Following 2015's deeply personal Fast Food, Nadine Shah felt energised by the frenzied and heartless political climate, redirecting her latest album Holiday Destination outwards towards the refugee crisis, the vilification of the working class, and the disingenuous and unsympathetic tone which dictates these conversations.

Earlier this month I popped to the pub with Nadine to chat about the twin voices of anger and compassion on the album, the evolution of modern political music, the role of music and art in affecting change, and why - for all the encroachment of fatalistic chaos - there's hope.


Firstly I'd just like to congratulate you on maintaining your Geordie accent after 16 years away from the north. You're my hero, my biggest fear is losing my Glasgow accent.

I think my accent got stronger when I moved here. People ask me where I'm from and I'm like New-Cast-Le, so I really like their response. People give you free drinks when they know you're Geordie.

Naturally. They either really, really like you, or they're intimidated and buy them anyway, so it's a win-win.

It's a great thing.

Thanks for meeting me, Holiday Destination is genuinely one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

Yaaaaayyyyy, I love it when people say "genuinely", it's like "are you normally lying" "eh yeh, obviously". I guess you have to be creative with some people you speak to?

Haha yeah; "Oh yeah, your new record is really... unique."

When you meet The Mystery Jets and you're like "oh yeah I really like it..."

The Pigeon Detectives are up there.

Ooo I don't like them, but The Mystery Jets are worse.

It's my dream as a journalist to compile a world cup of insipid '00s UK indie bands.

I can be a big help to you there. [scrolls through phone pretending to have lists of garbage UK indie acts] Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, urgh there's too many to name.

I think The Enemy might be the worst of them, just for the shameless way they appropriated working class culture.

I think they're obviously shit though. The Mystery Jets, and Alt-J also, they have this false aura about them, they're a bunch of virgins. They're a bunch of fucking virgins. This is definitely going on the record, don't take it out.

That's an interesting segue chance; with the Mercury Prize shortlist announced recently, and Alt-J nominated again.

Are they fucking nominated again? Fucking bunch of virgins. I think I've lost hope with it. The Mercury awards aren't what they used to be. I used to follow it and I used to discover new artists through it. It hasn't been like that for years now. It's a real shame for artists I think should have been nominated this year like Richard Dawson.

Aha, a fellow Geordie.

I've known him for years but that's the kind of music that needs promotion and platforming. I think it's bullshit you know, did we really need Ed Sheeran? I mean I'm happy for The Big Moon. I love what they do; it's not the type of music I normally like, but I love what they do behind it. Who else is up for it?

The one I'm very happy with is Loyle Carner.

He's my favourite. I love that boy. I did a gig with him, it was a Gil Scott-Heron tribute show at the Roundhouse. I met him there, he was so nice and was so inspiringly open about his ADHD.

Yeah he sings about it quite a bit, especially on 'Florence' when he uses it as a rhyme!

When we had a little break between rehearsals for the show he was sketching ideas for his videos, and he's always bigging up his 'mam. I think he's a really good role model as well, so sweet and honest.

Stormzy's on the nominations list as well, so there is quite a good group of role models. Would Holiday Destination have made the cut off for application?

Nah, we weren't in it this year.

Well, there's always next year I guess...

Every year we've been nearly nominated for a Mercury. Last year I was the bookies' favourite, me and Florence & The Machine. I was delighted, thinking we were definitely going to get a Mercury nomination, and I was so upset when it didn't happen. I took that as a reflection of myself and my music, but in hindsight why was I so bothered about it? If I get nominated [next year] then great, I'll be happy, but if I don't I won't be that bothered. It's not the end of the world, I'll still make music. You don't need these accolades in order to succeed with what you're saying.

In nerdy journalist music Twitter, the big question is whether the Mercuries are still relevant today since they seem to bypass so many great unheralded British artists. But again, it's still a good platform for people to discover music through, like Young Fathers' win from a few years ago.

They're my favourites.

Oh yeah, a great Scottish band of course.

Edinburgh though.

Glasgow has so many great bands, we have to let them have one.

Very magnanimous of you. I think Young Fathers are one of my favourite live acts, I just think they're geniuses.

I feel this is fairly self-indulgent, but with the triviality of the Mercury Prize, and other prizes, some of us feel that perhaps the best avenue for music discovery and promotion is often blogs and site or magazine end of year lists. For example, The Quietus, for their 2017 mid-point list, put Richard Dawson's Peasant as their number one of the year so far.

Was it? Go on!

So now loads of people including myself big up that album regularly.

Good. But people keep calling him outsider art, and maybe he shouldn't be considered an outsider. I think it would be quite enjoyable and quite funny to watch my mate Richard at the Mercury Awards being ridiculously awkward and trying to deal with all the praise and drama in that room, it would be hilarious. But maybe he's better off in the outsider realm; and the people who know him know he's great.

