Opinion

John Bird: The Big Issue's Christmas single delivers an important message

"Phil Ryan's Walking Down This Lonely Street isn't simply about bringing tears to your eyes. It's to help us help those who need our help, so that they can end up helping themselves"

‘Walking Down This Lonely Street’ is The Big Issue pop song for Christmas 2017. It’s piecing, sad and also strangely uplifting. The cure for the loneliness that Phil Ryan sings about is “us”.

I’ve written about Phil on other occasions. He’s my favourite guitar-playing, song-writing acoustic artist. He’s also the only one I know (but one should not diminish the other).

I didn’t meet Phil through music. I met him through comedy. In the late ’80s, I thought I was the funniest man on Earth. Phil showed me there were many others.

As well as creating music, like me, Phil was always writing stories and putting on plays. So when Gordon Roddick asked me to do a street paper, Phil was the first person I thought to assistant in this noble endeavour.

Phil Ryan's Walking Down This Lonely Street is available now

Our personalities are stamped all over The Big Issue, even to this day, 25 years ‘+1’ since we launched it.

The way our logo was concocted over an sweaty Apple computer, working to drawings and ideas, is a case in point. The stacking of ‘The Big’ over ‘Issue’ came together in seconds after a lot of poncing about with different types with the actual designer, Andrew Giaquinto. The vendor pitch system and the vendor badge system also fell into place in those early days of our construction of (what’s now) The Big Issue.

Last summer, Phil played me Walking Down This Lonely Street. Though I was swept away by its sadness, I was also lifted up by the fact that it seems to offer an answer.

“You could say hello, talk about the weather, buy a paper, I don’t want something for nothing.” It’s saying, don’t just feel sorry for me. Help me begin my retreat from the street.

I don’t feel, and a lot of it is feeling, that we’re going anywhere fast over homelessness. 300,000 people are now classed as homeless, and perhaps 8,000 slept rough in London last year alone.

Many harsh words have been said over the recent months (by me, as well as others), that – despite councils spending £1.15bn on homelessness every year – we still have the appalling reality that befalls street livers at Christmas time. About how temporary their support can be; if they get it.

Something big has to be done, and it’s one of the things I hope to be working on for next year.

In the meanwhile, we have got to get people through this dreaded time. And that means vigorous support for those on the frontline, now.
The Big Issue will be working with hundreds of people over the Christmas period, but it’s clear we need some joined-up thinking. Thinking for the long term. The answer is always long term, though the long term has a habit of eventually become tomorrow.

Phil Ryan’s attempt at making a song about this destitution isn’t simply to bring tears to your eyes. It’s to help us help those who need our help, so that they can end up helping themselves.

That’s a mouthful, I know. But by God is it necessary to get people to stand up for themselves – and that means helping them into being themselves.

Over the last few days, Phil and I have done TV and radio and Walking Down This Lonely Street has been well received. Very well received.

At times, looking at the way people were moved by Phil’s music was a joy to see. But there were also times when even I had to halt my wayward thoughts for this beautiful song.

Go on, download the song today. It’s available at your fingertips on every online music store, iTunes and Google Play.

And please. Be sure to have a joyous, thoughtful and deeply committed Christmas.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up
debt
Vikki Brownridge

Four million Brits struggle with problem debt. Now's the time for the next government to step up

My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?
disability benefits/ mother and child
Cathy Reay

My child was awarded disability benefits after five years of fighting. Why don't I feel victorious?

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one
Rishi Sunak calling a July 4 general election on May 22
Paul McNamee

There's so many questions needing answers this general election it's hard to zone in on just one

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know