Wille Edwards – Cornwall-based musician, eclectic songwriter, and frontman of internationally-acclaimed band Wille and the Bandits – is attempting to raise awareness of the crisis of homelessness in the UK, and to support charities that are doing work in this field in the lead-up to Christmas. He hopes to be able to gain insight into the lives of some of the UK’s 320,000 homeless, to raise funds through the release of a special single, ‘Houses on the Sand’, and through his tour itself. To find out more about the single, as well as what’s happening within the Wille and the Bandits camp, we spoke to the man himself who was more than happy to fill us in. Read on…
What was the trigger for you in releasing the single and trying to raise awareness of the homeless situation?
When I’ve been touring around the country I’ve been noticing more and more homeless people each time. Every year it seems like there is more, and I try and chat to them, give them some food, I think it was last Christmas when I came back home and I sat down and started to feel guilty. We had just finished touring the UK and seen a lot of people really struggling, and I’m sat there, massive dinner, drinking whiskey or whatever, and I felt like I wanted to do something. So I said to my wife that I wanted to do some volunteering, go out and help at some of the shelters, and it was her that said that I’d be better using my music. Write a song, go on tour and raise awareness, so that’s where the idea came from. I was originally going to go on the road and sleep rough the whole tour, but I was advised not to by quite a few of the charities. So I’m not doing that now, and trying to use the tour to raise awareness, as well as raise money through the single, just try and do what I can. That seems to be a better idea than helping out in a soup kitchen where I can barely make a sandwich really!
It’s insane that as we approach 2020 you can go out in almost any large town, and you will find some volunteers handing out food and drinks to a queue of homeless people.
It’s savage, it’s a problem that I feel is brushed under the carpet. The inequality of it all is shocking, the housing shortage is a major issue, I live down in Cornwall and the amount of people down here with second homes is unbelievable. It’s not that there is a housing shortage, it’s just that too many people own too many, and no-one lives in them. I think that there is something like 320,000 homeless in the country and that’s a hell of a lot of people without anywhere to live.
It’s not just people on the street, it’s people in temporary accommodation, in shelters, it’s not always the people that you see out on the street. I think that a lot of people have this perception that it would never happen to them but you can find yourself in those situations quite quickly, it could happen to anyone, it could happen to you….
It did happen to me, my landlord gave me notice of eviction and I struggled to find a new place to stay, so I ended up in temporary homeless accommodation. Luckily for me the person that I dealt with at my local council was really helpful and dealt with me as a fellow human, not just a statistic. Like you said, it could happen to anyone.
Totally, it’s easily done mate, it’s sad as well because a lot of people won’t have that support network that others are fortunate enough to have. It’s hard, so I’m just trying to do what I can, with my limited sort of outreach hopefully I can raise some money to help. I’m visiting three shelters on the road, and all the money that we make from the single, and on the road, will go to local charities, the one’s out there actually doing it. Some of the charities involved are DENS in Hemel Hempstead, Winchester Churches’ Night shelter, and ARC in Taunton. There are some amazing people out there volunteering, they give up a lot of their time to help out. There’s still such good people around.
For some people, it can be a case of one paycheck away from getting into severe difficulties.
Yeah, that’s the danger of things like zero hour contracts, there’s no jobs for life anymore. It just looks after the big corporations, and they are getting bigger, and that seems to be a worldwide problem.
It’s really the perfect time for musicians to make a stand, the return of “protest songs”, back to the days of Dylan and Pete Seeger.
Yeah, musicians have a duty I feel to be a voice, back in the late ‘60’s early ‘70’s, musicians were a lot more proactive and tried to make a difference. As a musician, you have a voice, have a platform, and I’d much rather make a statement, a positive outcome, than talk about meeting someone in a club…you know what I mean?!
It can sometimes be harder for musicians to have an opinion though, especially in America where it seems if someone makes a stance, they split their audience straight down the middle. It’s almost like artists are afraid to speak out and potentially alienate part of their core audience.
Mate, I’ve actually had that happen to me..in the studio!
I was planning a track once and the record label said exactly that to me…”you ain’t putting that out”. They said that I would alienate half the audience…but I still put the track out! I believed in it.
Which track was it?
