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Opinion

John Bird: The Big Issue’s Christmas single delivers an important message

“Phil Ryan’s Walking Down This Lonely Street isn’t simply about bringing tears to your eyes. It’s to help us help those who need our help, so that they can end up helping themselves”

‘Walking Down This Lonely Street’ is The Big Issue pop song for Christmas 2017. It’s piecing, sad and also strangely uplifting. The cure for the loneliness that Phil Ryan sings about is “us”.

I’ve written about Phil on other occasions. He’s my favourite guitar-playing, song-writing acoustic artist. He’s also the only one I know (but one should not diminish the other).

I didn’t meet Phil through music. I met him through comedy. In the late ’80s, I thought I was the funniest man on Earth. Phil showed me there were many others.

As well as creating music, like me, Phil was always writing stories and putting on plays. So when Gordon Roddick asked me to do a street paper, Phil was the first person I thought to assistant in this noble endeavour.

Our personalities are stamped all over The Big Issue, even to this day, 25 years ‘+1’ since we launched it.

The way our logo was concocted over an sweaty Apple computer, working to drawings and ideas, is a case in point. The stacking of ‘The Big’ over ‘Issue’ came together in seconds after a lot of poncing about with different types with the actual designer, Andrew Giaquinto. The vendor pitch system and the vendor badge system also fell into place in those early days of our construction of (what’s now) The Big Issue.

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Last summer, Phil played me Walking Down This Lonely Street. Though I was swept away by its sadness, I was also lifted up by the fact that it seems to offer an answer.

“You could say hello, talk about the weather, buy a paper, I don’t want something for nothing.” It’s saying, don’t just feel sorry for me. Help me begin my retreat from the street.

I don’t feel, and a lot of it is feeling, that we’re going anywhere fast over homelessness. 300,000 people are now classed as homeless, and perhaps 8,000 slept rough in London last year alone.

Many harsh words have been said over the recent months (by me, as well as others), that – despite councils spending £1.15bn on homelessness every year – we still have the appalling reality that befalls street livers at Christmas time. About how temporary their support can be; if they get it.

Something big has to be done, and it’s one of the things I hope to be working on for next year.

In the meanwhile, we have got to get people through this dreaded time. And that means vigorous support for those on the frontline, now.
The Big Issue will be working with hundreds of people over the Christmas period, but it’s clear we need some joined-up thinking. Thinking for the long term. The answer is always long term, though the long term has a habit of eventually become tomorrow.

Phil Ryan’s attempt at making a song about this destitution isn’t simply to bring tears to your eyes. It’s to help us help those who need our help, so that they can end up helping themselves.

That’s a mouthful, I know. But by God is it necessary to get people to stand up for themselves – and that means helping them into being themselves.

Over the last few days, Phil and I have done TV and radio and Walking Down This Lonely Street has been well received. Very well received.

At times, looking at the way people were moved by Phil’s music was a joy to see. But there were also times when even I had to halt my wayward thoughts for this beautiful song.

Go on, download the song today. It’s available at your fingertips on every online music store, iTunes and Google Play.

And please. Be sure to have a joyous, thoughtful and deeply committed Christmas.

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