Just 26-years old, singer-songwriter Grace Petrie has played the Leftfield stage at Glastonbury, sang on BBC Radio 4 and toured with the comedian Josie Long.
The Guardian has called her a “young folk rabble rouser” with “the same kind of tough, impassioned eloquence” as Billy Bragg. She has, I would argue, captured the spirit of struggle against Cameron’s Broken Britain better than anyone else.
Speaking to me before the launch gig of her new album, Love Is My Rebellion, the Sheffield-based Petrie explains she didn’t start out as a political songwriter. “The change in government politicised me”, she says about the formation of the Coalition in 2010. Two things lit a fire in her, in particular: the Liberal Democrats’ U-turn on tuition fees and the Section 28-supporting Teresa May becoming Minister for Women and Equalities. “I remember thinking that these rights I have as a gay person are because I have been lucky enough to be born into a time where I am protected and I have the freedom because people had to come before me and fight and win.” In response she wrote the anti-Coalition anthem ‘Farewell to Welfare’. “Before I knew it, it was two albums later and I was being referred to as a protest singer”, she says. “It wasn’t necessarily anything I planned to do.”
While her musical direction may be accidental, her songs often have a strong purpose and message. She has a slew of political anthems – from the Spanish Civil War-inspired ‘They Shall Not Pass’ to ‘Emily Davison Blues’ and the rollicking ‘The Redundancy Hymn’. Playing with her band later that evening she exhibits the stage banter of a seasoned veteran, mixing witty asides with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. She also has oodles of devastating love songs to woo the audience with, her renditions of ‘Inspector Morse’ and the all too real break-up story ‘How Long Has it Been? (The Topshop Song)’ leading the crowd in mass sing-alongs.
It’s surprising, then, to find out she has never been approached by a record label. “If they did today I don’t know what I’d say. I suppose it is quite liberating not having anyone else to answer to.”
Recorded with her folky two-piece band The Benefits Culture, Love Is My Rebellion, her third studio album, “is about growing up”, she says.
“I started writing songs about politics and then I got quite cynical politically”, she remembers. “I think that happens to everyone. We are mid-term now and people have been fighting this Government for three years. It’s exhausting.” She says she was politically naïve when she wrote ‘Farewell to Welfare’ in 2010. “I thought we were going to bring the Government down. I didn’t know very much about the system I was writing about.”
Today her optimism mingles with frustration and a little sadness. “The people in my generation and younger than me are totally fucked. We have to look at this generation as a generation lost.” However, she has little faith in the Labour Party to make the change that is needed. “I don’t believe Labour offer an ideologically different enough approach. At the end of the day it is various different shades of capitalism and corporatism.”
“How evil does the lesser of two evils have to get before you make a decision to walk away from them?” she asks, citing Tony Blair.
Instead she supports the Green Party. “I think the Green Party are making the most sense on policy as far as I can see in terms of renationalising things and their policies about getting young people into work.”
“I think the most powerful tool of people like David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Hunt is the power to make people feel alone and to make them feel they can’t possibly make a difference”, she argues.
So what difference can protest music make? “I think it unites people”, she replies. “The most someone like me can hope for is that we can create something that people can relate to, that makes them think they are not alone and that there are a lot of us working on the same side and maybe if we club together we can make a difference.”
Grace Petrie’s new album Love Is My Rebellion and information about her forthcoming gigs are available from www.gracepetrie.com