It was a track on a previous album, called ‘Crossfire Memories’, which was an interesting song. It looks at the problem we had, well we still have, with immigration. It was, sadly, probably the most newsworthy story that we’ve ever had as a band. We were coming back from Calais, and we didn’t realise that we had two migrants in the back of the van. We had to ask them to get out, and that was a really hard thing to do as they were crying. They had travelled hundreds of miles, this was their dream and we were crushing it, and I felt really bad so I wrote that song.
And you were advised not to put it on the album? It’s staggering that we are now living in a time where Blade Runner was set in the past, and that attitude still exists!
Yeah, there is a lot of that in the industry, you hit the nail right on the head, it’s almost like labels are trying to take the passion out of the art of the song. For me, the songs that I’ve been most inspired to write, are the ones that I feel are my best work. If you take that away, and write songs to please people, then you are simply manufacturing a product. It’s not the same for me, and that might have held me back, but this is something that I strongly believe in.
So, what are the mechanics of the charity single? How can people help?
Well, to download it, people can give whatever amount they want to give, there is no set amount. It’s a win-win situation really, you’re getting a song from an artist that you like, and you’re helping people as well. I’ve set myself a target of raising £2,000, the single is out now, but if you think about it, it will be on sale forever really. Hopefully it will be something that keeps on going. The more successful it is, the more money that the charities will get.
It’s a very personal song in a way, it’s how I feel about the situation, and one of the best songs that I’ve written. I think that I’ve captured the essence in the track, I’m pleased with the outcome and hopefully it will cause some traction, and raise some money.
Also raise some awareness as well. Plus, actually helping someone out makes you feel better, no matter how small a gesture it might seem.
Very true, that’s exactly how it feels. It’s a win-win situation, you’re making them feel better and also yourself. If you can make someone smile, then you are doing something right. It’s karma as well…when you go to your grave, at least you know that you tried to help!
What are you like as an onlooker in the current political situation? Are you quite active?
I’m not mad active on politics, I’ve got opinions like everyone else, I just want a fair society really. I think everyone should think regionally, like I want the best for my region – South East Cornwall. It is a very strange time now, politically, there’s a lot of propaganda, a lot of lies, and the way that social media works is very manipulative. It’s quite sad how we’ve got to this angry situation.
If you’ve read it on social media then it must be true!
Exactly man, I try and judge everything by what I see, and talk to different people. My main thing is how there is so much wealth in the world and people are still living in poverty. Surely we can spread that wealth more evenly?
Moving onto what’s happening with Wille & The Bandits, as we near the end of the year, both Andy and Matt are leaving the band yeah? That must be a hard one to digest?
Yeah, it was definitely a hard one to take, this line-up has been together for seven years, me and Andy have played together for thirteen years I think? At the same time you have to respect the guys decision, they’ve all got families and spend a lot of time on the road. But it’s also an opportunity for the band to take a new road, we’re adding Matthew Gallagher on keys, so we’re going to be a four-piece, which adds new dynamics.
A fantastic legacy to have left behind..
Yeah, we’ve done well as a three-piece, we made a huge sound for three people! For myself, as a writer, having another band member, someone that plays keys, guitar and sings, it’s exciting as it’s like having a new colour in your palatte! He plays a proper old school Hammond, it’s something else. I always loved the Hammond, we start jamming and it’s like…wow!
So the dates early next year will be an entirely new line-up?
Yeah, we’ve got a new drummer Finn McAuley, our new bass player is Harry Mackaill, and Matt on keys. The rehearsals are going great, the band are sounding great, I’ve tried to keep it local in Cornwall and Devon, but the keys player is from Preston! So keeping it local didn’t quite work! There’s three surfers out of four, so that’s not bad! We’re lucky that we’ve got ourselves into the position where we can attract such great musicians. It might not be the last time that Matt and Andy turn up with the band, we are all on such great terms, see what happens.
I’m looking forward to catching the band as a four-piece, it will be interesting to see how the band have changed.
Yeah it will be really interesting, we’re hammering it, we haven’t stopped rehearsing and we all want to make a bang when we come back.
So there you have it Bandits fans, look out for the band appearing near you early next year. In the meantime head over to the official website (here) to find out more about how you can download ‘Houses on the Sand’ and help a very worthwhile cause.
For more information on some of the charities that Wille is helping please click on the following links –
ARC https://www.arcinspire.co.uk , DENS www.dens.org.uk, Winchester Churches Night Shelter wcns.org.uk .
Interview – Dave
Live images – Yann Charles