Barnsley’s finest THE HURRIERS tell Bob Oram what inspires their music
WORKERS from the former industries of glass production and mining straddle Barnsley’s town crest, above the Latin motto Spectemur Agendo — “Judge us by our actions.”
That’s a fitting motto too for Barnsley’s new post-punk rock stars The Hurriers, who proudly proclaim: “We’re a proper socialist band like every town should have.”
Named after the children and women who used to work moving the coal in the pre-reform mines, the band are proud of their roots and belonging to a community that Margaret Thatcher described as “the enemy within.”
The band’s singer and lyric writer Tony — aka “Lefty” — is instantly recognisable as, in trademark hat, he saunters into Barnsley’s best pub, the Old No 7. He’s here to tell me about the May Day release of the band’s new album, From Acorns Mighty Oaks.
If, like me, you’re bored with so much of the British music scene today, this record is a blast of fresh air. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, The Hurriers deliver a roller-coaster ride of political venom, social commentary and spirit-lifting anthems.
Lefty’s friendly and down to earth, yet his easy demeanour belies his fierce and passionate political convictions and commitment. We’re soon joined by the band’s rhythm section — his son Zak, who plays drums, and bassist Jez.
They apologise for absent guitarists Jim and Sam but “as a band all with jobs, it’s not always easy for everyone to be present.”
A generational mix has given the band an energy and dynamic musical influences that, magpie-like, take bits from the past but then forge a sound of protest songs for the 21st century.
The album, to be reviewed soon in the Morning Star, comprises 11 blistering tracks that cover everything from class consciousness and the need to keep fighting, NHS privatisation, parliamentary hypocrisy, the rise of the far right and austerity.
It also features their stunning anthemic homage to the 30-year anniversary of the miners’ strike Truth and Justice. Written about the role of South Yorkshire Police in the Battle of Orgreave, “where blood was spilled and skulls were smashed,” it celebrates the fact that the miners would never have been defeated “if Thatcher’s police state hadn’t left them cheated.”
The pride in their voices when talking about playing at the recent With Banners Held High celebration of the end of the strike is personal and pure.
The band laugh when I ask if they think they can maintain a political message in every song. “Well, we started because I was so pissed off at a Unison conference in 2012 that nothing seemed to be happening,” Tony says. “I decided to form a band that would be proud to have a clear message in every song. So far, every gig we have done — bar one — has been a benefit.
“We want to support our class and, yes, it is a surprise that it has taken this long in the face of this evil government for bands like us to appear. But there is a growing number of artists fighting back out there now.
“That’s what the album title is about, starting things small, building things up, little campaigns and together growing into something really big.”
Sickened on the one hand by an unelected government carrying on what Thatcher started and yet on the other having no real alternative is a common gripe across the two generations in the band.
“We’ve got Dan Jarvis, a leading light of Progress, as our local MP — what hope is that for socialism?”
Criticising the lack of any real alternative may be understandable in the current political landscape but the band accept getting rid of the current government has to be a priority. “But, as an ideal, most of Labour is not where we would want it to be,” says Zak. “Piecemeal change through social democracy is not enough. It will still be pretty much the same whoever gets in.”
Tony works in the NHS and says that the unions need to show some real leadership and literally get off their knees. “We need someone who we can believe in,” he says. “I cried that day when Bob Crow died, I don’t mind admitting it. That was a terrible loss.
“But sadly most union leaders are not charismatic or inspiring and certainly my own union Unison needs to up its game. Cameron only wants two terms but Dave Prentis wants four, when the NHS is being privatised in front of our very noses. It’s not good enough!”
The trust he works for doesn’t want to leave the NHS and is being forced to give contracts to private companies.
“For what?” he asks. “So Richard Branson can earn more money in his Virgin Islands tax haven? I hope by writing a song about the NHS at least some people will get involved because we all have a hell of a lot more to do if it is going to survive.”
The band collectively praise the camaraderie and support they have received from others in the industry like Robb Johnson, Attila the Stockbroker, Thee Faction, Quiet Loner and Steve White and the Protest Family to name just a handful.
They all appear on the Orgreave Truth and Justice CD that Tony recently produced. “Not everyone is a hard-core revolutionary,” he says with a grin, “but we all share values and a sense that a better world is possible.”
Building on the spirit of “don’t wait for someone else to do something for you,” he’s already booked Barnsley’s Civic Hall for a weekend “festival of defiance” over May Day weekend next year.
“The experience of playing the Left Field at Glastonbury ignited in us a desire to see a similar event, not as an add-on but in its own right,” Jez explains. “Why can’t we have a British Fete de l’Humanite? Surely there are enough of us to make a weekend of music, art and culture but from a left perspective. It’s why we named the CD, things grow from small beginnings.”
The band support the Morning Star and they’re clear it is vital that the paper survives. “It should be selling a lot more than it does” argues Tony. “The need for a reader-owned daily of the left is essential. Whatever happens in the election, the real struggles for workers’ rights, stopping the privatisation of public services and the end to austerity will need to continue and it needs a strong daily voice.”
The Hurriers are a great example of such a voice in a rapidly growing scene. Steeped in northern culture and history they make folk songs but with a sound so rich and thrilling it could easily cross over into the mainstream.
Not since the 1990s has a band been so determined to chronicle the travails and ravages of their class and the defiant political stance in their lyrics tell a story that deserves the widest possible audience.
From Acorns Mighty Oaks is available from www.thehurriers.co.uk and independent record stores from Friday May 1. The album launch takes place on that day with a free-entry gig at Barnsley’s Underground venue, where the band will be joined by Jon Langford and His Men of Gwent, Quiet Loner and a DJ set by Barnsley Sime.