The team are currently very hard at work on the final proofread and edit of S4OL. What a learning experience! Who knew how many errors and typos could slip into a text unnoticed by three authors and an editor; who knew how complicated footnotes and referencing could get; who knew the scope for missing stuff and duplication of effort all at the same time! Anyway, we're definitely getting there and - mainly - still smiling. We're all so looking forward to actually seeing and holding a hard copy of the book - and then to the launch in Brighton at the (29th June - 1st July).
Meantime, Sarah Ditum writing in the Guardian discusses the need for feminist utopian thinking in a the context of an a seeming deluge of dystopian culture and literature at the moment. Her article echoes the issues we explore in Chapter 5 of S4OL, where we present street choir members imaginings of better futures. As David Bowie sang: " Please don't tear this world asunder / Please take back this fear we're under / I demand a better future (interesting remix by Air)
For 10 points, who is this woman? And for a bonus 5 points, what's the title of her classic dystopian/utopian novel from 1993?
One of the discoveries while researching street choirs was that we didn't officially exist! Try it for yourself: Google 'street choir', look in online (and off-line) encyclopedias and dictionaries... Online you'll find references to street choir festivals (our own entries, but no news reports?) and to choirs of homeless people in the USA and Australia, but we you won't find any defining hit on street choirs as political or campaigning choirs in the UK... Until now. Check out our new Wikipedia entry!
In the run up to book launches of Singing for Our Lives in Brighton at the Street Choirs Festival, Leicester, London and Sheffield, it's good to know that we officially (?) exist!
Listening to the BBC Radio 4 Songs of the Civil Rights Movement this morning I was yet again struck by the importance of music in campaigns. I was 13 when Martin Luther King was killed and remember crying in front of the telly, much more because of the singing and the raw grief on display than because I understood the politics of the Civil Rights Movement. ‘We Shall Overcome’ never fails to move me and it is the one we somehow always return to when we need to stand together in times of trouble.
In the broadcast Bob Zellner talks about a 1963 night march in in Denver, Virginia, where the Civil Rights protesters stood on the Town Hall steps, waiting to make their way to the church. Faced with a make-shift police force of deputies drafted in from fire and garbage collection services armed with fire hoses and table legs, and knowing that 123 people had been hospitalised the previous night in a similar situation, they sang Amazing Grace as they slowly walked towards the police ‘and they [police] parted’. Zellner quotes ‘an old Civil Rights saying: When in doubt, pray and sing!’
BAE Systems have retracted their sponsorship of the Great Exhibition of the North (GEN) in response to an artist-led public outcry that art should be funded by arms manufacturers. ‘Art Not Oil’ comment that ‘The exhibition’s partnership with BAE Systems was not about money, it was about brand association: the artwashing of BAE’s corporate social licence to operate.’ BAE commented that they would ‘redirect our support to other initiatives’ better suited to its objectives. Currently those ‘objectives’ include arming regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, northern powerhouse minister and MP Jake Berry tweeted that ‘subsidy addicted artists’ and ‘snowflakes’ are supported by taxes paid by the 18000 BAE workers in the North, a vary-loaded statement: artists being on subsidies; not doing a ‘real’ job like the BAE workers; anybody receiving tax payers’ money not being entitled to an opinion, let alone a moral stand…. We are eagerly awaiting a snowflake song from the Commoners Choir!
Two interesting and complementary columns on music side by side in Peace News, 2614-2615, February - March 2018 (p.20). Jeff Cloves writes about 'the 10 best songs about peace', noting the absence of women's songs - either as composers or performers - in one online listing. Meanwhile, in her regular 'Rebel Music' Column, Penny Stone also uses the centenary of (some) women's suffrage in Britian to ask what songs they might have been singing back then, and which stand the test of time. Bread and Roses, which features prominently in S4OL, is also a song that penny notes retain its currency.
In this article one of our S4OL interviewees, Eileen Karmy of Protest in Harmony street choir in Edinburgh, dons her academic hat to consider the 1977 football game between Chile and Scotland. For many observers, the so-called 'match of shame' served to legitimise the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. It actually took place in a stadium where people had been murdered by the military just a few years before! Eileen focuses on the international solidarity with the people of Chile expressed by social movement activists in Scotland. The song 'Blood on the Grass', written by Adam McNaughton, was an important expression of this international solidarity.
This banner was used in protest outside Wembley during the England vs. Scotland match of 4th June 1977.
Judge our book by its cover? Available from June 2018
Singing for Our Lives: Stories from the Street Choirs centres on more than 40 oral histories gathered from members of the UK’s many street choirs. The title is taken from the lyrics of ‘We are a Gentle Angry People’, a song by Holly Near that is popular in the repertoire of many street choirs. Exploring the role of street choirs in political culture, Singing For Our Lives introduces this neglected world to a wider public, including activists and academics. The book intends to inspire the reader to engage with this world: to find out more, to join a choir in their community, to enlist their local street choir to support campaigns for social change and, more generally, to mobilise artistic creativity in progressive social movements. Singing for Our Lives is introduction to street choirs and their history, exploring origins in and connections with other social movements, for example the Workers Education Association, the Clarion movement, Big Flame and the Social Forum movement. The book identifies the political nodes where choir histories intersect, notably Greenham Common, the Miners’ Strike, anti-apartheid and Palestinian struggles. Signing for Our Lives also elaborates the personal stories and experiences of people who participate in street choirs, and the unique social practices created within them. The book tells the important, if often overlooked story, of how making music can contribute to non-violent, just and sustainable social transitions.