Funny, as I meet the golden age
My life’s been one long story yet I have hardly filled a page
Claire was born and brought up in Manchester:
My parents were not really political but had a sense of social justice. I remember being told a story where a travelling family knocked on our door. Their son had fallen into a brook and wanted to use our bath and my parents agreed. They were very open and very generous.”
Her own politics have been driven by her experiences:
I have always been a leftie. I was involved with Socialist Unity when I was at University in Birmingham and I have always been in a union. But Thatcher getting in was the biggest single event that pushed me into politics. It was horrendous and you just knew what was going to happen.
Working as a Housing Adviser during the Thatcher era made Claire aware of how things were changing for poor people and, rather than be involved in the system, she resigned and decided to become a full-time performer.
I started writing songs when I was 9 years old. At Uni I was involved in the Folk Clubs and I just thought, I enjoy this but how can I make a living from it?
Her first professional gig was at the Haslingden Folk Club, run by radical folk singers Barry and Lyn Hardman:
They liked radical songs, unlke many folk clubs, who would hoik me off stage if I sang a leftwing song. It’s a lot better these days. To me, folk music is a chronicle of our times, that’s why I like it, the ballads are longlasting.
Claire has now been self-employed for 23 years. During that time she has worked on many community projects, run women’s music projects as well as developing her own singing and songwriting career:
It has been a fascinating time. In 1989 I got a record contract with Playtime, who launched Inspiral Carpets. It was a good experience but taught me that I didn’t want to be constrained by a contract and everything that went with it. So I set up my own record company in 1992
She was now in control of her career and also got on the rosta of Popular Productions. Run by comedian, Linda Smith and her partner, it gave Claire experience in working on radical gigs around the country with performers including Mark Steele and Mark Thomas.
Having my own record label meant I could be in control of what I wanted to do and how I could do it. It was way ahead of its time, before Myspace. In 70s/80s there were a lot of women performers who then disappeared. Today there are more women singers but are they in control of what they do?
Claire’s songs reflect her politics and what she believes in. A big issue for her is domestic violence. One of her most powerful songs is Hitting Home which she wrote for a conference on domestic violence.
I have sung Hitting Home in pubs and had blokes come up to me and say “that was me”. Songwriting is such a phenomenal way of reaching out to people in so many different ways.
Music has become more accessible as technology means that people can produce their own songs in their own bedrooms. But for Claire, as the North of England representative for the Musicians Union, this has its drawbacks.
I do endless benefits and I am happy to do them. But music and performing is a profession and as such the expectation should be that performers get paid for their work. Young people are vulnerable because they want to get gigs. But we are all being asked to do more for less.
And in the present austerity economy she believes it is women who are being most affected by public service cuts:
Last year I performed at the TUC women’s conferences and sang my new song “Rise Up” which addressed this issue. I believe women are the root of life and that is the reason why our lives are being affected by the cuts.
As a lesbian she feels that, looking back over the last twenty years, that life has changed for the gay movement:
Our rights have grown but we do not have equality. We have to be careful that we don’t get pushed back into the home. We are not to blame for the economic situation, it is the capitalists who are responsible for the mess. I worry about young people who think ‘we’ve got it’ but it is only temporary and our rights can be taken away.
Looking back over all the campaigns she has been involved with including Clause 28, Troops Out, Viraj Mendes and many TUC demos, she is positive about people’s capacity to defend their rights;
I do go on endless demos but I expect people to be there for me. If I am fighting for justice for the Anthony Grainger campaign and for trade unionists I expect them to be there for me as a lesbian fighting for my rights. We should all be working together.
And her message for young women?
We should own ourselves. I think a lot of women are stopped, maybe we stop ourselves as we are thrown at things through the media. Women have to keep going, have our own voice and our own opinions. Women need to have songs that are about us, that we can relate to and they need to be out there. But you have to follow what you believe in, that is essential.
To find out more about Claire or book her see
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