Interview with Kelly Kemp on Co-Operatives, Kurdistan Solidarity & The Hippaes

On the third episode of ‘Promote The Hell Out Of It’ I had a great time talking to musician & activist; Kelly Kemp. I seriously learnt so much from this conversation and I would love to get the chance to expand on some of these subjects in the future.  Kelly Kemp and I chat about cooperatives, her role at Wild Thyme Foods, Kurdistan Solidarity, intermittent fasting, her new band ‘The Hippaes’ and a whole lot more. These are some of the highlights from the conversation.

You can check out and follow Kelly Kemp on Twitter and read more about Kurdistan Solidarity here.

You can listen to the whole interview with Kelly Kemp here on the ‘Promote The Hell Out Of It’ podcast, which is also available on Spotify, Acast, Apple Podcasts & on YouTube.

What came first, your interest in music, food or politics?

Music. Definitely. From a really, really, young age I just made up songs, I don’t really know where it came from, neither of my parents are musical. My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, I didn’t ever really meet them because her mom died when she was really young, but they were actually all musical stars and they worked with people like Laurel and Hardy. My Nan sang on stage with Judy Garland as a chorus girl. They’re all really musical, but I never met them because they had all passed on by the time I came into existence. So maybe it’s like, I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing, I don’t know if that’s just me making up science. Neither my parents are musical, but they both love music, so I guess somewhere along the line it just got passed to me.

Is it possible to eat healthy whilst being on tour?

Yes, it’s possible but the will has to be strong. I mean, I’m probably a bad person to ask because when I spent in my early to mid 20s, a vast amount of my life on tour; especially when I first went vegan, I probably lived off crisp sandwiches on tour. However, through my wizened years, I have learned that it is possible really. Especially now given that supermarkets and places like that have such a better range of food that’s kind of accessible and affordable. Not that I recommend to everyone shop at supermarkets all the time, however, when you’re on tour it kind of is the convenience of it, you know, you finished a gig at 11pm and something would still be open afterwards to get stuff for the morning or whatever. It’s just a case of trying to find the healthiest options to take with you in the van. It’s tough if your meal is being provided by the promoter, you’re just kind of at their mercy because it’s just nice of them to feed you.

I skip breakfast a lot when I’m on my own because I do intermittent fasting, or try to. It just it helps my energy levels during the day. I just found that I used to get really sleepy in the afternoons, the shop is such physical work, like lifting boxes, doing deliveries, being on your feet all day, cooking loads of food in the kitchen. It’s very, very active. I just found that I was getting really tired in the afternoons and I tried intermittent fasting because my partner is doing it. If I don’t eat until like 11 – 12 o’clock my energy levels just stay a lot more consistent throughout the day. So different things work for different people. I’m not saying everyone should do it.

I definitely suffer from a lack of energy in the afternoons at times, but do you not suffer from fatigue if you don’t eat for that long? 

No, actually not. The whole theory behind it is that it takes 12 hours for your body to digest. So if you don’t eat for anywhere from 14 to 16 hours, your body’s going through a period of non digestion, you’re actually giving it a rest. So it’s kind of almost the opposite.

Okay, and I’m guessing that’s no coffee or anything?

Well, there’s two different schools of thought on that because there’s kind of the fast where you would have no coffee or herbal tea, you would literally just have water. That’s considered a pure fast. But then there are other people that would have coffee or herbal tea during that time. I think it’s just a case of figuring out what works best for you, but probably in terms of your internal organs it would be better to just have water and not coffee. I love coffee though, so … 

How did you end up getting involved with Wild Thyme Whole Foods? 

I actually joined before we opened the shop, but after the group was already established. In Portsmouth there was a group; I’m not sure how many there were to begin with, but there was a group of people that wanted to open a whole food cooperative. Several of them had worked at Whole Food Cooperative in Cambridge and were keen to replicate that idea in Portsmouth. I had seen them at a few events around Portsmouth doing a small store, selling some vegan cake and things like that. I guess, like a couple of members had left and moved on and they wanted  more people to join the cooperative. It just so happened that it was at a time when I wasn’t really sure what to do, I’d left a career job because I knew that I didn’t want to do that, but hadn’t quite figured out what it was I actually wanted to do. Then that came along. I was like, this is the most perfect thing because I’ve always wanted to be part of a cooperative, I just never really thought that was possible in Portsmouth because there wasn’t any. So I ended up joining in and I think about six or seven months after we opened the shop. That was almost four years ago, it will be four years in May. When we took over, it was a beauty salon and obviously to make things a bit cheaper for us, we had a really great builder, but we did a lot of the labouring work ourselves. It was all sectioned off into these weird like treatment rooms, we had to knock all that down, pull all the ceiling down,  build everything else up. I probably wasn’t the most helpful during building because I’m dyslexic, so really clumsy, but you know, I did my bit!

What was it that originally got you interested in co-operatives specifically?