With him, the hype keeps getting bigger and bigger because people aren't stupid, they have taste, if something is brilliant the general public will get on to it. Talented artists find their audience. If you're one of those people who think "oh this band is great and no one likes them", they are probably a shit band. People ultimately are into good stuff, that's why I'm not worried about Richard. I'm just really proud of him because he is mint.

I missed his live show [at St. John, Bethnal Green] but I heard it was great.

I think seeing him live is the closest I've come to a religious experience, it's transcendental.

Getting onto the album; we were chatting about Fast Food and its Mercury snub. That was a very personal record. Holiday Destination deals with a lot of macro political issues, global issues, but you still retain that individual voice and perspective even within this context. Were you quite wary of juggling these huge ideas as potentially diminishing your personal voice?

Of course, and I think all artists are, So many of my peers are friends and musicians, and we all have the same political beliefs. We often discuss translating that into a political album, but ultimately we are hesitant, and I don't blame us for it; I will put out a political tweet and I will seriously divide the audience. Especially if you are an independent artist, when you are at our level, the audience that you do have you're interested in keeping, so you are in that terrifying position, that dilemma, where your career is your bread and butter, and you don't want to sacrifice it, so it's obviously frustrating and inhibiting. But for me, it got to the stage where it was literally impossible to write about anything else. My shit love life pales in comparison to what's going on, though don't tell my boyfriend that, he wasn't around when I was writing [Fast Food].

What I intended to do was to humanise the dehumanised. There are a lot of figures and numbers bandied about over the refugee crisis; so I did my research into first-time testimonies, into both economic migrants and refugees. My brother is a documentary maker, so he helped provide some of the material for me. I thought it was important to focus on the really harrowing subjects to write about. I love Billy Bragg, but I don't want to be Billy Bragg political, I didn't want to preach. I think it's also because most people agree about the crisis, so I just wanted to tell stories in a way that's relatable and I didn't want the music to be downbeat or dour, I wanted it to be energetic. So, oddly even though it's the hardest thing I've written about, it's also musically and sonically the most energetic and vibrant.

When I play the album now, people are dancing; it's fucking hilarious. I think that's the idea though; you don't want to be all doom and gloom, you want to instil hope. I think if the music was slow paced, it wouldn't really provoke or stimulate people into action; you want the music to be political rather, than the lyrics. The music forces action. Like Stevie Wonder's 'Living In The City', it's feel good but still political. Because these stories are so important I was constantly going back and forth, fact checking all the time because if I get anything wrong, I'm doing these people a disservice.

I think it's quite interesting you mention the sonic vibrancy of the music, because that's what jumped out at me. On Fast Food, the instrumentation was very jagged and piercing, in a good way of course, it was quite energetic in its own way, but that instrumentation is on a different level here. Obviously, you have those razor guitars and spluttering synthesisers, but when Peter's saxophone kicks in it's insane.

He's a fucking legend, though I kind of regret getting him in the band because he tends to steal the limelight on stage. He's better dressed, he's more talented. Even when he's not playing saxophone he'll be on keyboards or something, he's always present, unfortunately for me.

Coinciding with the energy of the music, you use an audio sample from a Refugee protest at the end of 'Place Like This', as it fades out. As a clichéd young liberal, I've attended these protests and marches, and what I feel the music on Holiday Destination captures is that atmosphere of energy, the protest's collective fun and vitality, despite the solemnity of the situation.

They're fun, they're invigorating, they restore your faith in humanity, even if only for two hours. You see all these awful things every day, all this awful rhetoric getting bandied about, and you start hating the world, but when you go to one of these protests, they do give you some hope, and from that hope you think to yourself "ok so I've just got to keep working, I will keep doing this, I will keep fighting". That chant "Say it loud, say it clear/ Refugees are welcome here," it was sung for the entire time. It was beautiful, everyone was dancing down Downing Street and Whitehall, buses and traffic were stopped.

What protest was it, do you remember? Was it the Muslim ban march in January?

It was one organised earlier this year by Owen Jones; it was after Trump's inauguration, about the Muslim ban.

I know the one you mean, they had quite a few speakers there.

[The audio sample] was taken from there, but we've been chanting "refugees welcome" for years. It's slightly irritating you know because I wrote that song years ago, and honestly, I wish it was irrelevant. I wish I could scrap it and write another one, but it's more relevant than ever. You worry about seeming opportunistic writing these, but I honestly believe it's the artist's job to document the times that we live in. I think it would be fucking ignorant to be otherwise.

I'm curious whether there was much of a spread between songs written before Brexit, Trump, and the rise of right wing populism, and songs written in response to it. Obviously 'Jolly Sailor' is very explicitly about Brexit and the condescending, classist narratives projected onto leave voters. In my mind there are two great songs written about Brexit so far, 'Jolly Sailor', and 'The Fall of Home' by Los Campesinos. Have you listened to Los Camp's new album?

