Cambridge Folk Festival at Cherry Hinton Park, Cambridge ; Saturday – Grace Petrie on Stage One
Protest singer Grace Petrie introduces herself as a “socialist feminist lesbian” which is actually quite a responsibility to the nation – and one she takes extremely seriously.
Her songs, and the way she sang them, made me cry. The last time the tears ran down my face at the Cambridge Folk Festival was back in the 1990s when Joan Baez sang on the same stage.
I interviewed Joan Baez back then. I wanted to set up a last-minute interview with Grace Petrie. I wanted to know where she grew up, how her parents got it so right. But too many other people were similarly inspired. After her set, she spent over two hours signing CDs. People couldn’t get enough of her.
There is more of her to come though. She is about to go on tour as a stand-up.
Petrie, 36 from Leicester, has a great voice, catchy tunes, and wonderfully clear diction, as did Baez (what’s the point of protesting if no one can hear you?). If Baez was holding up flag, Petrie is wielding a sword – or possibly a sub-machine gun. All her songs are an irresistible call to arms.
And Grace Petrie is much, much funnier than your traditional protest singer. Her poignant satire is an absolute scream. Who else writes a song about the music industry called We’ve got an office in Hackney with lines including “We’ve got a really good team.”
She started off with a hard-hitting song which she said would sort the wheat from the chaff. If you didn’t like that, she to the audience, they would know they were in the wrong tent.
Part of it went:
“I stayed up with my folks/They drank champagne till 6am/The morning that we saw the Tories/Out of Number 10. (That got a massive cheer from the crowd, hoping that history will repeat itself.)
The next verse was sobering though.
But short-lived was the victory/From that May morning air/ When came the bloody war in/Through the door of Tony Blair/ A nation of resistance/Peace folk denied a choice/ And taught my generation that a vote was not a voice.
Well, we were sold prosperity/Off working people’s backs/And while we got mass-austerity/The rich got let off tax/And now the NHS is on its knees/And the ones who get the blame/Are people washed up on the shore/With nothing to their name.
Accompanied by a virtuoso band of drums, fiddle, bass guitar and accordion, she named the musicians to the audience, not once like other artists but three times. She said: “I’ve been a protest singer for 13 years.”
And then humbly: “If anything, I think I make things quite a lot worse.” She has written five albums of her protest songs including an alternative national anthem God Save the Hungry.
God save the hungry, God save the poor, God save those desperate souls whose lives were torn apart by war/God save the homeless and those with disabilities
And Yeah, it’s true God ain’t my thing/But if he was, I’d rather sing/For all of the refugees/Perishing in foreign seas.
Grace Petrie is more than just entertaining. She is soul stirring. She lifts the spirit of anyone who still believes that good just might triumph over evil – despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Where would we be, she asks, if all the campaigners through history had given up.
Grace Petrie will be at the Attic Southampton on August 16, Canalhouse Nottingham, August 22 and August 30, Hen and Chicken Bristol on August 23, Boughton House, Kettering on August 24-27, Leadmill Sheffield on September 10, G Live, Guildford on September 14, The Crescent York September 17, Oran Mor, Glasgow on September 26.
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