Jamie Webster has released his new single ‘Fickle Fran’, a collaboration with his hero and fellow political troubadour Billy Bragg. Check it out below along with our interview with Webster.
The single is the second to preview Webster’s third album ’10 For The People’, to be released on February 2 ahead of a massive homecoming show at Liverpool’s 40,000-capacity Sefton Park on July 12.
‘Fickle Fran’ comes after Webster joined environmental TV presenter Chris Packham last weekend (September 9) in inducting Bragg into The Music Walk Of Fame in Camden.
“If I’m going to model myself on anyone in the industry, Billy is perfect,” Webster told NME. “He’s had a 40-year career from speaking his mind, doing it for the people. It was an incredible honour for me to be part of something that was so big for Billy, and I then got to see Chris Packham sing ‘A New England’ with Billy after the ceremony. That’s not something I ever expected to see.”
’10 For The People’ follows Webster’s ‘We Get By’, which hit Number Six in 2020 ahead of the following year’s Number Three album ‘Moments’. Like ‘Moments’, the new album was made with Manic Street Preachers producer Dave Eringa at Rockfield Studios in Wales. It also features rising Scottish singer-songwriter Brooke Combe on opening song ‘Better Day’.
NME: Hi, Jamie. How did Billy Bragg choose you to induct him into The Music Walk Of Fame?
Webster: “Billy booked me for my first Glastonbury show, at the Leftfield Stage last year. When no one in the industry wanted to take notice of me, Billy’s wife and manager, Juliet, emailed to say it was good to see someone else walk the walk Billy had.
“I went out with them on the Sunday night and we just hit it off. We weren’t talking about what we believe in, but Billy’s morals are in the right place. I played the Avalon Stage at Glastonbury this summer, but I basically spent the week with Billy and his family backstage.”
Did you always have Billy in mind for the Cockney narrator of ‘Fickle Fran’?
“I’d spoken to Billy about another song, ‘The North South Divide’. That was going to be our perspective on our troubles. I still have the vision for that song, but it’s not finished yet.
“’Fickle Fran’ is about a knock-off door-to-door salesman who’d come to our house 12 years ago. He was forever gloomy, but also forever an optimist. In the winter, he’d say: ‘I’ve got parkas coming in next week, they’ll fly for me.’ And when they didn’t sell, he was: ‘Come the summertime, I’ll have Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, that’s when I’ll make my money back.’
“I wondered what Fran would be doing now, when we’re all internet shopping. I thought he’d still refuse to conform. When my producer, Dave Eringa, heard my album demos, he said: ‘You should get Billy Bragg to be the cockney’. That was a lightbulb moment. Billy drove three-and-a-half hours from Dorset, nailed it in two takes, had a natter and drove home.”
What’s the theme behind your ’10 For The People’ album title?
“My last album, ‘Moments’, got to Number Three, but the industry didn’t give it any additional amplification. I’m lucky to have such a loyal fanbase, but I got really wound up. I looked at certain albums that were getting supported and thought: ‘Where’s the story in this album? Who’s it actually for?’
“I’m not trying to change the world, but I want people who listen to my music to see that the world can be changed in a positive way. I wanted to write 10 stories for the people who support me, who I’m speaking for. I knew this album had to be songs with real sentiments that matter. There couldn’t be any bullshit. It’s not all political, by any means. Some songs shed light on thing that need to change and some songs like ‘Lovers In The Supermarket’ shed light on the happy side of life.”
After hearing it at festivals such as Reading & Leeds, Isle Of Wight and Y Not, do you ever wish you’d copyrighted the “Fuck the Tories” chant that invariably starts your shows?
“No, as that chant that didn’t start with me. It’s been prominent in Liverpool and at Liverpool matches for decades. I didn’t think: ‘I’m going to work on this gimmicky chant and get my profile raised with it.’ It was getting sung at me back when I was playing pubs, I just sing along as I agree with it.”
Do you think Britain would improve if the current Labour party win the next election?
