Love and Justice equals Freedom is a short tribute to my friend, singer, song writer, busker and Keep Streets Live¹ campaigner Jonny Walker, whose life was celebrated at Leeds Minster on 20 April 2018.
It is not often I find myself emotional in a public place, however the passing of Jonny Walker and the memorial service at Leeds Minster was one of those occasions. True greatness is not defined in life, it is defined in eternity. This truism speaks volumes to the love that we all held for Jonny in his life and the love and justice that is held for him now he is at peace.
Jonny was like a comet, fiery and alive, an intense beauty, a force of pure nature, something that you look up to and wonder, how have you come into being, why are you here, where are you going, where have you come from, what mysteries have you seen and what are you about to reveal to us? Nobody owns a comet, it is totally free to be what it is meant to be. Nobody owns Jonny Walker, that was his genius.
For some people their souls are simply too big for their bodies. As we gathered (over 1000+ from across the world) at his memorial service, everyone had a story of how Jonny had touched their lives. His music, his live streaming of his busking sessions, his personal attention to a friends need, his love for his children, his private concerts for those in Hospice care, his passion for freedom and justice on the streets. Jonny was in every regard a post modern, folk hero, live and direct to your living room from whatever street he happened to be performing on. For the detractors Jonny was just a busker, to those with insight, intelligence and compassion he was a prophet from the margins of our society where the great unwashed live and breathe and have their being.
Over the years I have had the privilege to meet and know a number of truly great people. People of whom it can be said that they transcend their vocation and embody and symbolise something much greater than themselves. Jonny’s passion for freedom of artistic expression on the streets of Great Britain came to embody this for hundreds, if not thousands of buskers and street performers around the country. I am not a busker, nor would anyone want me to perform on the streets as I do not possess such rare and raw talent. Yet like so many members of the general public who walk up and down the streets of Britain every day, to be entertained by the myriad of talent that our country possesses is a joy and brings great joy. The fact that town and city councils seem unaware of this remains a mystery. The use of public protection orders to control and regulate street performers, criminalise homelessness and crack down on what is interpreted as anti-social behaviour speaks volumes to how our country is systematically being controlled in the hands of elite bureaucrats and servants of political self interest. We often joked about public protection orders being brought in to protect society from the bureaucrats and politicians given their systemic anti-social behaviour.
Jonny and I would talk at extraordinary lengths – boy did he have the capacity to talk – about many things. But principally we would talk about the passion of his heart ‘Freedom’. For freedom to flourish in the land, two ingredients are necessary, love and justice. Jonny pursued social justice and inclusion like a man possessed, yet his obvious commitment to this pursuit was fuelled by the idea of the greater good, namely genuine freedom. A freedom rooted in a God who transcends the narrow constraints of religion, politics and cultural conservatism. Jonny was at his best when he was free to be himself and love those who were seen to be unlovable. For me Jonny embodied the very heart of who God is, for God is Love unconditionally. Conversely he was at his most pained when the pressures of the world and relationships sought to curtail this freedom of love and expression through the asinine channels of conservative cultural conventions, rampant materialism and the manipulation of facts to serve personal or political gain. There was a child like innocence in his inability to grasp why people and systems are so nasty and dehumanising to other people. This innocence is a rare gem todays world, Jonny was a rare gem.
The first time I met Jonny was at a meeting of friends in London were we had gathered to discuss the implications of the Brexit vote on the future of our country and communities. Alongside his tears and what he saw as a politically futile act, he read to us Y B Yeats poem The Second Coming. The following words struck me deeply;
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, whilst the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It may just be that the best of us, now need to gird up our best convictions, as Jonny did, and make our mark on the world for the common good of all.
Travel well my friend, I look forward to meeting you when it is my turn to follow on. Maybe you can show me your favourite pitch in the presence of Love and Justice and we will not have to talk about freedom anymore.
¹The Keep Streets Live website is currently out of date, given Jonny’s death. The family will be looking to relaunch the campaign in honour of Jonny in the near future.