Big Issue man pens song with Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake

Joe Gallagher’s rough sleeping diaries have been turned into spoken word piece The Priest with backing from the former Smiths guitarist

A former vendor who shed new light on life on the streets with a diary published exclusively in The Big Issue has penned a song with Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake.

Joe Gallagher brought new ways of seeing with his raw, emotional chronicles of sleeping rough in Edinburgh from May 2015 until he found a home and employment in March last year.

Joe Gallagher, better known to Big Issue readers as his writing pseudonym, James Campbell.

His hard-hitting, honest series of features, written under the pseudonym of James Campbell, was spotted by Marr and Peake in the pages of The Big Issue and has been turned into a song and short film as part of a collaboration between the pair.

The Priest, which is about the characters that Gallagher met on his first days sleeping rough in the Scottish capital, features Peake performing the spoken piece word-for-word with former Smiths guitarist Marr providing the instrumental backdrop.

Big Issue editor Paul McNamee said: “Joe approached us a few years ago. He’d been a Big Issue vendor to start with. He said he had something and asked if I would take a look at it. He was sleeping rough in Edinburgh at the time.


There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

“I said yes, though frequently people don’t follow through. When Joe sent his copy, you could tell it was different. It was rough, but there was something to it. It was funny, it was raw, there were echoes of Irvine Welsh. But here was a new voice telling of the reality of street living in ways that hadn’t been properly told in some time. Joe’s circumstances – he wrote longhand at night, then found a library during a day to type up and send it through – added something too. It also showed just how important libraries are.

“So, we started to work with him over a few months. He crafted his copy, found his voice. We ran a regular piece. We put it on the cover. Over time, Joe started to work up and out of his place. He got shortlisted for a journalism award. He started looking for a place to live, and apply for work. He gained confidence. He worked his way from the street, using The Big Issue and his incredible writing skill, and is now in permanent work. I’m proud to have played a small part. It’s what The Big Issue is for, really.

“Then, when we heard Johnny Marr and Maxine Peake had come across his work and wanted to use it, that was the cherry on top. We arranged for Joe to go and see Maxine and Johnny a few weeks ago. We’re running the piece in Monday’s big Christmas special. It’s a terrific story. Everybody at The Big Issue is incredibly proud of what Joe has achieved. Who knows where it will end!”

A short film starring Molly Windsor, who featured alongside Peake in BBC drama Three Girls, has been released to accompany the track.

“I wanted to do something different and I thought of asking Maxine to collaborate having been a fan of her work,” said Marr. “We started a creative process that clicked and culminated in The Priest, a song and short film inspired by a facet of modern life as we see it and feel it.”

Read more about Joe’s story in next week’s Big Issue, available Monday December 18.