Were selling more than 200 million magazines in a quarter of a century of trading and helping countless tens of thousands of disadvantaged and vulnerable people get a foothold in life not all reward enough, a new level of mission-affirming achievement has been unlocked for The Big Issue of late and it’s this: Jimmy Cricket has written a song about us. Yes, the very same bow-tied, silly-hatted, half-mast-trousered portly Irish giant of the golden age of Seventies and Eighties British light entertainment. Don’t remember him? Ask your mum and dad. Under 20? Forget it – you’ll never understand.
Yes, the very same bow-tied, silly-hatted, half-mast-trousered portly Irish giant of the golden age of Seventies and Eighties British light entertainment.
It was following an evidently moving interview with Big Issue features editor Steven MacKenzie last year that Cricket felt inspired to pen his heartfelt tribute to the world’s most widely distributed street paper and its tireless vendors, titled simply: Have a Big Issue. In his own charmingly wonky way, he’s done an impressive job of distilling the magazine’s raison d’être into a catchy two-and-a-bit minutes.
“Have a Big Issue-ishew / all you wish yourself,” he burbles, over a breezy end-of-the-pier accordion wheeze, “have a Big Issue-ishew / good fortune and good health”. Cricket correctly draws attention to the fact that vendors derive not just satisfaction but money directly from every sale, and even tidily wraps in a lyric cribbed from the mag’s tagline “a hand up, not a handout”. Steps are being taken to ensure that the song plays as soon as anyone lands on The Big Issue website.
Everyone at Big Issue towers is flattered, naturally, and at least one staff member seemed to be on verge of tears upon first listen, although that just as likely could have been because deadline was approaching. But not to brag or anything – well, maybe a small brag – it’s not the first time that this magazine has featured in a song. The Big Issue has in fact throughout its 28-year lifetime frequently proven a source of inspiration to the great and the good and the sometimes half-decent of the music world. Well, occasionally it has, anyway. There are a few other vague examples.
Like The Big Issue itself, it all began in the early 1990s. A time when the world was ripe to be won over by five unsmiling Mancunians with anthemic gibberish rock classics such as Supersonic. “She’s sniffing in a tissue, selling The Big Issue,” boomed Oasis’s Liam Gallagher, in a lyric which despite being like most Oasis lyrics, thoroughly meaningless, nonetheless helped triumphantly enshrine the magazine’s arrival as an identifiable force in British culture and society. If you’ve ever met The Big Issue’s long-time editor and resident Oasis superfan Paul McNamee, particularly back in his feathercut and parka-sporting days, then you’ll appreciate that there may have been some kind of omen in all of this.
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
From one titan of Britpop to another: Chumbawamba – the politically right-on anarcho punk-pop band who, like spring-loaded bollards and Theresa May, always seem to get back up again. Back in 1997, shortly before their chucking-water-over-John-Prescott-at-the-Brits notoriety (milkshakes hadn’t yet been invented), the Lancashire mob were at the fleeting peak of their powers, fired by the multimillion-selling album Tubthumper. Track four on which is titled, yes, The Big Issue. The lyrics don’t reference the magazine per se, but do seem to sketch a down-and-out character in need of direction who sounds like she could easily find purpose in the famous red tabard. Thus, we’re having it.
Now, we’re not claiming responsibility for Ed Sheeran as such, but he’d be nothing without us.
Now, we’re not claiming responsibility for Ed Sheeran as such, but he’d be nothing without us. See the video for the impossibly famous Yorkshireman’s 2011 debut breakout single The A Team and spot that he appears briefly about midway through, playing a bit part in the forlorn life of the drug-addict protagonist of his grittily emotive acoustic pop tale, the lyrics for which were inspired by a visit Sheeran once made to a homeless shelter. What’s Ed doing at this pivotal moment? He’s buying The Big Issue! Good lad, he’ll go far.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the ongoing reign of the world’s most beloved feline Street Cat Bob and his busker and ex-Big Issue vendor minder James Bowen. Now, granted, they’ve never written a song explicitly about the mag – indeed, Bob’s never written anything, he’s a cat remember. But they did last Christmas promote a pair of tunes in aid of our charitable arm The Big Issue Foundation, Time to Move On and the stirring And Then Came Bob. Each of which, despite missing out on the Christmas number one spot by a clean 100 places, were festive chart-toppers in all of our hearts.
Which brings us to the present day, Jimmy Cricket, and a song so infernally catchy I’m still humming it to myself six paragraphs later. An upbeat, tuneful and informative meeting of the music and magazine worlds which I like to think of as our proud answer at last to Dr Hook’s The Cover of Rolling Stone, Madonna’s Vogue, Adele’s Hello or anything by Harpers Bizarre. Have a Big Issue-ishew everybody! Cover price £2.50.
Listen to Jimmy Cricket’s Big Issue musical tribute below.