Whatever’s Left by Leicester-based protest-singer Grace Petrie and her band The Benefits Culture is an album to pop into the CD player as you drive to yet another anti-cuts protest.
Almost five years after releasing her album Mark My Words – criticising the coalition government and their brutal response to the London Riots in the summer of 2011 – this effort casts an eye over the state of England under sole Conservative rule. Made during the General Election of 2015, Whatever’s Left tackles the unpaid internship culture, benefit shaming, homophobia & just how difficult it is to keep campaigning for basic human rights year after year.
“For me a lot of the initial wave of really invigorated activism covered in Mark My Words had died down, and this had just become our reality,” explains Grace. “You had the student activists graduating and finding that the job market is terrible, people living the reality of these policies. It was incredibly demoralising.”
In response to that feeling, Grace and the band (Caitlin Field and Jess Greengrass) wrote ‘If There’s A Fire’ and several other tracks on the album such as ‘Workshy’ and ‘The Long Game’, which serve as moral-boosters for a disillusioned left-leaning fanbase.
Aside from the macro-politics, the album also covers questions of love and social etiquette. For instance, in ‘Overheard’ Grace sings: “Your tongue slips and my throat sticks and our friendship is just so sensitive. Racist jokes from funny blokes. You know some folks are just so sensitive. And I wish I could tell you why the things that you say make me afraid. Yeah, long live the PC-brigade.”
In this way, she takes an everyday occurrence of being the audience for ignorance and hate and analyses why she feels unable, sometimes, to call it out. Such a track is made to resonate and is part of the reason Grace’s fanbase is known for its loyalty. At the small gig in Leeds where we caught up with Grace, an audience member interrupted a song after the line, “I’m just trying to make you love me,” by shouting, “We do!” And it’s easy to see why. Like on previous albums, the tone of Grace Petrie’s song-writing here is humble and honest – taking the listener by the hand and teaching a little empathy.
For many of the tracks, the hope is that their relevance will fade as progressive politics becomes more mainstream. When discussing this idea, Grace references an older song of hers, ‘Farewell To Welfare’ (which helped cement her reputation as a protest signer), and says: “The situation that the song describes, I long for it not to be relevant. For it still to be happening after all these years is heartbreaking.”
Here’s hoping that music like this makes a difference.
Words: Ana Hine
You can buy Whatever’s Left at music.gracepetrie.com for £10. Grace Petrie and The Benefits Culture will be performing at Latitude and at L Fest this month.