What passed in the few hours on Saturday afternoon may have been the politest revolution in musical history. Matt Hill (Quiet Loner) launches his album ‘Greedy Musicians’, a biting political assault on the coalition government not with a rally or an effigy-burning demonstration, but with a Powerpoint. Dressed in a smart suit before a small crowd at the People’s History Museum, in front of a projector screen, Hill looked like he was about to deliver a presentation on climate change, not lead an attack on Cameron, Clegg and the ‘greedy magicians’ of the coalition. Hill’s Powerpoint even has a map, pinpointing where his album has been recorded. “I do have a Geography degree,” he confesses, and gives his audience a brief history of the class struggles of Manchester, complete with quotes from Friedrich Engels.
The event is called ‘The Making of a Protest Album in Five Easy Steps’ and Hill takes us through the history of the making of his record, from the inspiration of the songs to the recording of it at Sacred Trinity Church, Salford. He even brings on the guy who printed the sleeve, David Armes of Hot Bed Press (another local company) who shows us a video of him at work in the Salford mill in which the CD sleeves were painstakingly printed using 19th century machinery. The whole thing feels like a manifesto, the creation of (or return to) something organic, original and MEANT. Hill obviously loves his work and has gone to great lengths to keep his work local and somehow pure. From the intricate, detailed sleeve notes, complete with a history of key political achievements of history to the iconic grasping hand image that defines the concept of the album, the ‘greedy magicians’ of the political classes, who grasp and grab at the heart (and pockets) of the people.
Hill unashamedly wears his heart on his sleeve, sharing intimate family histories with the audience, the notes and letters of his grandfather are not only included in the Powerpoint but are pinned to the walls, and Hill seems genuinely moved when reading from them, his grandfather’s prophetic words, words as relevant now as when they were written in 1934. “People cannot help being poverty stricken,” Hill’s grandfather writes, “it is the fault of the system which allows some men to possess wealth which they could not possibly spend, and others to slowly starve. Some people regard poverty as a crime, and it is a crime, but the criminals are the governors of the system, not the poor.” And this is Hill. Just like his grandfather, his words are weighted and loaded with an open political vitriol but calm and measured at the same time. This is the case with Quiet Loner’s recordings, the voice is almost too polite and soft for the strength of the words, but this is part of Hill’s charm. During the event, we are treated to several songs from the album, such as the acidic anti-Thatcher account ‘Discontented Winter’, in which Hill berates Thatcher as being “like tweezers on a splinter, she’s the bitter medicine they love,” offering a powerful narrative of “the stench of stale tobacco from the staffroom stealing stealthily to find defeated teachers slouching in the hall.” Many of the songs nod to Billy Bragg and Hill offers a cover version of ‘Between the wars’ which seems to capture the tenderness of the lyrics well, Hill’s voice bringing an added fragility to the lyrics, bringing out the sense of loss that is central to the song. Perhaps the most touching of the songs is ‘Unmarked grave’, a tale of World War One, obviously an issue close to Hill, as he tells us of his family experiences in the war. The lyrics again are tender yet powerful as his narrator recounts how he “buried him there in an unmarked grave and I dug that hole with a rusty spade, said a prayer as the shells rained in, and I’ve been running away ever since.”
Hill is a powerful storyteller. Not surprising then that he should invite poet Tony Walsh (Longfella) to perform alongside him at the event. Longfella kicks off with a rallying call, with his ‘Repeat After Me’, a manifesto in itself in which Walsh urges us to “sleep as long as you like – just be awake more, and “make love more… prevalent in the world.” Just as Quiet Loner’s angst is both political and personal, Longfella is equally unapologetic in his assault on the establishment as he begins his epic political poem, commissioned by Unison ahead of his ‘poet in residence’ appearance at Glastonbury in 2011. Even the introduction is prophetic:
“I was asked to write a poem on behalf of public services,
and I’m proud to be allowed to and I want to get the hurt in this,
and I want to get some truth in here to get behind the mysteries,
and to think about the future here and lessons in our histories.”
Over the next nine minutes, Longfella blazes against the bankers and politicians who have ‘kidnapped all our futures’ and rallies against the ‘weasel words’ of Nick Clegg and warns the ‘ruthless, truthless’ Tories and LibDems that “your throats will slit on voting slips with a cross against betrayal.” There is hope behind the darkness though, as Walsh pictures “our grandchildren will know this as a criminal deceit, and they will bring the corpse of justice and they will lay it at your feet.” There are tears, cheers and a standing ovation. We’ve gone from maps and Powerpoints to ‘The Queen Is Dead’ in less than ten minutes. And so Quiet Loner calms us down with his gentle blend of folk and torch-songs, his history lesson ‘We will not forget’ and his hopeful ballad ‘Don’t despair’, Hill reassuring his audience that “Wherever there’s people, hope is always near.”
And so we step out into a damp Manchester afternoon, angry enough to vote Labour for the next hundred years but stopping short at burning down McDonald’s. For this is a polite revolution. We’ll probably go home and make a Powerpoint. Or write a blog. I for one will be mithering people to buy the album. You should. Even if it isn’t your ‘thing’, because what Matt Hill is doing is good. It’s a good thing. And we need a bit of that now.
Both Quiet Loner and Tony Walsh are performing at Blue Cat Cafe in Stockport on Thursday 23rd May
The full 9 min version of Tony’s poem can be found here, being performed at Occupy LSX, 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pItvBPZ40bE
Tony’s book ‘Sex&Love&Rock&Roll is out now.Buy it. It’s top.