After quite a silence in which we've been interviewing street choir members from London to Sheffield, Birmingham to Cardiff, we're almost ready to begin the long but enjoyable process of writing and putting together the book 'Singing for our lives'. Yesterday we were in Cardiff where Cor Cochion were very busy doing their extraordinary stuff, encouraging people to vote and to vote to defend our NHS. They attracted a lot of attention with street theatres and powerful, passionate singing! People loved it when the choir sang in front of Nye Bevan's statue (Nye is currently spattered with seagull poo - a sign of the times! But don't worry, activist plan to give him a wash and brush up this week).
Singing for Our Lives researchers had an amazing time in France singing with - and interviewing - Strawberry Thieves as part of the Recontres de Chorales Revolutionnaires (meeting of the Revolutionary Choirs). And here's some photos to prove it...
What a week we had not lost in France! On Saturday 23 July three of us from Cor Gôbaith met up with Strawberry Thieves at the ‘Rencontres de Chorales Révolutionnaires’ (meeting of revolutionary choirs) near Royère-de-Vassivière. We then spent an amazing week sharing and learning songs, cooking for each other, chatting, eating and drinking immoderately with choirs from Nancy, Marseille, Toulouse, Brest, Lyon and elsewhere in France as well as an Italian choir assembled from Parma, Bologna and Trieste. It was a pleasure to be with Strawberry Thieves and to get to know the people a bit.
At various points during the week we helped cook a full British breakfast, made Bara Brith and served it with afternoon tea (tough to convince other cultures that British tea with milk is tea), participated in a debate on Brexit (which the Thieves were divided on), and performed a skit on Sospan Fach at the cabaret evening that went down very well (apparently the correct pronunciation of ‘llawr’ is hysterical to the artists formerly known as our EU partners).
As our musical offering to the assembly, we sang a great arrangement of Joe Hill and the powerful El Payandé with the Thieves plus members of La Band a Rosa (Amiens) and Lizzie from Raised Voices. At the end of the week the combined choirs performed two concerts, including a performance in the village square of Tarnac, which is the home of the Invisible Committee! (authors of The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends ). In the midst of all this we also managed to interview some of Strawberry Thieves for this ‘Singing for our Lives’ oral histories project.
Singing out against Bure, a site in France for burying nuclear waste
An article on Campaign Choirs appears in this month's Red Pepper magazine - so rush out and buy a copy! It was originally titled 'Singing for Our Lives' but Red Pepper editors renamed in 'Raised Voices', which might be a bit confusing as Raised Voices is a specific choir! If you can't get Red Pepper and would like to read the articles, contact us :-)
(inspired by Janet Bennett's vision of the future, see Liverpool Socialist Singers page)
Cantona kicked it all off. At first there was only blanket incomprehension. Then a trickle that became an unstoppable tide, a benevolent tsunami washing over Britain. First Britain. Arguably for not the most altruistic of motives, though Janet, a Red through and through, was certainly having none of that, a retired Liverpool legend decided he had to at least match the former Manchester United star: one-all in that derby. A current United player responded in kind: two-one; two-all; two-three. And so on. Then, totally out of character, a Chelsea star renowned for his sneering lack of sportsmanship went for it too, and the floodgates were really open. Competiveness and ego were spurs to compassion, whether for the best or the worst of reasons no-one in dire need gave a sliding tackle! A famous manager opened his ample mansion door, and a big-big club chipped in with a massive donation, though much less than the cost of an on-form striker.
Not that giving money was the point: it was bigger than that, more radical than cash for a game that had become all about cash. It was the mass of players themselves who really went for it. Perhaps because, well, who wouldn’t want your name up there in lights with a world-class act like Cantona? To line up alongside Éric Daniel Pierre Cantona in a dream team; to receive the perfect pass from the pass master, the man Sir Alec Ferguson held in the highest esteem of all. Even Janet, who despised the belligerent old sot, had to concede that in this case at least Sir Alec had got it right. ‘Ooh Ahh, Cantona!’
There are some six hundred and forty Premier League footballers earning in excess of £30,000 per week on average. The highest paid earn almost ten times that amount, wages of more than a quarter of a million pounds. Of course not everyone opened their houses up, but enough did. And then there were offers from millionaire former players, celebrity pundits, lower league players, more managers, and then the fans. The fans. That’s when it went beyond wealth and truly showed the power of the football family. Before you could do a Cruyff turn, football was doing more than government.
