Hi, I’m Shannon and I’m the lead female vocalist in the band. I play guitar, djembe and percussion. I am the second most prolific songwriter and do most of the musical editing and design work on our albums. I am passionate about film and had my first, and only, camera lesson in the departure lounge of Heathrow airport the day before we went to Palestine… I have hours of footage of some incredible protests and gigs and I am attempting to edit them slowly into shape. (have a look at www.permaculture.co.uk for details of latest video release).
It was me who came up with the name Seize the Day…for one of the following two reasons; a) parallels in my own life with the film Dead Poets Society, which I loved…or…b) because its Tony Blair’s favorite saying…! The name itself is a lot to live up to and sometimes I wish we were called ‘Lets rest in the afternoon’ or ‘I get enough sleep’… but for raising energy it can’t be beat.
It’s a fantastic band to be in and a privilege to perform with so many talented musicians. Since having Rosa the most consistent time I get on my own with Theo is when we are on stage… it is perhaps a slight stretching of reality to say we’re on our own, but it is where I get to admire and love him the most…
My first ever gig with Theo was in a pub in Leamington Spa…it was an open mic night and we did it to raise money for the Newbury bypass protest…£31.23! But that was not the start of Seize the Day. Our next time singing together was at Snelsmore Common on the proposed route of that bypass as the climbers were evicting the protestors from the trees…it was heart breaking watching huge mature trees felled and although we didn’t quite know it yet our band had begun.
The world mattered to us more than making a living, and a lot more than the pursuit of fame and glamorous fortune (…oh well!!!)…
I bought my first guitar when I was 20…£15 from a charity shop. My mate Phil said it was okay and taught me two chords. I can’t confess to being a natural but I loved it…sitting around at festivals with my guitar trying to remember that third chord thru a smoke filled haze….until, inevitably, some guy would come along … ‘can I play your guitar?’ (…for hours!) …but I’m getting ahead of myself…
I studied economics and politics at Warwick University dropping out in my third year, mainly for political and ideological reasons so much of life is about who you meet, and Jaki and I met an anarchist who was to die for. There was no question he couldn’t answer, and no effort he didn’t make in educating us. Quite simply Anarchy in its purest form is about taking responsibility for yourself. It’s a beautiful vision of how society could be if we all cared so much that there was absolutely no question of causing harm to anyone else. It certainly wasn’t the scary picture so often painted by the media. We were hooked and were ready for a bit of ‘Life’.
Of course you can’t spend your entire life being intensely political (?!) …and a gang of us decided to enter the talent contest at the university. Four of the band could actually play their instruments, which definitely helped…but me and my best friend Jaki were crap…. I couldn’t sing and she couldn’t play congas…. they only let us be in the band because it was our idea.
The truth is, when I was 11 and had lined up for the obligatory school choir audition I was one of the kids that didn’t get the tap on the shoulder, my dad reminded me about that…a lot! Whilst crucifying Mini Ripperton’s ‘loving you’…constantly…for years…(I’m over that song now, but man, the therapy bill was massive!)
….so why did I bother? I was obstinate, determined, and my Nan had given me a record that my biological father had made….My mum died when I was 15 and I’d never gotten to ask her about the guy whose name appears in my baby book. For years after getting the record I thought he was Australian (it’s great thinking your half Australian when your country is so crap at sport…)…. I think my Mum told me he was Australian…. but he isn’t. I think he’s probably from Birmingham, but he lived in Rhodesia for a while (that bastion of the civil rights movement….!!). He was an insurance salesman, long distance swimmer and a policeman before he became the front man to a band called the Strangers. (If only I’d known about the rest of his talents my career could have been so very different…)
I decided that I must have singing in my genes (somewhere…) and so we started rehearsals. We did two gigs and we weren’t bad.
I loved those gigs but it was two years before Lu came round one day and said lets start a band…. she had an awesome voice and I played guitar…we did one gig as ‘Disheveled and Anyhow’…a few gigs as ‘Abingi-Abongi’ (with Richly Roasted, John Dahl and Said…) …and then, my musical life began in earnest….
