Former Big Issue seller issues charity single

Vernon’s Song – a Christmas anthem for the homeless.

Vernon’s Song is a Christmas charity single in aid of Crisis and Shelter. Due for release on 15th December, it is accompanied by a poignant animation which hopes to raise awareness for the homeless at Christmas.

The song is voiced by Vernon Burgess, the UK’s best-known Big Issue seller and star of the BBC series SKINT. Vernon delivers an honest portrayal of life on Britain’s streets. He explains how homelessness comes from circumstance, not choice. He describes his day to day struggle, the love he has for his children, and delivers a powerful message on behalf of the homeless.

Vernon’s Song creates contrast between the up-beat chorus and honest verse. It serves as a sobering yet necessary reminder that whilst Christmas is traditionally a time of joy and celebration, for some it is not, and there are tremendous struggles playing out around us every day. Whilst sad in part, the song ends on a spectacularly festive and rousing note with Vernon in full song with a primary school choir.

Vernon spent a total of six years in the cadets (lance corporal) and the army reserves (medical combat technician). In 2005 he found fame when he featured in the BBC series SKINT, which followed people on the bread line in the UK. SKINT ran for four years and earned itself an army of fans thanks to infectious characters like Vernon who, then in his 40’s, gave us a detailed insight into his world, and life on the breadline in general. Once homeless himself and desperately poor, his upbeat outlook on life and tenacious drive for a better future warmed the hearts of many.

Now 58, his life has changed little since his time on SKINT. Though bubbly and optimistic on the surface he has suffered with mental health problems over the years, and continues to struggle to this day. Whilst he rarely sells the Big Issue anymore, he remains a familiar face on the streets of Birmingham and the Black Country.

The song was written by No Abode, a UK-based producer from Birmingham who had a chance encounter with Vernon when leaving a pub one night.

“I was already a fan of Vernon’s as my mum had introduced me to SKINT. We’d watch it every week cos it made us feel thankful for what we had and I remember mentioning to her one night that I’d like to make a Christmas song with him. A few years later I heard this voice as I was leaving the pub one night, I looked down and there was Vernon, sitting on the ground with a blanket and a paper cup. Vernon was already a local celebrity so he wasn’t at all surprised when I recognised him. I’m not one to miss an opportunity so I just blurted it out ‘Do you want to make a Christmas song, Vernon?’. I remember he was a little taken aback, but quickly agreed. He then became very excited about the prospect, which made me a little nervous as the gravity of my proposal sank in.

“The next morning I woke up with a hangover and some seriously negative thoughts; ‘Oh dear, what have I done?’. I’d been making music for a number of years but with little success. My grasp for lyrics was poor and I’d never attempted anything as difficult as a Christmas Song, how could I create something convincing with some guy off the street?’. I mulled over this thought for a while until I sobered up enough to think rationally, I needed inspiration, I needed to interview Vernon. I bought a cheap dictaphone and drove to the address he had provided. The flat was cold and cluttered, with mountains of belongings strewn across every floor and surface. The front door was detached from its hinges, and propped up against the opening, I guess to provide a modicum of ’security’. It was clear that his new-found fame hadn’t bought him any significant wealth.

“We chatted for an hour or so, then I went home and wrote the song that afternoon. Thankfully the song seemed to write itself, the words seemed so fitting to his plight, in a couple of hours we had a song, something tangible, I was relieved to say the least. Later that week I took Vernon to a mates studio and we recorded the vocals. Because of Vernon’s vocal limitations, spoken word was the only option. We struggled at first but soon developed a suitable technique to inject a little magic into his delivery.”

The song was hurriedly mixed and released for Christmas that year 2009, but suffered from poor production and management, and failed to achieve any radio play. Skip to today and the song as been lovingly retouched, revitalised, reimagined and features a heart-warmingly festive climax that leaves the listener with hope. The song has been professionally mixed and mastered, and is now accompanied by a beautifully animated film.

Vernon and No Abode hope that the song will become part of the festive soundscape, generating awareness for the homeless on an annual basis. “This isn’t your average Christmas song, it’s sad in part, bleak if you will, but it’s necessary. It’s completely unique, there’s nothing like this out there and it has its place. Christmas is a two-sided coin, if you’re financially stable it can be amazing, if your struggling it can be a very dark time indeed. When you walk the streets you can see it for yourselves, poverty, homelessness, everywhere. Its important to remember those less fortunate, give a little, at least acknowledge what’s going on around us because the sobering reality is . . . it could happen to anyone”.

You can download Vernon’s Song here.

“So sweet the sound of Christmas . . . “