VOICES 1 -6 1972 - 1975

Ken Clay (editor)

Paperback 6" x 9" 331pp  - ISBN 978-1-913144-01-2  Published 2019

The first issue of Voices appeared in 1972. Its founder, Ben Ainley, an academic teaching English in Manchester was diffident, almost apologetic, in his introduction:

“I can make no great claims for these pieces, except that they are, it seems to me, varied, interesting, freshly written, and in most cases the work of men and women taking up a pen late in life; with some qualms, though with real curiosity as to how it will turn out.” 

But it flourished; Ben had struck gold. Over the next 12 years 300 contributors produced nearly half a million words. It became a national phenomenon; there was nothing quite like it before – and there hasn’t been since. When asked for financial support the Arts Council scratched its head, squirmed and pronounced worker writing: 'successful in a social, therapeutic sense, but not by literary standards’.

Ben was a Communist Party activist - without his energy, commitment and contacts Voices would have died an early death. His banner under the title from issue 6 onwards became “working class poetry and prose with a socialist appeal”. Politics and aesthetics remained tangled right up to the end.

This volume reprints everything in issues 1 to 6. By May 75 the eighteen foundation writers had been joined by another sixty. The tone was becoming more confident and the treatment more artistic – though those early accounts of the Glass Works, the General Strike and radical activism were fascinating as social documents.

Voices ran for 31 issues until 1984 with contributions from Manchester, London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle. Original sets are now impossible to find – there are some in Universities and one in the Working Class Movement Library at Salford.

The background to Voices is well covered in the excellent papers of Tom Woodin, extracts of which appear on the Voices website. A more synoptic overview of British proletarian writing, which also touches on Voices, can be found in Ken Worpole’s classic Dockers and Detectives.

The complete reprint of Voices will appear in 5 volumes