In May 2018, Grace Petrie played at the Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room to a small but enthusiastic audience who – as you can hear me talking about in this edition of Looks Unfamiliar – nonetheless seemed a little self-conscious about singing along with the call-and-response numbers. Despite Grace’s continual undaunted and good-humoured exhortations from the stage, they still seemed to need a little persuading (although the persuasion was hardly in short supply), which lent an unintentional air of irony to I Wish The Guardian Believed That I Exist. This reticence may have been down to the rarefied atmosphere of the venue, or the odd seating arrangements that seemed to place everyone as physically far from each other as possible, or even down to the relatively small size of the audience and corresponding lack of safety in numbers, to the extent that when Grace returned to the Music Room almost exactly twelve months later, some of those complete strangers were greeting each other with ‘you were at the last one’… but we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves there.
Announced as a work-in-progress on that tour, Queer As Folk is Grace Petrie’s ninth self-released solo album, recorded with a full band and funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Running to a taut traditional album length – yes, you can get it on vinyl too – it opens with an a cappella updating and repositioning of Ian Campbell’s Old Man’s Tale as A Young Woman’s Tale, querying the options for a left-leaning activist in a hailstorm of betrayal and tribalism, and ends with Northbound, a spirited shoutalong travelogue charting her frantic service station-fuelled dash to get back to the people who matter at the end of a tour. There’s not a weak track on this set, but particular highlights include the affecting long-distance love song Departures; Black Tie, an hilarious and furious letter from Grace to her ‘Year 11 Self’ charting how much and yet how little has changed (“and the images that fucked ya/were a patriarchal structure/and you never will surrender/to a narrow view of gender”), with blistering comments on “the spread of bigotry and fear/that’s uniting Piers Morgan and Germaine Greer”; and a thundering updated take on Farewell To Welfare, previously featured on 2010’s Tell Me A Story and originally written as a broadside against Theresa May when she was merely a nasty piece of work masquerading as Home Secretary; nobody could have predicted back then what would have happened next, so if ever a song was due a return outing it’s this. It’s slickly performed but still thrillingly rough and raw, and a long way from the ear-drillingly polished folk that Radio 2 tries to foist on daytime listeners at any given opportunity. If any folk-averse regular readers of this site need convincing, it’s worth pointing out that the album features powerful fiddle from Nancy Kerr, who is of course Bagpuss royalty; her playing is especially arresting on Northbound, which brings us back to a certain interrupted anecdote from earlier in the review…
So that second show at the Philharmonic Music Room almost exactly a year later? I’m pleased to report that it was packed out and raucous to the extent of fair near taking the fucking roof off (and if you’ve never seen it, that’s quite a sturdy roof). The audience didn’t even need any prompting to sing and shout along either – almost as though we’re all starting to realise that perhaps meekly trying to rise above everything and not ‘sinking’ to ‘their’ ‘level’ might not be the answer after all – and broke into a spontaneous standing ovation after the last song. A joyous, boisterous, amused and righteously fired-up sound – much like Queer As Folk itself. There most definitely is such a thing as a Protest Singer.
Of course, you don’t get the inter-song jokes, anecdotes and angry diatribes that make the shows so thrilling with the album. So you’ll just have to go and see Grace live, won’t you?
I should really plug one of my own books here too, shouldn’t I? Well, if you like Grace Petrie’s lyrics, then you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. Also, if you like to hear people being rude about Piers Morgan, there’s plenty of that in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Garreth F. Hirons here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.