RED LEICESTER are Leicester's busking socialist choir. Theysing on the street regularly, take part in the annual Street Choirs Festival and the more irregular Raise Your Banners festival of political song. With around 30 members, the choir emerged in 1996 from a Worker’s Education Association (WEA) evening class, ‘Songs of Struggle and Celebration from Around the World’. They meet and rehearse weekly in the Secular Hall with a repertoire that includes ‘historical and contemporary songs expressive of social and political protest, and songs of worldwide celebration, struggle and change.’ The choir associates itself with ‘the peace movement, civil rights, women’s movement, gay rights, workers’ rights and environmental issues.’ Red Leicester encourage creative talent with members penning satirical lyrics to well-known tunes. The choir operates democratically with a constitution, Management Committee, a Repertoire Group, an Annual General Meeting, and regular meetings open to all members.
Lifelong socialist KC joined Red Leicester in 2008 to sing with a choir again after a break of 40 years. Now, she can’t imagine ever not singing with Red Leicester.
‘I love the busking we do, and I didn’t know we would do that when I first joined, that was new. So, was a bit daunted at the idea of singing in the street when I first came. I think my first one was a real revelation: “I’m actually enjoying this!” I go whenever I can. I love the busking, I really love it. You watch people walking past and the children all stop and look at you, and some of the adults just keep walking straight and don’t look at all, and some stop and listen and appreciate us. So you get a whole mix of people. That was a real added bonus.’
‘I love singing that song (Grace Petrie’s Farwell to Welfare), I really love it. Because I can get really angry when I’m singing. I’m not very good at being angry but sing a song like that and I get absolutely outraged. And it’s so good!’.’
♫i'll say farewell, farewell to welfare, and we've got a recession to beat, so lets put more money in the monarchy and the millionaire in downing street, and someone's got to foot the bill, let's start with the disabled and the mentally ill♬
‘We sang when the EDL (English Defence League) came to Leicester. That was a very memorable event because we were divided. The Police had put a big steel barrier across the street and we were on a bandstand on one side and the EDL supporters were on the other. And they were throwing, lobbing stones over the top and we were singing and it felt very powerful. I mean, it was quite scary, actually. Even going through town on the bus, the town was empty, everybody had gone. The Police had warned people to stay at home. So there was basically us and the EDL. And, I mean, there were other anti-fascist campaigners there. But that felt powerful, singing in response to them throwing stones. So, I could see myself agreeing to do more of that. Was a bit scary, but it felt a good way of resisting their ignorance and bigotry’
BJ was born in Leicester and has loved singing since she was a child. Her father was a moulder in an iron foundry and an AUEW shop steward. Always a Labour supporter, BJ doesn’t back the party any longer because it isn’t what she used to know and love.
'I already knew I liked singing – I really love singing, in fact – and I particularly like the fact that this was a political choir and I was singing about the things that really moved me and concerned me. The combination was really magical, I really like Red Leicester choir for that.'
'I was born in Leicester. I love my city. I love the fact that it is a very diverse city with people from all over the world living here.... And I was really very angry when we heard that the EDL were coming and they were going to have this march through Leicester…. Red Leicester, of course, joined the counter march and we sang before we started to march when people were assembling to entertain people and as we marched through the city.... if you are a member of a political choir that is as good as it gets'.
'Sometimes my hopes are that we build a bit of a wall and hold back the tide of rampant capitalism (laughs). You know? Because, particularly with the government we've got in power at the moment, the gap - it's noticeable in the last 20 to 30 years the gap between rich and poor has got wider and wider. It's got very accepted that property is like a god and people don't seem to notice that they are worshipping this god – it's become part of the fabric of our society almost, and, if all we're doing is showing to people there is an alternative, there's a different way of living, then I think it is worth carrying on. So that, just for there to be an alternative voice to what's become very mainstream since, in fact, I think, Margaret Thatcher got into power, things have got worse, from the hopes and dreams I might have had when I was younger.'
JB has is Red Leicester’s Musical Director and is still relishing the experience after more then thirteen years. From a musical family, JB went to the same school as Margaret Thatcher but, rather than a political direction, took from that a sense that ‘women can achieve’. Being part of Red Leicester has ‘deepened’ her socialist political convictions. ‘If a choir is working well, it becomes like an extension of your family. I think Red Leicester has always been a tightly-knit choir, that’s always been my impression, but it absorbs new people in and they become part of the family fairly quickly.’
‘I know that when somebody is having difficulties, whether it be health difficulties or personal difficulties, I do know that the choir rallies round, and I do feel part of that. So, I think that within itself its supportive but I also think, with days like Nottingham (Clarion Choir) organised, things like that are supportive in a wider sense – more national… The going to demonstrations, which the choir does, and meeting up with Red and Green or Strawberry Thieve or Sheffield Socialists or whoever, I think that is supportive as well. It’s this network that goes out. Whether you are in the centre or on the edge of it, all of it gives a sense of ‘we are not alone.’’
‘Because we sang together so often, and would go out on the streets together, and we’d go to Street Choirs Festivals together and Raise Your Banners together, a choir comes together and they come together more than the normal, you do become emotionally attached to each other. So, you have a support system there. And because people are accepting you, whoever you are, that support system is there whoever you are. I think that’s remarkable.’