I think 2016 was my busiest year to date. It feels like I’ve not stopped. I’ve written, recorded and released a whole new album, toured a brand new show, pushed my songwriting skills, done some workshops for the first time, had a piece in an art exhibition, joined a covers band, run the Defiance Sessions, helped the second year of We Shall Overcome, and begun recording the next Quiet Loner album. Here are some highlights.
My old band finally got a vinyl release
January saw the release of ‘Small Town scenery’ a vinyl only compilation of 1980s/early 90s Indie bands that never quite made it. Released through Rough Trade and Record Collector magazine I was made up to have a track included by The Bellis, a band I was in from 1989-1992.
Playing bass in one of my favourite bands!
In February I joined The Sopranistas on tour as their bass player. They’re one of my favourite bands so it was easy really as I already knew the songs from singing along in the car!
Being the songwriter in residence at my favourite museum
In April I started my songwriter residency at the People’s History Museum. I read, researched and wrote songs about the fight for the right to vote. I also ran open studio sessions and workshops.
Writing and touring a new live show – The Battle for ballot
At Manchester Histories Festival in June I launched Battle for the Ballot – songs and stories from the fight for the right to vote. The brilliant Tracey Browne became part of the show and sang some of the songs.
Then I took it on the road. I played the fantastic Tolpuddle Festival in July and a wonderful show in Newport – where the venue put on an beautiful photo exhibition about the town’s connection to the Chartists. I played the songs at some ace places inluding Wigan Diggers Festival, on the stairs at the Working Class Movement Library and in a lecture theatre to some history undergraduates at Loughborough University.
Having a piece in an art exhibition and collaborating with Stickboy
I made a work of art and exhibited it as part of ‘Loitering with intent – the art and politics of walking’. This was an art exhibition about psychogeography. The piece included a new song called ‘All these places’ which I collaborated on with the amazing Stickboy. He produced and played everything on it. I talk (at length) about the piece here
Starting a covers band called The New Seegers
I started a band with my friends Steve, Rae and Simon. We’re a 1960s covers band that specialise in protest and message songs. I wear a wig. In the summer we played our first outdoor festival show
Being part of ‘We Shall Overcome’
I helped get this off the ground in 2015 – a musician-led fight back against austerity. This year, I ran a few events and performed at many more. My highlights included a collaboration with psychogeographic artist Morag Rose to create two street performances/walking tours of Manchester and Salford and a Songwriters circle at the People’s History Museum.
Making a video for the 100th anniversary of my Great Grandad’s death.
August marked 100 years since my Great Grandad Sam Covell died in the Battle of the Somme. I made a video about two letters that were sent back to his widow.
Organising and hosting six Defiance Sessions
About to enter it’s third year, Defiance Sessions at Glossop Labour Club is one of the few regular music nights dedicated to songwriting with a progressive or political focus. This year we hosted Chris T-T, Ribbon Road, Efa Supertramp, Johnny Campbell, Joe Solo, Louis Barabbas, Kevin Titterton, Jethro Platts and Steve White and the Protest Family.
Being a chat show host for Help Musicians UK
I hosted a couple of ‘Musicians insights’ evenings at Band on the Wall in Manchester for the charity Help Musicians UK. It was a live chat show format and I interviewed several musicians about health problems and how they dealt with issues like deafness, performance anxiety and arm injuries.
Holding my first songwriting workshops
As part of the residency at the museum I ran a few open studios and some workshops. I also ran a couple of sessions at Greystones – a hostel for homeless men. I met Mark and Phil there – two amazing songwriters who perform together. It’s been really useful to see how other people write and learn from each other.
Making and releasing a new album
I spent some time down in the Brecon Beacons recording the Battle for the Ballot album with Mike Harries. It’s about 15 years since I first worked with Mike on my debut album Secret Ruler of the World. I love the new record and got to play banjo, bass and electric guitar. It’s available as a free download and will get a proper release next year. Here’s a review from the excellent ‘Rockin Magpie’ blog who called it ‘the most exciting history lesson you will ever hear’.
Finally playing a Quiet Loner show with a band
In December I played a band show to round off my museum residency. I debuted some new songs and we filmed the whole thing. Hopefully that will see the light of day next year.