I think because politically it aligns with my view of the world or how the world should be. Also, I’ve been part of cooperatives previously. So in my time in Plymouth theirs The Plymouth Musicians Cooperative, which is a cooperatively run rehearsal room, studio, music studio, and other kind of musical services. I had joined as a director of that for a short time. Then I suppose also touring with No Comply and going across all these venues in the UK and Europe. You could always tell when something was a COOP, like the feel and the welcome of it was just so amazing. The way everyone worked together communilly and how much they looked after you appreciate you and respect you. Then going to volunteer at the Cowley Club when I lived in Brighton, I just thought that place was amazing, especially for me coming from Plymouth and not having anything like that politically. I just kind of felt like everything came together a little bit when I was like, there are places like this and they do amazing things. So yeah, that’s kind of like my previous positive experience with cooperatives and the way they worked just really appealed to me.

Do you think that your draw towards the political side of things stemmed from music? 

My mom is very politically active, so I think, regardless of music that was always going to have been instilled in me. My mom raised me reading a lot of black feminist literature and getting involved in politics. Music probably brought out a little bit of a different side of that, especially with veganism, animal rights and that sort of stuff. I don’t think I would have necessarily approached that without music, but I think it was always a given that I was going to be politically active in some way.

I know that you are Co-Chair for Kurdistan Solidarity Portsmouth, the podcast is all about promoting important issues and this in particular is something I think a lot of people maybe don’t know very much about. Could you give us a brief rundown of what is involves?

So from our point of view; from Kurdistan Solidarity Portsmouth, there’s two levels to what we do. That’s to support the local Kurdish community here, try and involve everyone with events and activities that are happening in Portsmouth, but also supporting the revolution in Rojava. It’s like the only real women lead revolution that we’ve seen globally and it’s where women come first. I’m kind of paraphrasing someone else quite inspirational but basically, it’s not saying ‘we’re going to have revolution and then maybe after we can look at women’s rights and equality’. That’s at the forefront of this revolution. As a feminist, I feel that it’s really, really important that we have international support for the revolution there. 

The way that we have the Kurdistan Solidarity setup here is that I am the Co-Chair because in Rojava there’s a man and a woman who Co-Chair every spot on the council. We want to emulate that with our local branch as well, so I Co-Chair with my Kurdish friend Baville who kind of founded the Kurdistan Solidarity Portsmouth. We’ve done some activities like protest to raise awareness of what’s happening in Kurdistan, especially when Turkey were invading Afrin. Obviously campaigning for Anna Campbell’s body to be returned to the UK as well. Doing things like film nights and music nights with international performers and Kurdish performers. Not entirely sure what we’ve got lined up for this year, at the moment, but we’re kind of working on it.

How are Facebook and Twitter intervening when it comes to Kurdistan Solidarity or anything pro Öcalan?

I got banned from Facebook constantly because our Kurdistan Solidarity campaign had support for Öcalan. So Öcalan was the leader of the PKK who’s been imprisoned in Turkey for I think it’s almost 20 years. For the last two years he’s been in complete solitary confinement, so he’s not even allowed to see his family. A few weeks ago (when this interview was done) his brother was allowed to see him and it was the first time in over two years that he’d seen any family members. However, under pressure of the Turkish government, Facebook will remove anything that’s kind of pro Öcalan, or in support of Öcalan and ban the members. There’s plenty of news articles about it and they explain everything way more articulately then I ever could, but I believe that there was some kind of threat from the Turkish government that they would remove Facebook in Turkey unless Facebook adhered to some of their requests about silencing the voice of Öcalan or Öcalan supporters. I think there was a real interesting case of a Scottish school girl of Kurdish descent who got banned from Twitter for raising money and supporting a movement in Kurdistan. There’s some great news articles about that so I recommend Googling or visiting my Twitter.

Let’s come back full circle and talk about music, what are you up to at the moment?

I play solo shows if friends ask me but I’m not actively trying to book gigs and stuff. There’s a few reasons for it, when I was doing the record, when the record came out I’d spent years and years of my life on tour. I really envy people that are like, this is what I want to do with my life, and I’m going to go at it 100%, but I’m much more of a person that I want different experiences in life. I’m quite fickle by nature anyway, but I want to be a part of so many different things and experience so many different things. Music isn’t my main thing and I feel like I’ve explored and done a lot of what I want to do with music on a on a gig level, perhaps not on a writing level. I was playing gigs when ‘Come back, Come back’ came out and I just really didn’t enjoy it. I thought;  why am I doing something that actually is not giving me much happiness? I kind of knocked on the head a little bit. If people asked me to come play a show and I like them, they’re my friends, then I’ll do it. What I have been doing; and this is the exciting bit for me, is playing in a band called The Hippaes. I play electric guitar and sing. Doing gigs with that makes me very happy. So I would prefer to play with the band than play solo at the moment, it might change in the future. At the moment, that’s what gives me a lot of joy. 

Make sure you subscribe to the ‘Promote the Hell Out of It!’ podcast to keep up to date with the latest episodes and to hear this conversation in full. There is way more to learn about Kurdistan Solidarity and the struggle in Rojava.  Since my conversation with Kelly I have continued to research the subject, so there will be another blog post to follow that goes into further detail.

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