“What’s going on in Britain now is wrong in every way, from how we’re being cheated at the top to the way people unlucky enough to be at the bottom are having to scrounge to put butter in the fridge. Why should that be happening in 2023?
“After this long in power, how could anyone say the Tories are the answer? Literally any government that isn’t this one has to be the lesser of two evils. I’m not saying Keir Starmer is definitely the answer, but maybe we need to go with him to get Labour in. They could sort out the rest once they’re in.
“I’m not going to comment on the antisemitism claims around Jeremy Corbyn. What’s definite is how he got so many young people onside. For the first time in my generation, a leader was speaking the truth. I’m sure Starmer is a nice guy, but as a Labour leader representing young people having to live through this shitshow of a government, he’s just not taking any fight to the Tories.”
Just how big a deal will it be to play to 40,000 fans at Liverpool Sefton Park next July?
“If it goes the way it can, it’ll be a gig for the ages. I’ve just played to 26,000 people at Liverpool Pier Head, but that show could be the biggest sense of community I’ve ever felt. It could be a night where 40,000 people feel like we’re making a change in the world, that we’re on the cusp of something special. That’s what I want. Well, that and for everyone to have a boss time singing and dancing.”
Does it feel extra special that you’ve got this far with little support from the mainstream?
“I’m proud I’ve done this myself, that I’ve not had anyone in the industry do it for me. I’m confident I’d clean up if I did.
“Look, I’m happy. I’ve got a house, I’m getting married this year, we’ve got a little dog. That’s wealth and I’m luckier than I ever imagined I could be. Profile isn’t what drives me. However, it is frustrating that the odds are constantly stacked against me. It’s getting harder for working-class people to survive in any industry, and music is no exception.
“If people in the industry did amplify my message, I know the working-class population would get behind me if they heard my songs. More people would believe they could change their circumstances, and that’s important.”
Why do you think the industry is slow to support working class success stories like you, The Lottery Winners, The Reytons and Louis Dunford?
“For me and Louis, it’s football. I’ve had to stop doing gigs before Liverpool matches, because the ‘Football fans are trouble’ stereotype held me back so much. But Louis is amazing, he’s already sold out Hammersmith Apollo and he’ll be doing 2,000-capacity venues in Liverpool this time next year, no doubt about it.
“I want to build a platform for working class artists who the industry is excluding: Louis, The Snuts, The Lottery Winners, Andrew Cushin, Red Rum Club. We have to do it ourselves. If the industry doesn’t want to play ball, we’ll find a ball and our own patch of grass.”
Speaking of football, is it true you’re friends with Manchester City’s £100million midfielder, Jack Grealish?
“We’re not good mates, but he’s a fan of my music. We’re both dog lovers and he’ll get in touch sometimes. As a Liverpool fan, I’m obviously not a fan of Jack playing for Manchester City, but I’m a fan of a lad from Birmingham living his dream on a global stage.
“Jack loves my song ‘Weekend In Paradise’. When City won the Champions League, Jack was the player who celebrated most like we all would. I’ve not had direct interaction with them, but Phil Foden, Jarrod Bowen and Aaron Ramsdale are apparently fans too.”
You mentioned ‘Lovers In The Supermarket’. Did anyone in particular inspire the old lovers you sing about in that song?
“Me and my fiancée, Rachel, have a thing about old couples when we’re out. We go: ‘That’ll be us when we’re older.’ Just when I was struggling for lyrics for that song, Rachel texted me a photo of a couple sharing a basket in Tesco.
“When I sang it at Rockfield, I was crying with happiness. You can hear my voice wobble and go a bit thin in one section. I can’t wait for people to hear that one. It’s a slight nod to my relationship, but it’s mostly the story of how the relationship those two older people have is what you should aim to achieve in life. In their eighties, still so in love: that’s wealth.”
‘Fickle Fran’ is out now via Modern Sky. Jamie Webster tours from November, with dates below. Visit here for tickets and more information.
9-10: O2 Academy, Glasgow
13: O2 Academy, Bristol
16: Roundhouse, London
17-18: Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
12: Sefton Park, Liverpool