No, not yet.

Gareth addresses the unfairness of the stigma attached to voting leave; since Wales obviously voted fairly decisively, he's angry about the media's oversimplifying, singing that we need to stop portraying these people as idiots and racists.

Exactly, they're not. 'Jolly Sailor' I actually wrote years ago, I was thinking about it for the second album, but I only had one verse at the time so I decided against it then. But after Brexit I took it and rewrote it, and it's a song that's really important to me. It's named after a pub in the small village of Whitburn where I grew up, it's this little pub. My dad is the only Brown guy in the village, the only Brown guy in the pub. He's always been welcome there, everyone has always been welcome there, everyone; whether they are from wealthy backgrounds or less affluent backgrounds, all felt at home in this one tiny pub. So I thought "I'm using that, I'm using that as a blueprint, and then I'm going to write two more stanzas". Stanzas? What am I a fucking poet? Two more verses; because I was so angered by it, I know how they are presented - Sunderland, very near where I am from, was shockingly portrayed comprehensively as idiots and racists, and they're not. These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, and they have been lied to. This is my problem with the left; we are meant to be inclusive, but how can we inform change if we keep pointing fingers and calling names. We have to be empathetic.

Exactly, the only way Labour are ever going to win another majority is by speaking and winning over these alienated people. I agree completely. When I was living in the north east for 3 years for uni, I always felt so at home with how genuine and kind the people there are. There is actually a saying in Glasgow - now please don't get offended - but we say Geordies are Glaswegians without the brains.

Ah, don't get offended but, you're thick bastards.

I mean yeah, but very nice thick bastards. You alluded to this earlier, but Holiday Destination strikes a fine balance between vitriolic outrage towards the titular 'Yes Men' for fuelling a division between immigrants and the white working class, and common compassion for those immigrants and working classes. How deliberate was this Framing?

Super deliberate. The video for 'Yes Men' is from the Miners' Gala in Durham. It's from last year actually, after the closing of the last mine, and you heard what these people did, how hard they worked, and the way they were treated by the establishment, and absolutely nothing has changed. They are still vulnerable, and they are still being manipulated. So I thought it was quite poignant, to put these two ideas together. 'Yes Men' is what we are talking about when we are talking about Brexit; I mean, that's who were feeding them bullshit and bigotry, so yeah it's entirely deliberate. 'Out The Way' and 'Yes Men' are the two songs where I am at my most visceral on-stage because I am angry, I am fucking angry about what is happening to the most vulnerable people in our society. It's not civilization if we treat people like this.

'Yes Men' is one of my favourite songs from the record, and it's one of the slowest paced. It's almost jazzy where the rest of the album is funky, it foregrounds the intensity of the lyrics.

We slowed it down actually, it was initially quite a few bpms faster. My producer Ben, who I write with as well, told me "I see how much you are enjoying saying these lyrics, let's slow it down and make the vocals the loudest on the album".

Touching on protests and political activism, what do you make of the state of the UK youth as politically engaged? With movements like Grime4Corbyn, do you feel that there is a tangible difference to how young people view politics and engage with politics now, compared say to the 2015 general election?

It's a really exciting time, truly it's amazing. I saw Corbyn at Glastonbury, I say saw, I heard, it was so busy I couldn't get in! But what he was doing was going out and chatting to young adults, practically kids, on a face-to-face level.

He was pulling pints!

And he doesn't even drink! I was on this radio show, this roundtable on 6 Music, and - I will name him, because I'm angry about it - it was Don Letts who was on the panel with me, and between songs, you know, when you're off air, he turns to me and says young people aren't making good political music anymore. And I was like, "ok nice to meet you, my name is Nadine Shah, my first album was about stigmas over mental health, and I'm one tiny part of this huge movement". He was like, we don't have this band or this band or this band, and then I asked him what he made of grime music, and he barely knew anything. But even with its recent success, I don't think grime is getting the platform or attention it deserves.

Because it's not white guys with guitars.

No, it's not always fucking white guys with guitars. I'm finding it so exciting at the minute because so many of my peers are making great political music. Look at IDLES, LIFE, She Makes War, Fiona Apple, Father John Misty even. The list is endless, there are so many musicians making great political music, and they are not opportunistic, they are just angry. And when Don Letts was saying to me that kids aren't making political music, I'm thinking; "that's a political statement in itself". These people who say that young people weren't engaged with politics, but nobody was talking to them, so by them saying and doing nothing, that says a lot through implication. They weren't being spoken to on their level. Then all of a sudden Jeremy Corbyn came along, and unlike all the other politicians, he seemed sincere, consistent, and unlike anything they'd ever heard; and it's just been building momentum. I know there's a lot of disgusting things and tragic things happening at the moment, but it's also exciting because it's galvanised thousands and thousands of young people. And you know what? This is my fucking generation; so fuck you, and fuck you. This is my future, and I love it.

