The loudest in the room doesn’t speak from a position of power – they are merely exposing insecurities. They lack confidence. Instead, pay attention to those who enunciate each word with measured precision. This is where real strength lies. To quote ‘The 48 Laws of Power‘ author Robert Greene: “the human tongue is a beast that few can master”. This week, I introduce a virtuoso.
International Trade Consultant by day, Folk Musician when compelled to address social/political issues he holds dear, 59-year-old John Reed champions the empowerment of people. The time I spent with him was evocative of a sensei imparting wisdom upon the intrigued-student. Sponge-like, our interview was filled with drops of knowledge which I soaked up with avidity. I learnt a lot.
Being a ‘man of the people’, he shared his disdain for those unable to connect, or even bother to understand the plight of the ‘common man’. “People who sit in ivory towers don’t understand what the people on the ground are doing”, he states in reference to the 2016 Brexit vote. “Brexit is very dangerous for this country. I know that because of my profession. It’s a story and history of incompetence. Jobs will be lost – social care will diminish”.
Not one to sit back in the face of “injustice”, by talking, he ensures his message is heard. In 2005, Stretford Town Hall was due to be closed and relocated to another site to make way for what would have been Europe’s biggest Tesco. The proposed location would have made travel difficult, especially for the elderly in the community who cherished the establishment. Taking control, alongside 60 individuals initially which dwindled down to a few towards the end, their two-year campaign saw the decision eventually overturned. “It’s not about control. It’s about being able to provide local support for those who need it”. Another example of his ability to be heard was a second campaign alongside others, resulting in the partial restoration of car park fences at his local Priory Woods by One Trafford. There has been a promise of a further £10,000 to complete the rest after election. At the point of the interview, the campaign had been running for 661 days. I mention these victories as it highlights the character of the man. “It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. You do and you don’t – so I just did”.
Music has real power.
According to his close friend Kieran, whom he has known for 47 years (once upon a time they “used to hitch looking for Pink Floyd gigs”), he has “always written”. “I used to travel the world and sit in airport lounges listening to music, writing poetry about the people around me”. This innate ability coupled with the cartoons he wrote (around 10 years ago) “as an outlet for the political angst”, led him to the artistic space he encompasses today. On a 2013 visit to Johnny Roadhouse to buy bouzouki strings, he happened upon a cittern (his instrument of choice today). Entranced by the connection felt, he returned 6 months later purchasing an Ashbury. A few months later, he had written half a 15-track album. This was the start.
“The words came because I decided I wanted to write on the social history of the British Moorlands”, he offered. As a history and archaeology graduate way back when () one can see how this connection provided the basis for his first album, Moorscape. For him: “the reason I do music is it helps me with my work – it takes me away from my work. If I’m head on into my work, I start to get stale”. An ideal he found he shared when he met a young man on a business trip to Kosovo. As an ice breaker, John told the room he was a folk musician. Breaking for lunch, the young man approached and relayed he too was a folk musician of the Albanian variety. Furthering the conversation, he broke down when he mentioned three of his uncles were amongst a group of men taken away and shot by the Serbian Army Police. An admission to which stunned silence ensued. For that young man “music was an outlet”, but it was much more. By harnessing the atrocities and channelling that energy, his music gained real power. The brilliance of folk music lies in its ability to “invite people to think”. Agreeing with John’s assessment that “the future of the planet relies in more creative thinking”, the power of music cannot be denied.
Surround yourself with positive people who try things.
This disposition to align himself with like-minded individuals resulted in the creation of Viva Musica (circa 2017) at Partington’s ‘The Fuse’. Essentially, it’s “an afternoon music workshop followed by evening gigs from independent artists” wherein the idea “was to do something really creative and inclusive”. In this sphere, “nobody is a prima donna – everybody is on the same level”. Playing an instrument was not a necessity as the focus was to create a space for everyone. With the success of 2017, last month saw the event take place at two new locations. On the 13th at the recently re-opened Levenshulme Library, it was broadcasted live between 7-10pm by All FM who now holds residency at the establishment. The second was on the 20th at Todmorden’s Unitarian Church where he has previously performed as well as filming the music video for ‘The Smile’.
Hearkening back to the ‘inclusive power of music’, (and of course, the age of social media). Viva Musica was special for another reason. Hailing from the southern shores of Nova Scotia, he was able to enlist The Lewinskies, a talented husband and wife duo. Initially meeting on Twitter, he “loved the music and their conversation”. After conversing for a few months and both parties being of a positive disposition, Matthew and Kristen had the courage to seize an amazing opportunity to grace our British Isles playing a few gigs across the North West. And they delivered. “They came over and set people’s hearts on fire” he asserted. “It’s important for people to realise they can do it. What they need is a bit of help and support. It’s not just about the music – it’s about the personality as well”. The ‘inclusive power of music’ can bring people together through shared experiences.
I’ve been lucky – but you make your own luck.
With the help of his backing band, The Folded Arms, his 60th birthday will coincide with the release of his latest album, ‘The Breeding Ground of Vile‘, available this month via Bandcamp, including the singles ‘The Burning Gates of Hell‘ and ‘Fall‘. Next month shall pave way to numerous gigs to promote the new material. As well as the digital platform, he shall draw on his artistic skills “designing individual cover art” for the limited supply of physical copies. When asked why, he asserts: “It’s nice. It feels like you’re giving someone something special – It’s more than music”.
His advice to musicians of any genre, calibre or creed is simple: “You’ve got the element of empowering people with your music. If we can drag people along in a positive direction, it improves the way people think – it improves the perception of the world”. Though he is extremely earnest in his desire to see the betterment of man, he isn’t naïve. He understands that to achieve this, we need to assist each other and create our own luck. “We should pick people up – even if it’s for one day”. The mark of a true virtuoso is the understanding that “you never stop learning – be prepared to try things”.
So, remember, “stop shouting – it’s only when you’re talking that people listen for empty vessels make the most noise”.