BRITISH POLITICS, if we may make an observation across the Irish Sea for a moment, is in turmoil. Barely a day passes without the latest minor movement on Brexit making front-page headlines. The cultural reaction from the arts has been, dare we say, slightly disappointing.
But there are exceptions to every rule. Grace Petrie, like her similarly positioned comrade in arms Billy Bragg, is one of them. Having come around from a very vocal protest against what she saw as Labour centrism a few years ago, Petrie has a lot of love for Jeremy Corbyn and rejects Brexit, her music espousing socially progressive views, and exploring how they relate to her own life.
“It is a thing with being a protest singer, that the situation is always changing,” Petrie explains. “I wrote a song a few years ago about Labour, essentially asking people not to vote for them. I was sick of the way Tony Blair did things. Obviously, I’ve changed my mind on Labour. I’ve quietly retired that song.”
“There is a risk I’m preaching to the converted, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to do something,” she continues. “I learnt a lot from touring with comedians, which is not something I ever really planned, but it kind of happened, one after the other, for years. That’s helped me adapt to playing for an audience. Not everyone’s going to like it, but I throw in a few stories, some jokes and some anecdotes, and that helps get people onside. If they don’t like my views, at least they’re hearing a different voice.”
Petrie’s latest (and, incredibly, eighth) album ‘Queer As Folk’ has seen the Leicester singer-songwriter’s perceptive music dive headfirst into the issues. She tells personal stories and weighs her tracks with emotion, but she’s not above a comic quip, with the Iraq War, austerity and a lack of funding for the NHS all given a thorough going over.
“It’s a little bit strange watching Ireland now, things seem to be going so well over there, it’s all moving in a good, positive direction,” Petrie says, referencing the Repeal the 8th Campaign and gay marriage vote. “Over here, we seem to be slipping backwards.”
“This will be the first time I’ll play in Dublin, and as a gay woman, I feel very welcome now. I’ve been singing songs about girls since I was a teenager. That’s natural to me, but for some people my entire existence and way of life is political, so I guess it’s easy for me to be to be a very political person.”
“I find recording very hard. If I could just record a gig, and then never have to go to the studio again, I think that’s what I’d do. For me, it’s about getting out there and playing. I don’t like going into the studio, but things keep changing, and what I want to write about and play changes with it. It’s challenging, because my songs link back to the time they were written. There are some early songs I wrote that I don’t agree with really, anymore. My views have changed. I just have to quietly retire them from my set and move on.”
Never one to shy away from the issues, Petrie concludes a whistle-stop tour of her politics and music with a take on Brexit. “I’m still not sure it’s going to happen,” she laughs. “You do have to look around you though and ask why more people are not standing up to all this, out on the streets. I think we’re due a swing to the left, and not just in England. I’m going to stand up for that.”
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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