And it wasn’t just in Britain that Cantona caused a sea-change. French footballers went for it big-time, of course, many from the Bundesliga, a cautious response at first from Serie A but then, Mama Mia how could they resist ya! La Liga players responded differently across Spain depending on their region’s political history. Cantona’s family had themselves been Republican refugees from the civil war and Franco. His maternal grandparents crossed the Pyrenees on foot, finding sanctuary in France. Barcelona players all extended invitations, the whole first team squad, many others in the club. Fans too, of course. Janet purred.
Then, a game changer: Real Madrid’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, like Cantona also formerly of Manchester United, met the son of a Syrian refugee who had infamously been tripped by a Hungarian camerawoman while fleeing Serbian police. (Janet felt ashamed for Petra Laszlo, the heartless camerawoman: more women should go to watch football, she thought.) Ronaldo hosted Zaid Abdul Mohsen on a tour of the hallowed Bernabeu stadium. Meanwhile, Zaid’s father, Osama, who had been a coach for a first division club in Syria, was offered a job by Spain’s national coaching centre.
Enigmatic as ever, Cantona offered a timely quote: ‘When the trawler anchors to pull ship-wrecked people from the water, the seagulls bring sardines.’
The football pundit and ex Liverpool centre-back Mark Lawrenson commented that, as per, Cantona had his opponents on toast! Then he too announced that, exactly like the maestro, he was making room to house and feed a refugee family for at least two years. Hearing that, Janet experienced an ecstatic moment of revelation. She realised that football was a way of getting a lot more people involved in politics: a new politics, driven and sustained by morality and values. Many people sneered at football supporters, but they were good people on the whole, united by their love of something beautiful: the game. And, if they recognised beauty there, well… An untapped power, football fans were suddenly a tidal wave of resistance. Football could mean revolution.
And so it was. Responding to the refugee crisis was just the beginning. Once the football family woke up, its demands for justice knew no bounds. Every week in Britain around 650,000 people watch football live. Many more than that support clubs and follow the game. The Tory Party has a membership of less than 150,000. Mobilising the political potential of football quickly swept away the old stale system of political parties in Britain. Internationally too, a flash flood. Now, it was all about clubs, clubbing together. Cantona had changed the game.
Janet’s Pamela Barnes Ewing Dallas shower scene moment came when she woke from dozing fitfully to find that Match of the Day on TV had ended and the news was on. It was Cameron not Cantona on screen. And he was troughing on about taking advantage of the refugee crisis to leverage his renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU. Then Sepp Blatter came on, continuing to deny corruption in FIFA. And Janet knew the awful truth: Cantona hadn’t changed the game at all. As usual, he was just way ahead of it.
Thanks to Janet Bennet for the nucleus of the idea, and of course to Éric Cantona for being Cantona. Come on football, step up! Whether you like, hate or are apathetic about this story, you could consider offering to accommodate a refugee family if you have space. You might also encourage your Local Authority to find places for people, and lobby your MP to get Britain to opt in to EU quotas. Follow this link to donate to the Europe Refugee Crisis Appeal.
We love Tracey Curtis who has sung at social forum gigs, climate camp gigs, the 2013 street choir festival, and who is now lending this project her support: 'In 2013, I was honoured to be asked to perform at the Street Choirs Festival, in Aberystwyth, where it was hosted that year.All of those involved are dedicated to raising people's awareness of human rights and to promote a world which is inclusive and peaceful.This Campaign Choirs project deserves to be supported!"
Buy one of Tracey's cd, we KNOW you'll like it, watch out for Tracey's gigs in your area, or just book her now!
'Didn't we have a lovely day the day we went to Whitby!' Well, actually, it was the whole weekend and it was a hell of a journey to get there, but it was great to meet old friends, hear choirs old and new sing, busk in the streets, be part of a really well attended and enthusiastic Campaign Choirs meeting, and do our Singing For Our Lives stuff - talking to loads of people, handing out flyers and trying desperately not to offer anyone a flyer more than twice! Good weather mostly, too. Some highlights that come instantly to mind: The wonderful Snowapple singing on Friday night, a couple of great songs in the mass sing, busking and hearing other choirs busk - and lonely signature busking spot out by the beach huts, brilliant performance of their protect the NHS song by Sheffield Socialist Choir complete with tiny ambulance, big blue flashing light and a siren chorus as they acted watching free healthcare disappear into thedistance. Then there was the always magnificent Out Aloud, singing wonderful beautifully while dressed in Dracula ghoul-cool: They always steal the show, and everyone else is absolutely delighted to be robbed!! Fab moment for Red Leicester on stage too - everyone so looking forward to next year! Here a few sample snaps, more all day on our Facebook page. Big thanks to Whitby Community Choir!