Having issued the equivalent of nearly one recording per year since 2004, Not on Our Watch is the most recent release by the prolific folk-punk troubadour, Joe Solo. It’s a bigger sound than one of Joe’s live shows with the usual guitar, harmonica and percussion set-up being accompanied by fiddle, (courtesy of Rebekah Findlay), baritone ukulele, cigar box guitar and most interestingly, a “wheelie bin”.
Kicking off with the title track, criticising mass media manipulation, and among other things, their demonization of refugees, from the word ‘go’, this is an album that pulls no punches. Following this, comes Solo’s (almost reggae infused) ‘You Take on One of Us’. Musically mellower, perhaps, but lyrically this is every bit as hard hitting as its predecessor, proclaiming “You take on one of us, you take on all of us / You pick on him, you pick on me”.
This chorus seems so applicable to so many contexts and causes, it is strange to think the idea for this anthem of solidarity and comradeship, came out of an experience during a Sunday League football match.
While this one is among the album’s standouts, there are a good number of them; the virtually rapped ‘…World Won’t Change Itself’, ‘Adelante (The Ballad of Clem Beckett)’, ‘Now’s the Time to Rise’ and ‘They Could Not Break This Town’. With a choral accompaniment from ‘The Hatfield Brigade’, this song tells of the struggles for the Hatfield mining community during the mid-1980s, adopting a sea shanty structure to create dialogue between Solo and the chorus:
JS: “They say they’ve got us beat and down!
HB: No way, never!
JS: They say they’ve got us beat and down!
HB: No way! No!
JS: They say they’ve got us beat and down, but they don’t know a mining town
They say they’ve got us beat and down,
HB: No way! No!”
Although this song is set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, Solo very much writes for the present, and songs like ‘Black Snowflakes’ (lamenting the Grenfell fire of June 2017) and ‘Charlottesville’, a moving ballad written in memory of anti-racist activist, Heather Heyer, killed by a white supremacist in August 2017, are notable, if poignant, examples of this.
What Solo consistently does, is create well-crafted music with a social conscience, and this album is no exception. While Woody Guthrie’s guitar warned ‘this machine kills fascists’, Solo’s axe carries a more ‘dangerous’ message; “THIS MACHINE BUILDS COMMUNITIES”.
In a musical sense, the songs on this record do just that. There are songs of hope, remembrance, solidarity, compassion…equally, in a literal sense, Solo’s work only continues this ‘building’; the requested entry fee to the album’s launch party, for instance, was a food, cash or clothing donation.
On every level, Not on Our Watch is a most worthy listen and it is not just a bunch of songs by a singer wanting to be seen to do his bit, but rather, a small collection of anthems by a songwriting activist, doing far more than his fair share.
Christopher James Sheridan
‘They Could Not Break This Town’ – official video: