nothing is meant to be about anything anymore, Thee Faction have good tunes with a good manifesto.
And then to Grace Petrie and band. I first met Grace by the tea urn backstage at Billy Bragg’s Leftfield stage. She delivered a brilliant late afternoon set, and it was around that time that Josie Long and I fought over as a guest act on our tours. Eventually, we found the only solution was for all three of us to tour, and we did our Shambles tour. Grace is one of those performers that an audience soon fall in love with. They want all her albums immediately, they all want to sing-a-long. They feel she can heal their broken hearts and dreams with songs and onstage rallying cries. Her lyrics read like poetry. While whatever “the hit parade” is now, some virtual cloud jukebox of instant download, instant forgettability, is filled with oft repeated, empty lyric patterns of romance, Grace creates songs that are vivid with detail, and hope which is both offered and dashed. From Top Shop to the Spanish Civil War, she creates narratives of life and history.
However fragmented the audience feel, they are united at this gig. She energises the down at heel and disappointed. Fanzines will be written. Marches will be organised. Books will be read. The vigour to not just roll over and take it as it is dealt out. You might think “mixing pop and poetry”, what’s the use? A few years back, Grace and me were playing in a town. In the audience was a young woman under a cloud. She wasn’t sure why. She watched Grace, and it became clear. She was not who she thought she was meant to be. Gigging a few months later, Grace received a message. The woman explained that it was thanks to Grace that she realised she was a lesbian and now she was much happier, but it had taken watching Grace’s heartfelt set of songs to bring everything into focus. See, all art isn’t quite useless.
The older I get, the more I realise I am drawn to authenticity. It is the most important thing in what I see and hear. I am too old for ironic detachment and relentless flippancy.
Go and see Grace. Buy her records. She deserves to be seen and heard by more, and they deserve the delight of hearing her.
I hope that a series of podcasts I did with Alan Moore and Grace Petrie eventually see the light of day, until then, Josie Long and I are doing our Book Shambles podcasts, and you can hear Alan Moore, Noel Fielding, Janne Teller, Sara Pascoe and many more HERE.