If you follow the local music scene, you’ll know all about Joe Solo. Front man of Lithium Joe for a decade, the stage name is self-explanatory. Since then, Joe’s ploughed an increasingly productive furrow as a protest singer, inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg, but one responding to the concerns of northern England in the 21st century.
For his latest album, “Headscarves and Hurricanes”, Joe returns to Hull and the story of the women of Hessle Road who protested and ultimately changed the law in relation to safety at sea after the Triple Trawler tragedy of 1968. ‘I think most of us know the story but more as folklore than fact, so I thought I’d educate myself. I picked up Brian Lavery’s book “The Headscarf Revolutionaries” and read it cover to cover in a couple of days. Brian writes like I think. His histories are full of the little details that make a scene real, and when I’m writing songs I’m looking for the intimate stuff that makes a situation one the listener can understand themselves even if they never went through it. I promised years ago I would write a genuine ‘Hull’ album, and this is as close as it gets. It’s too close to us maybe, so we don’t see how truly poignant that period of history was. It’s a story that needs telling and retelling. This album is just me adding my ha’penny to that.’
Recorded in Joe’s shed, it’s a story that surprised him the more he uncovered. ‘I learned just how small the city is,’ he says. ‘I started out thinking I was writing about a distant past, and wound up pretty emotional about it. I didn’t know until I told my Dad about the songs that my Grandad had finished his working life as a sparky for Humber St. Andrews. After he’d finished his own job, my Dad would head down to the docks to help Grandad fix the electrics on the trawlers. He’d worked on all three of those we lost. He knew skipper, Phil Gay, pretty well and told me I’d met his wife, as she used to be the receptionist at a place on Anlaby Road where he would dump me and set me tasks during the school holidays. So I started out thinking I was writing about total strangers and ended up realising this had actually touched me and my family in all kinds of ways.’
It’s an album recorded in Joe’s signature style. His lone guitar carries the musical load, but it’s also an album that sees him receive a little help from his friends, notably from long-term collaborator, Rebekah Findlay. ‘She’s a musical genius,’ Joe says. ‘She knows just how to weave fiddle lines in and out of my words to tell the emotional story. She gets to the real truth beneath what the narrator is telling you. Blokes rarely tell a story emotionally, it’s always told in jokes and bravado, but Rebekah wrings the truth out of them with that violin. She is amazing on this record. I am lucky and proud to work with her and can’t wait to play the album live with her in the city. I also asked Commoners Choir to help because I wanted to close the album with a shanty and I know Boff well enough to ask. Thankfully they were up for it and that is probably the best song on there.’
For all ‘Headscarves and Hurricanes’ looks back to a moment in time, Joe’s focused on the here and now, with a companion release, “The Past Won’t Last Forever”. ‘We live in pretty dark times,’ he explains, ‘and I wasn’t going to duck my responsibility to write about that too. No-one wants to be the protest singer who puts out the fishing album while the world falls to pieces. All my albums sell for a tenner and a full fiver from that goes to helping We Shall Overcome projects in Greater Manchester, where we have an amazing team of people on the ground helping street homeless and those living in hardship.’
‘It’s a part of why I make records. This isn’t just music. These are the living breathing stories which form a part of what binds us together as communities and as a nation, and we need as much of that as we can get right now. It matters.’ It’s a philosophy that connects the two releases and gets to the core of Joe’s music. ‘I’m really proud of “Headscarves and Hurricanes” as a set of songs and a piece of storytelling,’ he says, turning back to Hull. ‘I think it just made me love the city more to be honest. I’ve always felt the place was in my DNA and now I feel even closer to it.”
“Headscarves and Hurricanes” and “The Past Won’t Last Forever” is available now on CD/download:
Joe Sole and Rebekah Findlay play the Hessle Road Fishing Heritage Exhibition, 12th July.