On Friday 16th October 2015 Joe accepted the People’s Choice Award at Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Music Award Ceremony on behalf of We Shall Overcome. He gave the following speech:
“Thank you. First I’d like to dedicate this to Beryl T Peril who sadly lost her long battle with cancer a few days before We Shall Overcome, and who I know would have loved it….and who I know would have felt as awkward as I do about me standing here tonight. This one’s for you Sonja.
For those of you who don’t know what We Shall Overcome is, it was born the day after the General Election last May. Social Media was awash with blame and recrimination and whining and bitching and moaning and gloating and was a very negative place to be. I’m not someone who wallows in bad news and I was casting about for something creative, something positive to turn all that energy to. My friend Stephen Goodall said:
‘What we need is a night of musical protest all over the country.’
Now Steve and myself had been involved in playing and organising benefits for food banks for a couple of years and I suggested marrying the two together- and We Shall Overcome was born.
We basically just sent word out into the world hoping to get maybe 10 or 15 gigs on the same night and make a statement. But it kinda took off. By the time we reached our night it was a full weekend….a 9 day weekend…and instead of those 10 or 15 gigs we had 250….in 123 towns and cities…across 8 countries on 3 continents, and we estimate that we managed to raise a total of £125,000 worth of cash, food clothing and blankets for those at the sharp end of austerity.
Now austerity doesn’t just mean a few Public Sector pay freezes and the fact that your local librarian is now a volunteer. Austerity drives people from their homes and leaves them shivering in shop doorways; austerity sanctions people on benefits leaving them penniless; austerity drives people into meaningless jobs earning poverty wages so they graft all week and STILL can’t pay the bills. This is the invisible face of the Cuts. Thousands of people not only shivering in shop doorways, but shivering in sleeping bags sat in armchairs in their own front rooms because they have had to make the awful choice between heating and eating, and in the sixth largest economy in the world that is not only shameful, to me it is unacceptable and THAT is the country We Shall Overcome was born into.
We were conscious from the start that we could be viewed as some kind of Lefty Red Nose Day, were all people had to was turn up with a 4-pack of beans and it bought them the right not to have to think about politics again for 5 years; but by keeping our events in the communities they were designed to help, we wanted to make the connection between what we were doing and who we were doing it for. In this way we wanted to create the next generation of community activists, people who weren’t prepared to sit around waiting for someone somewhere to do something about it, but who now felt THEY were that someone, that THEY could do something about it. We wanted to empower a generation. I played six gigs that weekend in six different towns, but everywhere I went the reaction was the same. People were amazed by how much buzz there was around the idea, and how happy people were to FINALLY be doing something creative, something positive, instead of being sat around complaining. The best thing I heard all weekend was the wonderful lady who took me to one side and said:
‘Thank you. For years I thought I was the only person who cared, that everyone else had given up. Now I see there are thousands of people like me up and down the country who all feel the same way, and for the first time in years I feel some hope for the future.’
As soon as I heard that word I knew we were winning. See you can give someone a MEAL and they can make it through the world, but give them HOPE and they’ll CHANGE it.
Lastly we wanted to re-establish the link between live music and communities, and vice versa. For years now music and musicians have occupied this tiny, selfish little space where all that matters is money and fame, but music wasn’t born under a spotlight, it was born around campfires when someone suddenly realised they had a talent for telling stories in rhyme and setting them to tunes. They weren’t professionals, they worked in the fields or at the mills just like everyone else. This is the role I see musicians in today. We get in from work and out we go again, and we sing our stories, we make people laugh, we make people cry, we gather them together, we spread a message of hope and we do all we can in our own small ways to make the world a better place; not because there’s a reward there for us, but because that is what musicians DO, that is what we have ALWAYS done, and we should be damn proud to follow in that tradition.
So from the Gang of Five- myself, Stephen Goodall, Matt Hill, Tony Peter WrightandJamie Bramwell; from Val Colvin, Steve White, Pete Yen, Pauline Town and all the HUNDREDS of people who made We Shall Overcome happen, I want to say a big THANK YOU.
And next year we WILL be back. Join us.”