I'm completely on board with it.

I keep chatting as if I'm one of them, but at 31 I'm an old lady now.

Well the exit polls from the election indicated that people in their 30s and 40s were turning to Labour, so you still fit in with the demographic.

Are they? Go on, we're getting them back! A while ago I took some time off music and I was interning at Westminster, I wanted to see what being a politician was like for a bit, and to meet some brilliant female Labour politicians; and we've got some great ones now in, especially from the north east.

I was reading a story; do you know Kevin Maguire, he writes for the Daily Mirror?


He was writing about how Ian Duncan Smith used to have a regular table in the Commons bar, and a few weeks ago there were three women Labour MPs sat at his regular at table; he asked them to move, and they told him to fuck off.

Go on! I took my boyfriend a few weeks ago to a Westminster conference on the UK music scene, and there were a lot of politicians there talking about how they can combine politics with music, what they can do with music, and what politics can do for musicians. There were different MPs, Tom Watson for example, came on stage and gave a great speech, there were a few others who were less impressive. One conservative guy, who I thought was a cunt, can't remember his name, but he was horrible. They were all on stage, giving speeches about the economic effects of a thriving music industry, and what the government can do on a policy level in making the industry a fairer place, and then they had me get on and sing. As soon as I got on stage, all these people, all these MPs who made their big speeches, they turned around and went to talk to each other at the bar, except for Tom Watson actually. So I got off the stage and started mingling in the crowd, tapping them on the shoulders and singing in their faces. They were shitting themselves, it was hilarious. And during the song I was saying to them; you're fucking hypocrites, you make a big song and dance of this "positive" work, and then as soon as a woman goes on stage you ignore her and start talking. Fuck you all.


I got a good response, Chi [Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central] and Julie [Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central], thanked me for it, which was nice, I guess they have to put up with this sort of thing every day. We need to start calling people out on this stuff and stop being polite. Musicians can do it, artists can do it, journalists can fucking do it, everyone can. I've had two gin & tonics and feeling pretty lairy now.

Do you think music, the Arts, culture, are fundamental in invigorating young people to begin working in grassroots movements, to start canvassing and door knocking etc, to become tangibly invested in a progressive and compassionate project?

No, but I think it's part of a bigger picture, and I think it's a very necessary part, and it has to be present. We have a duty as artists to convey an informed and educated message, but first we have to educate ourselves. It's all collective; teachers, artists, musicians, everyone in every field needs to start working together. Historically, it's all tied up in a place and time; look at the UK in the 80s under Thatcher, or 70s USA in response to Vietnam. These were great times for political music because it was so responsive; they were one small aspect of the bigger picture of activism, but that shouldn't take away from how critical they were. We have a big influence, we do have a big influence, but we have to be responsible with it.

I think that's what made Grime4Corbyn so significant; it was a translated message that young people can make a difference, and they did.

It was fucking unbelievable. Sometimes I work with kids in Tottenham, and we do these music workshops with them. One day I went in, and there was a little kid who said to me "Excuse me miss, who are you even?" I said "my name is Nadine Shah", and he said "yeah I know, but I just Googled you and you only have 200000 hits"; and I was like "that's loads you little shit"; and this kid is like "that's nothing compared to Stormzy". I felt out of my depth with them. I know who Scott Walker is, but these kids taught me so much about music that I would never normally listen to, it was so much fun. And these kids were doing great work, they were playing me their songs and showing me their writing as well, these are kids around Tottenham, and they've been shat on; things are looking tough, with gentrification settling in the area, and they haven't been afforded many opportunities, but they are writing brilliant lyrics and music. I'm personally really excited about the grime movement, but it means so much more for these kids. They feel so energised and liberated; they've been given a voice, and they actually feel that they are being heard.

Big melodramatic question to end on, what do you think is the progressive way forward now, the next step?

So what I'm seeing, and what everyone is seeing, is the global rise of nationalism, and a global lack of empathy; a direct reply to that is what needs to happen, we need first-hand testimonies, we need people to actually listen, we need to stop berating each other on either side. We need to take to the streets and be active, showing solidarity and forming a physical presence so that it is action and not just meaningless rhetoric. I might sound like a hippie, but we need an open dialogue and simply to be kinder. Instead of getting angry back against bigots, we should buy them a drink and chat about it. And that's it really. And come to my gigs, obviously.

Holiday Destination is out August 25th via 1965 Records. If you're interested in finding out more about the refugee crisis, or interested in helping and donating, one of the best UK charities to investigate is Refugee Action UK