Jaki, my best mate, bought a bass and wanted to be in the band with me and Lu…and if I was going to get my best mate in then Lu wanted to get her best mate in too…It’s just so girly…but you know what?...we got on really well!... and supported each other through a lot. We thought it was funny that we could hardly tell one end of instrument from the other. We gave Sandy the Conga’s…because she’d been to a drum workshop once…!
We called ourselves Red Rag and we were Folk/Punk…folk for seven songs and punk for one!...we did about eight gigs before Jane and Jackie Keyboards joined…Jane was a drummer and you can probably guess what Jackie Keyboards played. We changed our name to the Siren and our most notable gig was supporting Captain Sensible at Warwick University…he thought we were great, and four years and two more name changes later, we were.
The Passionground was born...we had a massive transit van called the Passionwagon which we painted ourselves and we did some blinding gigs. It was in the Passionground that I learned to write songs…It was in the Passionground that I learned inch by painful inch how to cope with criticism (don’t get me wrong I still hate it…. but back then!…. the merest hint of uncertainty that what I was playing wasn’t the best possible thing for the song would send me into paroxysm’s of self doubt…). It was in the Passionground that I learned not to look round at the person who’s just made a horrible mistake and glare at them.
I loved that band and we were really good by the end…I still love the songs we did and am proud of us for how hard it was being an all-women band at the time we were playing. I remember sitting in a car with an A&R guy from Sony and being told that we’d get a record deal if I’d…. well you can guess the sort of guy he was and the sort of things he wanted me to do…. I told him where to get off. There was another record company guy who’d come to see us that night who tried to get me to go to the toilets with him…. I mean, really! …he was perfectly old enough to go by himself!
Leaving the Passionground was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made…it kind of crept on me really. I saw the news one day and saw protestors sitting singing on diggers at Twyford Down…they’d stopped the work for the day by chaining themselves to the machines, there was no screaming at the police and it was totally effective…a part of me that had gone to sleep after a particularly full-on raid of our house by Special Branch (another story…)…woke up!
A few months later I met the Spacegoats, who remain one of my all time favorite bands. They were playing in the middle of a field and I found myself thinking about the mountain of equipment Passionground needed to be able to play anywhere and a yearning for a simpler life began.
I went to Twyford Down and I saw the beauty and the devastation and I wanted to be part of that movement…and I couldn’t see how I could do both…I went off to Ireland for a week and I finally decided, stood in a stream….the answers will come if you wait long enough (especially in really cold Irish streams in December). When I got back Jane and Jaki had made their decision too….they’d felt me moving away and my indecision wasn’t something they wanted to live with…
The next few months were hard…it was the first time I’d not been in a band for eight years and I threw myself – literally – into the Newbury By-Pass protest…I was the ninth person to get arrested and I eventually went to prison for refusing to pay my fines. I spent three months at Newbury and learned so much about direct action and courage and reminded myself how great human beings are…
The most incredible thing that happened to me at Newbury was my relationship with the security guards. Fleets of them would arrive each day in buses to protect the diggers and chainsaw crews from our best efforts to disrupt the work. There were 800 security guards in all and over the months of being there I must have met nearly all of them. I’d start my day watching to see where they were going and trying to prevent them arriving and then, if that failed, walking around the cordon talking to anyone who would talk to me. It was a hell of a boring job being a security guard so I got to talk to a lot of them, mostly they got why we were there, many needed the money, and many felt hopeless about the state of the world. Perhaps significantly the Police were the most hopeless. There were only a few who wouldn’t chat and the day came when I and a couple of friends, Willow and Simon Spacegoat, started to walk the lines singing ‘What are we doing here’ …over and over again… ‘Don’t you know any other words?’ one of the Police said after a while… ‘You write them’ I said… and the Dave the red hat piped up… ‘I will, I’ll have a go (security guard song video). It was filmed and shown on Undercurrents and BBC2 a few days later, a testimony to human beings, the struggles that we all face and the hidden lyrical talents of some security guards.
