Grace Petrie interview
'I've done a couple of shows [in Norwich] supporting the comedians Josie Long and Robin Ince, and I've always found the audiences in Norwich to be lovely' says Grace Petrie. 'My best friend and band's bassist, Caitlin Field, lives here too, so it will be a nice gig for us.'
As Grace warms up for her nationwide Election Countdown Tour next month, she and her band the Benefits Culture (including a rhythm section of Field and Jess Greengrass) are set to brighten up our nights this weekend. If, like me, you're going to be in Norwich city centre with a hankering for an intimate night's music at the Anteros Arts Foundation on Friday night, the Bridge Street venue is the place to be. Boasting three studio albums to her name (with another to come in the near future) and a rootsy, unmistakeably English brand of folk rock that wouldn't have been out of place supporting the miner's strike some 30-odd years ago, it's a night that anyone looking for an atmospheric, thought-provoking and energetic evening on the town simply can't miss. Why yes, I would like to qualify that reference. 'I wrote an album just after the last election that was very political' Grace recalled, 'because that was a very exciting time to be becoming an activist. The anti-cuts movement, the student protests, occupy Wall Street and occupy St Paul's – it seemed as if so much was happening. Every time I turned on the news there was more to write about. I was really inspired.' Speaking as someone who took part in an anti-EDL rally and studied Noam Chomsky's essays on worker's rights in university, it's certainly a generation of political expression I can personally identify with, and one that's really just as relevant to me as to anybody else reading this. Grace summed it up perfectly in our conversation, saying that 'in 2013 I experienced the same midterm cynicism and disillusionment that I think a lot of people did.' Different exact contexts between us, sure, but the sentiment remains the same. With her new album in the pipeline, and the fairly juicy possibility of some new songs from it being in her setlist on Friday night, I was told we could expect a return to more politically-charged lyrical territory on Grace's next record. '[A few years ago] I realised that the only political songs I felt like writing would be very depressing ones, and nobody needed to hear songs like that! So my last record wasn't very political at all.' Inspiration has apparently struck in that truly beautiful and liberating way that only someone in the arts can understand. 'I feel reinvigorated; interested and excited again by politics. I want to write songs about a better future, about a different ideology, a different way of seeing the world and I feel like I want to spread that message again.' All this and more is something we can all be a part of and enjoy at Anteros this Friday. Tickets are still available, and can be ordered from this link; http:songsfrombelow.netgracenorwich
As we moved on to talk about the music of Leicester's Grace Petrie specifically, in her very own words; 'I do think it's essential for music to be good first and foremost, and I hope that I've never written a song that was musically bad because it had a political message. It's not important to all artists to carry a message in their songs, and not all of mine do either, but I feel like if I have a platform where anyone at all is listening to me then I hope I can use it for as much good as possible.'
And in the number of artists who every fifth person you ask will have listened to at some point in their lives, Grace is certainly in good company. From Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and the Sex Pistols to the likes of Elvis Costello, Horace Andy and Jello Biafra, there are countless artists I love who aren't afraid to use the platform of the stage or record player to carry a politically motivated message to an audience. 'Of course political message divides audiences' she continued, 'and I have had strong reactions both good and bad to my music.' Summing it all up perfectly though; '[that said] even some of the most ardent Tories have appreciated some of my love songs. I think most song writers would agree that it's an expression of truth and feeling, whatever subject that is about, whether its politics or love or heartbreak or anything at all.'
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'I only really became politicised after the last election' Grace said. ' Nick Clegg was a big part of that transition. I was working in Sheffield at the time in the students' union, [and] I remember the support he had this time five years ago. When the tuition fees were tripled, I was stunned that people weren't more outraged. People were angry, but they weren't shocked or stunned. I remember speaking to friends about it and them telling me 'yes he lied, but it's really your fault for believing him'. That was a real light bulb moment for me.' As, frankly, it was for your humble writer and former Lib Dem voter here.
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With the conversation speeding in the direction of her political support, Grace brought up how 'long the journey had been for [her] to support the Green party.' Having grown up in a staunchly left-wing, Labour household, the simple fact that dawned with New Labour in the late 90s and still remains was that 'the Labour Party my parents grew up with doesn't exist any more.' Speakingh of 2015's incarnation of the Labour Party, Grace denounced Opposition leader Ed Milliband's support of unpaid workfare schemes, as well as anti-immigration and welfare sentiments as 'completely betraying the core values of Labour party voters. [All this is], I think, clear proof that the Labour party as it currently exists are only interested in winning, and not standing for left-wing values.'
All of which ties in nicely to Grace's recent move to come out on her website's blog as a supporter of the Green Party. 'My hope is that if enough left wing voters move to the Greens, labour will get the message and move back left to the core principles they were founded on.' And as for an honest appraisal of the Greens' chances in this coming General Election? 'While I don't think the greens pose an electoral threat at this election, I do think that it's more important to look at this as a very long term strategy in a very long game. My major fear is that people will continue to vote labour however right wing they become because they are so scared of a Tory government. For too long labour have not represented left-wing values. But as long as we keep supporting them despite that why would they ever change?'
For more of all things Grace Petrie, check out her official website at http:gracepetrie.com
Alex Preiss @Bullid_