The pandemic has obviously thrown up massive challenges for the cultural sector but the past eighteen months have actually been a very exciting time for Counterculture with some heavyweight figures joining an expanding team and a growing portfolio of bespoke services ensuring an enhanced offer to both new and existing clients. As someone working for the partnership on a freelance basis I’ve been there to help tell the story behind some of those big announcements. But how come someone with a long background in full-time politics, who was once Chair of the London Assembly at a time Boris Johnson was Mayor, end up doing promotional work for Counterculture?
Fired up by any number of big issues in the mid-1980s, from Chernobyl to Section 28, I’d begun getting involved in politics in my early twenties. I didn’t begin with any firm intentions of having any sort of political career and if I had I probably wouldn’t have chosen the Green Party as the vehicle to launch it. But by the time I was around 23-24 I’d found that organising campaigns, putting together copy for leaflets and devising ways of getting in the local papers each week started to become second nature to me. After a few failed attempts at getting elected in the 1990s, incoming PM Tony Blair announced the creation of a new elected authority for London. I immediately knew this was a job I wanted and that I was going to spare no effort in trying to make sure I got selected by my party for a winnable seat and ultimately get elected to it. I ended up serving a sixteen-year stint on the London Assembly as well as multi-tasking with a simultaneous twelve-year stint on my local council in Lewisham, too.
I put a lot into it and, to be fair, got a lot out of it. But as I approached 50 my priorities began to change. More than anything I wanted a change in lifestyle. Planning for that life after politics I was clear about two things: I wanted to work on things I was passionate about and I wanted to try and make use of the skills I’d already picked up along the way. I was therefore on the look-out for projects where those two aligned.
One of the things I was really passionate about which, frustratingly I’d not always had enough time for when I was in politics, was seeing live music. I started blogging, initially just reviews of the many gigs I went to but over time offers started to come in to write for other publications, too, and I also began doing more and more music PR for various artists. I’d soon discovered that getting publicity for an unsigned band when you’re up against the much better-funded and much better-known bigger acts wasn’t totally unlike getting publicity for a minority political party when you’re up against bigger and better-funded players. Those skills I’d honed over twenty-odd years were therefore suitably deployed. My music PR work runs alongside my other music writing and I had my first book, a biography of 1970s glam rockers The Sweet, published last year – with two more in the pipeline.
The second area that my work, post-politics, has really focused on is campaigns and promotional work in the third sector. While I was ready to move on from the cut and thrust of party politics my passions still burned around a range of injustices. Anticipating political retirement I’d already set up a PR consultancy, Crowflies Communications LLP, with an old friend and colleague and the two of us set about undertaking a range of work for a variety of charities, arts projects and community enterprises. I’ve also taken on larger roles for a couple of other charities, too. The first was with the League Against Cruel Sports organising the campaign at the time Theresa May, disastrously for her own parliamentary majority, told an incredulous electorate that she hoped to bring back fox hunting. The second has been working for a charity called Stay Up Late which campaigns to ensure adults with a learning disability are able to enjoy an active social life and that institutional barriers in the social care system that prevent this are removed. We also run a project called Gig Buddies which directly pairs up adults with a learning disability with a volunteer so that they are not excluded from the sort of activities that a lot of us take for granted.
It’s been a journey but it’s also been a nice fit in terms of both pursuing my passions and utilising my skills. And my knowledge of public institutions, the charity sector, music and culture has also aligned rather nicely with what Counterculture is all about, too!