Alex Gabriel extolls the virtues of an angry gay protest singer you might hear more from in the next few years.
Isn’t it cool how protest songs are back? With Let England Shake and Ill Manors on the shelves, it’s obvious the relative mainstream has its finger on a dissenting pulse. It’s hard to imagine his would have happened, in fact, without a resurgence in grassroots anthems outside the major market. The internet is now full of campaigning musicians whose activist songs are finding new ears. For example, back in January, Occupy London even launched an album called Folk the Banks.
The first time I heard Grace Petrie was in the winter of 2010, after encounters with the police force (I’m a student) turned me from well-behaved liberalism. It was a time when everyone seemed to feel frustrated: that we’d failed to safeguard higher education with our votes, that we couldn’t make our voices heard without kettling and confrontation, and that the papers seemed more interested in the subsequent property destruction than the far-reaching issues at hand.
Then on a friend’s Facebook wall, I saw a video of a young woman with a guitar, standing wool-clad outside Nick Clegg’s offices and vocalising the bitterness we all shared. The song’s hook went, ‘When no one’s listening only violence makes the news. / I’ve got the Emily Davison blues.’
In Alan Bennett’s play, The History Boys, the patriarch Hector states the best moments in reading are when you come across a thought you’d had, set down by someone else – and it’s as though they’ve reached out and taken your hand. That was me, the first time I listened to Grace.
It turns out she’s a left wing lesbian, too. In the opening lines of ‘Farewell to Welfare‘, a song which satirised the Coalition government in its first months, she declares – in irony-drenched tones – ‘It’s never too late / to recapture the benefits of Section 28.’ ‘Give me change, give me equality’ the song goes on. ‘Give me a Minister for Women who fucking represents me’. It’s a pointed reference, of course, to Theresa May’s vote to keep Section 28 in 2003, seven years before being made Minister for Women and Equality. She receives a more pointed dressing down later in the lyrics:
Mrs. May, if I may / Be so bold as to say,
That your archaic view of family holds no relevance today,
And if you think that honest people really should be turned away,
From IVF and B&Bs just because they’re gay,
I suggest you stop requesting that we continue to pay,
Our taxes to a party that’s held us back all the way.
Last summer she chimed in on British Murdocracy with a track titled after Gill Scott-Heron’s classic, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘. She isn’t always political, of course – ‘How Long Has It Been‘, a softly strung ballad of missed opportunities, is one of her best numbers.
Grace’s music is as bitter as it is sweet, as often angry as beautiful; but to namecheck a great play from the nineties, what’s wrong with angry? If, like me, you’re queer and furious, then take some time to listen to her work. You might find it reaches out and takes your hand, as it took mine.
Follow Grace Petrie on her website or at @GracePetrie on Twitter.