For those who like a good dose of politics with their music, and many of us do, the start of 2014 had a real treat for you as new Barnsley Band The Hurriers released their debut EP, ‘Truth and Justice’ on Monday January 6th 2014. The EP was recorded at 2Fly in Sheffield and produced by Alan Smyth who many will know for his work with The Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, Richard Hawley among others.
As many are aware, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike, often viewed as the defining battle between Thatcherite ideology and organised working class resistance. It’s certain that there are still many unresolved issues from these events, as exemplified in this BBC News article the start of the year, so expect to read and hear a lot more during the course of 2014 about it. The Hurriers have certainly wasted no time in kicking off the debate with an irresistible, air-punching, sing-along classic in ‘Truth and Justice’ which is inspired by the confrontations between striking miners and police at the steel coking plant at Orgreave, South Yorkshire in June 1984. Two other tracks, ‘Happy Families’ and ‘Enjoy the Storm’ deal with more contemporary social and political and are delivered in an irresistible ska-punk style to ensure this is a cracking new release to kick off 2014.
Hurriers frontman Tony Wright spoke to Louder Than War over the festive period to give us the background to his hugely promising new band, the issues that drive them and he outlines their plans for 2014.
Louder Than War: Tell us about how you got together.
I’d been wanting to put a political band together for a while before I finally got round to bringing The Hurriers together towards the end of 2012. Zak, Ellis and Sam had been in a band together previously and I’d seen Jamie playing bass in other bands, so when he said he liked the sound of what I was proposing, it was the final piece of the jigsaw and we started rehearsing as a band in January 2013.
We knew from the start that the main purpose of The Hurriers was to make music about all the shit that’s going on, the wrongs in the world, the injustices, the inequalities, the corruption and the evils of capitalism! But as well as highlighting the nasty negatives, our music reminds people that we can take inspiration from each other and be strong, triumph in the face of adversity kinda thing. Food banks, wage cuts, working longer for less money, attacks on terms and conditions, it’s hardly a new idea but it’s clear people need reminding that it doesn’t have to be like this and they have the power to change things if they stand up and be counted.
There’s a very wide range of musical tastes in the band and when all those influences were chucked in the melting pot, out of it came the sound we make as a band. There’s no getting away from the fact that there are main ingredients in the mix and the sounds being made by bands like The Clash, The Redskins, The Jam, Gang of Four and The Specials are intrinsic in the Hurriers sound.
Music is a brilliant way of getting your message across and the power of song should never be under-estimated. Listening to the passion and fire from people like Weller and Strummer sets a fire burning and tells the kids on the streets “come on, wake up, get off your knees!” Having said all that, it’s got to be good music as there’s no point having fantastic inspirational lyrics if the music’s crap and no one wants to listen to what you’re doing.
How much live work have you done, where and what has been the reaction to your stuff?
We gigged regularly in 2013 and I’m proud to say almost every one of the gigs we played was in support of a political cause or position we believe in. We’ve done benefit gigs for things like striking UNISON members at Mid-Yorks NHS trust in Wakefield, People’s Assembly in Coventry, anti-Bedroom Tax gigs in Sheffield and Rotherham and a gig for UNITE the Union Community branch in Leeds.
We also organised a sold-out gig in Barnsley in support of the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign. It was a fantastic night and the coming together of specifically invited political minded acts such Thee Faction, Quiet Loner and John Lennon McCullagh and us on the same bill made a memorable night.
Considering no one’s heard our own stuff we’ve had a great reaction from the audiences we’ve been playing to. Judging by the reaction we’ve been getting, I think change is in the air and people are crying out for some good no-beating-around-the-bush protest songs!
Can you explain how the relevance of the issues in the song relates to yourselves and the area you live in?
I wrote the lyrics to the title track on the CD, Truth and Justice, when I saw a documentary exposing the cover up by South Yorkshire police. I was already well aware of what went on at Orgreave, but the revelations about the orchestrated attacks on the pickets brought it home to me just how pre-meditated the actions of the state and the police had been that day.
In 1985 at the end of the strike there were hundreds of pits and hundreds of thousands of miners and now there are virtually none. The Tories didn’t like it because the miners had the power to bring the country to a halt so they took that power away and at the same time crushed communities and the hopes of a generation. In Barnsley, like other mining areas, up until then if you left school and you wanted a steady job you could always get a decent job at the pit. It wasn’t the easiest of jobs but you won’t hear many ex-miners saying they wouldn’t go back to working there if they had the chance. A lot of it had to do with the camaraderie, they were proud working men and they had that pride taken away.