It was that same year that I heard the news on the radio of the arrest of a group of women who had given themselves up after destroying all the relevant parts of a Hawk Jet bound for Indonesia to commit genocide on the people of East Timor. I remember feeling so moved by that story and noticing what an amazing coincidence that I should have the radio on that day. It was an even more stunning coincidence that I should have the radio on the day that their verdict was announced. I burst into tears and decided to attempt the writing of the song of their story… It took me months to collate all the information about their case, all the newspaper reports, letters they wrote to each other in prison and the transcript of the trial… 40 pages in all which is why the song is so damned long! ('with my hammer' video). I eventually found the time and the inspiration to write it on a mountainside in India (in the days before we gave up flying!)
It took a week, which compared to five years for Temples of Rain was a major achievement if a little exhausting for Theo who already had dysentery and had to listen to my every creative out-pouring…
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I came up with the name of the band on that same mountainside, we’d been ‘Theo and Shannon’ up until that point… Seize the Day was much more like it!
The hardest thing was waiting to find out if the women who were part of that action, 13 of them in all, liked the song, had I got it right? There was no way I was going to sing it if not. You can guess what they thought by the fact that you have actually heard it! I called the song With my Hammer…' and it led to us performing on the Main Stage at Glastonbury Festival and is a fascinating story in itself (see blog update, which I’ll probably get round too sometime during the winter!).
There has been so much to being a member of Seize the Day for me, fantastic friendships, inspiration, the courage to take my clothes off on the roof of an advertising agency in Soho as a protest against the GM foods cover up, the experience of a week in prison, the incredible stories and struggles of the people we have met as we have traveled. My life has been truly enriched.
I have loved performing in cowsheds in Indian villages,
To tourists in Covent Garden,
Family Farmers in Washington,
Acoustically in the Healing Field at the Big Green Gathering,
At the Key Arena in Seattle (which was really massive!),
In someone’s living room in Toronto,
- to Police lines at Faslane, Newbury, Prague, Washington, Seattle, Drax Power Station, London etc…
I can’t pretend that its all been fun or easy… there have been some foul gigs (I have a top three all time worst which I may reveal at some point…), and I always struggle when another of my favorite people leaves the band, fortunately for me someone equally lovely always joins.
The undoubted low point was the death of Elkie in 2000. She died instantly when she ran across a road and was hit by a car. She was the six-year-old daughter of Tegwyn and Stevie P., and she was my best kid friend, I still cry about her now, she was an incredible little girl and she lit up my life whenever I was with her. The Album 'All Hands That Are Ready' was in large part an attempt to come to terms with her death and is a very sad and beautiful album as a result…
My own desire for a family was put on hold for a couple of years after that and when Theo and I eventually made our first steps towards parenthood it was not to be… It took a year and to finally conceive successfully and the pregnancy was nothing if not a little fraught! On the day I gave birth I remember wiring in our lights that run from the solar panels on our roof and having long conversations with both the designer and the engineer on the Alive Album, giving instructions between contractions! ...Perhaps a little beyond the call of duty but a great story to tell my girl…
Rosa has without doubt been the greatest achievement of my life so far, not least because it was such a struggle to get her here.
A better reason for continuing to do what I do would be hard to find, and I have never been loved so well. I know it’s a cliché but when I’m paying attention Rosa helps me reclaim the missing pieces of my childhood…
I know there is so much more I want to write but if you are as exhausted by reading this as my fingers are of typing, then this will do for now…
I love Seize the Day, I love that making a difference has always mattered more than any other motivation, I love the people who love our music, its incredible to me how many of the people I admire like our songs, and you know what? I have yet to meet anyone after a gig who is not making a difference somewhere to someone, somehow in their lives…