An interview with Shannon, November 2017

Where were you born Shannon?

My mum was a single parent and went to live in Sheffield with her aunty when she was pregnant and we lived there until I was five months old. Then she became a nanny and we moved to London.

Tell me something about your childhood?

There were some good bits but I remember hiding quite a lot and we moved a lot so friendships never settled till I left home.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

I have one sister Ellie and I love her very much, she’s one of the pictures on the front of the album. She lives in Australia now with my nephew Thoma – I feel so grown up having a nephew 🙂

What were your musical influences?

Interesting…I started out playing music as a 20-year-old hippy girl but there was some raw rage that needed to come through and my Flying V electric guitar and Marshall stack were such a fabulous gift (my ex-boyfriend gave me the guitar, apparently he had ‘borrowed it’ when he was working as a roadie for Meatloaf)

So back to my influences 🙂 – The greatest three were Holly Near, Leon Rosselson and Joni Mitchell…they taught me the power of lyric writing and how to sing – as my grunge queen emerged, the Psychedelic Furs, Jane’s Addiction, and the Au Pairs took centre stage …and then the Spacegoats captured my heart and showed me another way of playing music.

Where was your first ever gig?

Playing guitar and singing? …it was at Warwick University with Lou, we called ourselves ‘Dishevelled and Anyhow’…and we were a bit rubbish to be honest. She asked me to play with her, it was like being asked out by someone you really fancy, she was such a good singer and I really liked her. After our first gig she got her best friend and I got mine and we started a band called Red Rag…we were together for eight years and eventually settled on the name ‘Passionground’. I’m proud of that band…we did some fabulous gigs and our album has some great tracks on it…Terrified White Man is a classic 🙂

How did you become an activist?

It started with having to present something for a debate at school and I chose fox hunting – my mum and dad both hated it with a total conviction and I got it. Cruelty for pleasure? I remember being terrified of speaking but clear that something was twisted and wrong and needed to be stopped…and that the people who enjoy it need some serious counselling and help to reconnect with their feelings and humanity.

After we dropped out of university we met a situational anarchist and some hunt sabs. I remember the Battle of the Beanfield happened that year too – Gil Scott Heron (another very important musical influence by the way) was played constantly in our shared house – and that was it – the beginning. Lots of very early morning starts – loads of running round after dogs – demonstrations, actions, direct action and then seeing the start of the road protest movement in the UK captured me and I started to learn then that whilst saying no is essential I am not going to get a hunter to give up hunting by telling them they are twisted and wrong and need counselling.

So what did you do?

Turned up, did what I could, and tried to genuinely connect with whoever I met at any protest, mostly activists, police and security guards at the Newbury By-Pass protest. My truth is that we are all on the same side really – some of us are just being paid by the interests of those who are intent on making money at the cost of our clean water, air, human suffering, animal welfare, healthy soil etc. etc.

When I treat those people paid to stop me sitting on the road, climbing the trees, pulling up crops, with awareness and respect and look for the place where we do care about the same things, where I know we were born the same, I connect – Security guards have written me lyrics, poems and even carved me a wand at one protest 🙂 – and I have always been clear about the essential ‘yes’ that places like the Alternative Technology Centre, the Green Gathering, the `permaculture and off-grid crew give us we need to say yes and no.

How did Seize the Day begin?

Through the Newbury By-Pass protest, Theo and I had been together for a year and a half when the protest started and I lived on the site of the proposed bypass for two and a half months…Theo came when he could and we sang as ancient oak trees were falling one day near the end of the road building – maybe something passed to us then – 20 years later the band is still an incredible and inspiring bunch of musicians and I am  proud of all that we have done and the songs we write together.

Give me a couple of gigging highlights …and lowlights?

What do you mean?

Gigs that you enjoyed the most, are most proud of…and ones that were truly awful?

There are a few that stick in my mind – we performed on the Thursday of the WTO protests in Seattle – it had been an incredible few days and we had really done something being there together and this was the day the unions came out in force. It was a great feeling -the Unions, women’s movements, LGBQ groups, activist grannies, environmentalists, deep green resistance, anti GMO groups, small and family farmer’s unions – so many people and we got to perform our Monsanto play – I was feeling so positive and hopeful, I love that feeling and it was fantastic to be part of the energy of the day.

There was a gig in India for a whole village, we got changed in the cow stall and performed in a big shed with a tarpaulin roof, decorated and humble…I remember coming out as ‘Miss Canderelle’ one of Monsanto’s creations – I wore a pouffy wedding dress and a blonde curly wig and carried a white umbrella and the whole audience went ‘Ahhhh’ …and then slowly but surely she gets exposed for the empty promise she is and she goes a bit crazy…it was a lot of fun and made even better because in their laughter I could see they got what we were doing!

We’ve had loads of great gigs at the Green Gathering, one of our acoustic ones is deep in my heart and some of our Leftfield and Avalon gigs at Glastonbury Festival have been amazing.

…and the not so good ones,

well the goat yard in Cornwall was a particularly low moment. The audience was small, uninterested and a long way away and our small solar PA broke about three times during the gig, it’s funny remembering it now …but that took a while 🙂 We also had one gig, with a great audience, we really wanted to start to play but the soundcheck was taking ages and just as we were about to start a really loud buzzing noise started through the monitors and, never left! Ahhhh, good memories 🙂

So my final question…Why did you make your own album?

Well, the idea was planted by Julie Felix four years ago, she is an amazing woman and I was lucky enough to share a room with her for three days and perform with her a couple of times at one of Carolyn Hillyer’s women’s festivals in Cornwall. Her strength, kindness and sense of humour really touched me, she liked the fact that we both had been activists a long time and so did I. She asked me why I had never made my own album and I knew in that moment that I needed to do it. I was heading towards 50 and I really wanted to notice something about what I had achieved with my song writing – I had never stood alone in the awareness of what I had done and really had a good luck at all my songs.

It took me a long time to decide which songs went together and which ones would speak to an audience listening to my music – I knew it would mean doing gigs on my own – or even better with people I love (Ali and Lalli!) and Julie suggested that very weekend that we do some gigs together.

I really started to love the process when I came up with the idea for the cover because the truth is we never do anything alone…all the women in the pictures have inspired and encouraged and shared their wisdom and courage for centuries. We are not alone, we do not act in isolation, I could not be who I am without all of them and I have added my bit now and I really hope people like it. I am proud of myself, it was a big deal for me!