The Farm

Story by Jacqueline Howell, Photos by Dave MacIntyre

In short order (probably as it was happening) The Farm’s gig this past Sunday at Shiiine On Weekender was firmly established as an absolute high of a weekend packed full of great bands and diverse DJ parties that went on until 4:00 a.m.

Our friend Charlie summed it up better than I can.    

Here is what The Farm did in just about an hour on Remembrance Sunday under a big top in Butlin’s: per Charlie, they gave a “performance showing respect to those who lost lives in war; about wishing for more love in the world and about stamping out racism. Genuine people. True people who use music to show passion.”

And that’s exactly right. The set list for an established band can go in many directions, considerations among them are fan service, time allotted, and band preference (possibly in that order). But in just an hour that flew by, The Farm managed to meaningfully address the events of our distant past (that we must never forget) the resonance of thoughtful, sensitive anti-war messages still very much needed in the world today, launch a new song (seamlessly) “Feel the Love” (not Viva Love…) that reminds us who were there, why the 90s optimism is no less urgent today, and make a clear call against the vile disease of racism, that is today front page news in our leading nations, as it troubles our politically unstable policies and has come screeching out of the long shadow of Brexit and the Reality TV horror show of last week’s US Presidential election.

But here, under a big top, a playground for music fans, all these serious concerns rise in music and words, each song bookended by exciting musical cues including one from touchstone film Trainspotting (which while being about the adventures of heroin addicts is also a cry for creating a life free of authority and prescribed values that all of us 90s kids cherish as bible). Trainspotting 2 will arrive shortly, it’s back. Like Merseyside legends The Farm, like the best of our deeply formed and forever cool music, it’s back in the wider spotlight but it never went away for those in the know, those who love forever. It has never lost meaning and ability to move us.

Instant anthem “All Together Now” from 1991’s Spartacus has always been one of the best story songs ever written in a nation famous for its literary prowess and love of history. It’s alternative history, the story the warmakers will never tell you. It never fails to give chills, even tears for some of us. And it’s all true.

A spirit stronger than war was at work that night, December 1914, cold, clear and bright.”

“It’s about the working classes being sent to war. People across a divide who probably had more in common with each other than the people who had sent them to war in the first place,” said Hooton ( via BBC).

All Together Now, written and shaped through the early years of the band, began as a recording for a John Peel session. It was written about “The Christmas Truce” during World War One in 1914 when soldiers in the trenches on both sides decided to lay down arms and meet in No Man’s Land for a brief time at Christmas. The event, and the song it celebrates, speaks about humanity itself, showing war as an unnatural state, which can be ended by an agreed upon ceasefire, by listening to hearts instead of directives from the powers that be (mostly cozy in warm homes many miles out of range of The Front). Music was often a component of these peaceful periods of respectful fraternization. So was collecting the injured or dead for treatment or burial. There’s the bitter. There’s the sweet. There’s the humanity.

The song’s power has made it iconic as an unusually cool and catchy protest song (as far from folk as you get get) from the creatively rich time of 1991, and has had lives as a football anthem (Everton FC and others) as well as being a catalyst for forming instant camaraderie in festival crowds of all types, as it did for all of us at Shiiine On year one. We were all together, now. In a world still troubled, in bittersweetness, outright sorrow, in uncertainty; music, always the steadying metronome of life to keep us alright.

Tonight it’s sung on Remembrance Sunday, in a country where most people younger and older still wear their specially fabricated, decorated and pretty poppy brooches with dedication, where memories are long, where wars of different kinds persist and encroach, and the significance is lost on no one. If feels particularly poignant because it is. Cheers, hugs, laughter and tears follow a rousing repeat refrain, aided by the thousands in the crowd, who is captured in a photo by the fabulous singer Shona Carmen, for a quick memento. 

Peter Hooton has long campaigned through musical activism- tours, recordings and speaking out-for Justice for The 96, the people, children and adults killed in the Hillsborough disaster, the terrible and senseless loss of life in 1989 that, while being the worst disaster in British sporting history (and among the worst in the sporting world) was denied both fair reporting and any sense of justice for decades, an open wound that could not heal in the face of bias and corruption and cover up by authorities and the rags. He spoke to the Shiiine On crowd last year about campaigning up and down the country for this cause as the families of the victims and the wider community of Liverpool fans, and increasingly, the country, have watched in pain as inquests and trials come and go and appeals failed in the face of corruption and cover ups. The Farm played The Clash’s “Bankrobber” in support of this initiative.

And at this year’s Shiiine gig, the issue is revisited again, but remarkably, justice has finally been achieved in the intervening year (2016’s Golding Inquest at last found that the 96 were killed unlawfully due to gross negligence by the police & ambulance services failing in their duty of care.) For a second straight year, fans of The Farm (and of The Clash) and all who happen to catch the Farm’s cracking show at Shiiine On Weekender have been treated to a rousing version of Bankrobber. This is a perfect addition to The Farm’s set; the punk rock ethos of The Clash is our shared, impeccable and incorruptible living cultural shorthand for resistance, for individuality, for free thinking, for music as protest and protest as music. And, occasionally, like tonight, despite all the shit of the wider world, as unity, as celebration. 

Words by Jacqueline Howell who can be found here, photos by Dave MacIntyre, who can be found here.  More Shiiine On Weekender reviews & pics in the coming days. 

(Step On Magazine co-founding editors.)