by / September 24th, 2015 /

Interview: Joe Solo….”this is about changing the world from your own streets”

When UK singer songwriter Joe Solo woke up on May 8th, he was facing a different world to what many had expected. The result of the General Election meant that the country, as he puts it, was staring “down the barrel of five more years of Tory cuts and class warfare”. The reaction of most was to put their head in their hands but he had a different idea. “Social media was full of complaints and bickering”, he tells State, “but I tried to turn it around and turn all the negative energy into something creative. My friend Stephen Goodall suggested a night of musical protest, I suggested making them food bank benefits, Tony from the band The Hurriers named it We Shall Overcome and we settled on a weekend. After that we just slowly tagged every political musician we knew and sent the idea out into the world. The response was immediate and incredible and it spread so quickly that we had 20 or 30 events within a week and it just kept growing. If I remember right London volunteered first, a cracker featuring Thee Faction and Interrobang…but Halton, Sheffield, Scarborough and Ulverston were pretty close behind”.

Was it easy to get people on board?

“It all came together so quickly that it was as if the world already had the idea and was waiting for someone to say it out loud. People just GOT it and got straight on with the job. We were growing at 5 or 6 towns a day for 2 or 3 weeks and of course it growing and people talking about it meant it grew some more as others wanted in”.

Have you had much media support?

“We didn’t chase the media because we felt they couldn’t offer us anything we didn’t already have with Facebook and Twitter, it was a ground up People’s Movement and that was its strength right from the word go. Some celebrities have a habit of making everything about THEM and we felt that would take away from the work ordinary people were putting in, that the organisers and the musicians were the real stars of the show and it needed to be kept that way”.

Billy Bragg’s support must be a big deal….

“We contacted Billy early on but heard nothing, then a couple of organisers cornered him at Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival and he seemed interested. It came out of the blue though when he announced the Manchester gig, and although we had some incredible names playing for us by then I think him coming on board showed the doubters we were a serious proposition. We knew that already, but sometimes it takes a little bit of icing to show what a bloody amazing cake you have”.

Is it important that this is about local events supporting local causes?

“It matters massively. We wanted WSO to be a pro-community weekend as well as being anti-austerity. Rather than just a protest, a shout and a moan, we wanted to build bridges between the various causes fighting to help those most in need so that we could help long term as well as stock up food banks and soup kitchens for the winter. A raised fist and a helping hand I call it. A bit of both. Rather than everyone abandoning their town to attend a big concert in London or somewhere, we wanted the events to be in your town, helping your neighbours, and helping create a new generation of community workers and political activists. We ALL have a part to play in fighting austerity. It’s no longer enough to drive somewhere, shout a bit and go home with a new t-shirt and a souvenir programme; this is about changing the world from the streets of your own town”.

How did it feel to add some Irish shows?

“To have Ireland with us is fantastic. I’ve known Niall and the Hope Collective for years, ever since they booked Lithium Joe to tour over there back in ’96, but it’s great to know that everyone over there is still hungry for the DIY scene and still organising shows for the love of it. You can’t underestimate the impact it had over here when we started planting red stars on our map in Dublin and Limerick, Derry and Belfast…folks over here knew we had something special and it inspired us to build it bigger and better. As things stand we have 243 gigs in 121 towns in 8 countries on 3 continents (see the full list here), which just goes to show – you should never underestimate the power of a good idea….” and Hope host We Shall Overcome: Hard Hitting Songs For Hard Hit People at the Grand Social on Sunday 4th October in aid of Dublin Simon Community, March For The Homeless and Dublin Calais Refugee Solidarity.