The pubs were still open when Joseph Malik decided to do something for the homeless, for whom being able to self-isolate from the Covid-19 virus isn’t an option. The result of this is today’s release of The Republic of Persevere, an online only EP of remixes of the opening track to Stranger Things Have Happened, an album that saw Malik pull together a free-flowing all-star cast from Edinburgh’s assorted music scenes under the name of Out of the Ordinary.
All proceeds of from sales of Malik’s very personal love letter to Edinburgh will go to Edinburgh homeless charity, Street Work. It was Street Work that Malik looked to not that long ago during his own period of homelessness. With the world now in lockdown, the Republic of Persevere project has been pulled together with the help of Fini Tribe’s Davie Miller, who has worked at Street Work for two decades, and Malik’s label boss at Ramrock Records, Jo Wallace.
Today’s release of The Republic of Persevere is available on Bandcamp, and the track will receive its first radio play on the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show on BBC 6 Music tonight. Those tuning in will be able to hear a labour of love pulled together by Malik, whose career as singer, producer, composer and DJ has been revitalised over the last year after a decade out of music.
This has seen Malik release his own Diverse Part 2 album, while Out of the Ordinary made their debut with their single, single, Meadows, named after the leafy Edinburgh sanctuary where Malik sometimes slept. Signed copies of Meadows and Stranger Things Have Happened hang in frames above the bar in The Grapes, the pub next to the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh that Malik refers to as his other office.
The cover of Meadows bears this out. ‘In case of emergency’ it says, ‘contact Joseph Malik at The Grapes Bar? No answer? Call Fiona at The Argyle Bar.’ The Marchmont-based Argyle, run by Fiona Longworth, is Malik’s other, other office. Sat in The Grapes on a Thursday afternoon a week before the country’s enforced lockdown, and with manager Gordon Turnbull serving a handful of elderly regulars, for Malik, both places are so much more.
“It's very poignant being here,” he says. “When I was homeless, I would come in at nine in the morning and Gordon would say, are you okay, pal, and I would say no, not really, I’m homeless, and he’d get us a pint, or maybe get us a coffee or a bacon roll, and say, we all look out for each other in here. It’s the same with all the old pensioners. If nobody’s been seen for a few days, their door will get chapped to see if they’re okay. That’s why I love this place.”
Malik wrote the songs for Stranger Things Have Happened here.
“I’d be sitting there, and Gordon would be like, what you writing, kid, and I’m like, oh, I’m just writing my diary. Then, when the record came out, I explained it to him, and I’m proud that I wrote those songs here. People stick by each other in here, and they care. They’ll be making soups and stews, passing them round to the pensioners, and making sure people are getting fed. So they really do look out for each other.”
This is Malik wanting to give something back.
“Being homeless, it’s deadly serious,” he says. “You feel ashamed. And that stigma, I wanted to try and get over it and build myself up again. Remembering what I went through, I felt really compelled to do something, because the homeless have been sadly overlooked in this whole debacle of what's going on in the world. Yes, we’re musicians, and we’ve lost income, but we have central heating in the house to go home to, and some of us have got families to go back to. They don't. They have nothing.”
The Republic of Persevere is a joyous homage to the hustle and bustle of Malik’s beloved Leith. Malik’s lyrics reference the likes of The Proclaimers and former doyen of the Port O’Leith pub, Mary Moriarty. The record features input from Mike Keat of The Cuban Brothers, jazz trumpeter Colin Steele, and Proclaimers keyboardist Steven Christie. An epic vocal line-up is led by The Bevvy Sisters, the trio of Heather Macleod, Gina Rae and Louise Murphy. Joining them for the new mix are Subie Coleman and Rosanne Erskine. At the record’s heart is a first-hand experience of finding strength through adversity that makes for a joyful slice of life-affirming soul.
“To hear those five incredible female voices is amazing,” says the man who brought them together.
As we’re finishing up, a guy sitting a couple of tables away chips in, after hearing some of what we’d been talking about. He’s been selling The Big Issue on South Clerk Street, and, like Malik, came into The Grapes for some respite in a place he feels safe. He and Malik bond instantly.
“Everybody needs to help each other right now,” says Malik, “and the homeless are the most needing of that help of anyone, so they can come through this. That’s what the song’s about. You have to persevere.”
The Republic of Persevere EP by Out of the Ordinary is released today, and is available on Bandcamp at https://ramrock.bandcamp.com/album/out-of-the-ordinary-republic-of-persevere-charity-ep -
The Herald, March 20th 2020