Thirty years ago we had a mine in every village, steel works, glass-making and all the supporting industries, now on the very same sites we’ve got call centres, distribution centres and retail parks. They’ve got their place of course but the decimation of the coal and steel industries ripped the heart out of South Yorkshire and many other working class communities across Britain.
Tell us what happened at Orgreave in your opinion?
As one line in “Truth and Justice” says- “the powers knew the reasons why they had to win that day, they made it clear to the coppers it could only go one way”. The powers that be told the police to give a clear and hard message to the pickets that day. The message was delivered by brute force and it said “we’re in charge and you do as we say”.
People don’t realise just how significant the events at Orgreave are in the history of the country over the past 30 years. Thatcher knew if she’d let the miners win it would be the end of her and she used the full power of the state to smash the working men and their wives into submission. Many innocent men were locked up, beaten and put through the courts on totally trumped up charges and it is only now, 30 years later that the real truth is starting to emerge.
The true spirit shown by the Hillsborough campaigners proved to be a real catalyst for highlighting the wrongs of Orgreave too. They not only showed the world that if you fight long and hard enough for what you believe in you can get the truth, but they also exposed the lies, corruption and cover ups of the police back then. There is still some way to go before what happened at Orgreave is fully known, but if we can contribute to the fight for a public enquiry by singing about the injustice of what happened, it’ll be job done for The Hurriers on that one.
Apart from the fact that there is still a need for a full investigation to clear the names of those falsely arrested, the events of Orgreave are still relevant today because the public need to be made aware of what lengths the government will go to protect their own interests and their own backs.
Tell us a bit about other causes you support.
On the album coming out later this year (2014) there will be songs about things like the ongoing battle to save our NHS from privatisation, fighting fascists in the street, the need for inspirational leadership from the Left, keeping the fight going and never losing faith! There’s also a song about re-opening the mines as there are hundreds of years’ worth of coal beneath our feet and instead of investing in opening up new mines and creating jobs for thousands of people, the capitalist system prefers to buy oil and gas from abroad because that’s what suits the system. In terms of the Green argument we’re already burning more coal than ever and also with developments in technology most of the carbon could be captured and stored or used in industry.
What’s your view about the current level of political issues in music?
I can’t understand why politics and social commentary isn’t featured much, much more than it is in the music of today. Perhaps with the consumer society we live in people are happy with their smart phones and their remote controls with hundreds of shit channels to choose from. Having said that the fire definitely hasn’t gone out and there are a growing number of acts out there who are putting out the same defiant message as we are. What we need to do is get organised, bring it to the fore and spread the word!
In some ways it’s good that bands can follow the Punk ethic and do it for themselves, but it winds me up how the big corporations have got things sewn up. You look on YouTube and there are some brilliant old videos of acts like Costello, The Style Council, The Redskins, The Housemartins singing overtly political songs on nationally broadcast live music programmes and what have we got now? Jools Holland picking a few of his buddies to play along with and a few carefully monitored festival highlights in the summer. It’s all controlled by those in power and it wouldn’t be in their interests to allow people onto the BBC who are saying anything against what they want you to hear. It would be great if there was a live music television programme showing newer left field acts like us, but I can’t see things changing soon.
What plans do you have for the next few months – live and recording?
The “Truth and Justice EP” is available to buy from our Facebook page and it will soon be available for download on iTunes.
We’re back at 2Fly Studios in February to start recording songs for the album which will hopefully be out around May / June time. We’ve got most of the songs written we just need to tighten them up and make sure we’re happy with the final sound. There’s going to be a couple of collaborations on the album including a song called “We Are Many, They Are Few”. The song was written jointly by me and Matt Hill from Quiet Loner and it continues the ant-fascist spirit of No Pasaran! We’re also hoping to do a cover of “Defiance” a song from the brilliant political album by the Chris Evans collective.
Our next gig will be at the Salford Crescent on Sunday 2nd February and it’s a warm up event for the 0161 Anti-Fascist Festival being held in Manchester the first weekend in May. After that we have been asked to play a number of big events celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike and also the Orgreave Picnic Festival in June. We’re waiting to hear back from a number of carefully chosen and like-minded festivals and record companies and for a political band like The Hurriers, there would be no better hatrick than to play Durham Miners Gala, Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival and ultimately the Leftfield stage at Glastonbury, we certainly fit the bill but we’ll have to wait and see!
2014 promises to be a big year for The Hurriers and it’s just possible they may be in the vanguard of a renaissance of political/protest music. Not before time many of us may say.
All words by Dave Jennings. More of Dave’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive. He is also on Twitter @blackfoxwrexham.