On 3rd of December, as has been the tradition for the last several years, disabled people and our allies have come together in Manchester to celebrate International Day of Disabled People (IDDP) and Disability History Month. Each year we share a part of our still-mostly-hidden history and invite comics, musicians, and occasionally choirs, to perform. There is also a speaker or two and an exhibition of some description.
It’s a regular date in the diary – a rare occasion, which sees us coming together to celebrate instead of for a meeting or protest. We rejoice in our achievements, recall our victories and our losses, including comrades gone but not forgotten.
Dennis Queen was amongst the performers this year, as Dennis has been for most of the recent IDDP events here in Manchester. Now… here I must confess I am a fan… and in my opinion Dennis is the best singer-songwriter to emerge from within our movement in the last 20 years.
I first saw Dennis perform in 2002 at the Independence Festival in Birmingham and countless times since then at various events, and I am familiar with much of their repertoire, with “Rules and Boundaries” and “Pig Pen” being two of my personal favourites. However, today’s short set featured some songs which I had not heard before, and that was a real treat.
Dennis started with the ever-popular “Nothing To Lose”, which like much of their catalogue of songs rails against authority and authority figures with lines such as “If you want to hurt me, it takes a kick stronger than you. I love how it annoys you, as I grin at your oncoming shoe”. For me the power of the words is made even more effective by haunting melodies and the distinctive delivery, which at times has hints of Mama Cass and Suzanne Vega, although far, far edgier.
I think the stand song of the set though was “Pledge Your Vote”, originally penned on the eve of the 2017 election. It was a heartfelt call to arms which hits its mark. Although on reflection, it’s a damming indictment of just how bad things have got for disabled people, when a self-confessed anarchist such as Dennis urges us all to “pledge your vote against this murderous regime”.
Dennis finished the set with two starkly different offerings. “Spiders”, a song that predates their involvement with the Disabled People’s Movement, is a complex and introspective affair. However, Dennis really let loose with the final song “A Moment In Time”, a retort to the passers-by who take issue with disabled people’s direct action. It mixes both anger and irony and is an unabashed celebration of the power of protest.
Manchester has had its fair share of wordsmiths over the years, with the likes of poet Sue Napolitano and singer-songwriter Ian Stanton blazing a trail across the Disability Arts scene in the 80’s and 90’s. Dennis has inherited their thunder and now leads the way.