Last weekend, the hottest of the year, Six Clarion singers took part in the 31st Street Choirs Festival.
First held in Sheffield in 1983 as the ‘National Street Band Festival’, it brought together musicians whose main thrust was playing in the signature marches and protests of a turbulent political decade – Thatcherism, the miners’ strike, the Falklands war… The intention of the street bands was to put the music into protest, making it creative, fun, engaging and thought-provoking. Through music and song, the overarching aim, then as now, is to promote a world free of oppression, exploitation, exclusion and violence. The scale of this ambition is matched by the enthusiasm and commitment of the street and community choirs who have participated in the Festival over the last three decades. With its roots in the North of England, the Festival has blossomed across the UK, most recently being held in Manchester in 2007, moving south to Brighton in 2008, east to Whitby in both 2009 and 2011, ‘home’ to Sheffield in 2010, to Bury in 2012, and now almost as far West as it is possible to get, to Aberystwyth on the coast of Wales . Street Choir 2013.
We hadn’t anticipated performing separately, so were somewhat alarmed to find not only were we to busk at three separate locations, but also had a spot on the main stage on Saturday evening! Not to be put off, we quickly set to rehearsing, on the beach, in doorways, anywhere we could grab a few moments!
On Friday night we enjoyed a full programme of entertainment from various Welsh acts, including Chocolat, Tracey Curtis and Sianed Jones. We were also treated to a short contribution by Bruce Kent, who popped up frequently throughout the weekend!
Saturday morning, we joined a choir of 700 singers to rehearse for the mass sing. The experience was so powerful: led by some great conductors, and surrounded by a wave of glorious harmonies, we perfected four songs:
· Peace Anthem – East Lancs Clarion Community Choir wrote special words to
Bruce Knight’s arrangement of Camille Saint-Saens Symphony No.3 (4 parts)
· Ain’t gonna study war – by Roxane Smith from nearby Machynlleth (6 parts: 1
bass, 2 low/tenors, 1 alto/middle, 2 high/ soprano)
· The Finisher – by Nick Jones from Borth even nearer to Aberystwth
· Freedom is coming – South African protest song with Welsh words by Nest Howell of Côr Gobaith (5 parts)
We left the hall, and marched down the hill to the Bandstand on the seafront, in a mass of song, colour and unfurled banners.
At the bandstand, we sang the four songs we had all worked on for several weeks in the run up to the Festival, followed by Billy Bragg’s Internationale. This was well received by locals and holidaymakers alike, who must have wondered what on earth was happening to the quiet beach resort!
After a hurried lunch, and frantic photocopying of music scores, we set off to our first busking location. Following the charming Sea Green Singers from Oxford, we performed under the clock tower. We had a lovely reception, singing various songs from our repertoire, including Power in the Union, England Arise and Manchester Rambler. We carried on to two other busking sites (all controlled like clockwork by volunteers) then headed back to the hotel to get into our uniforms and grab a final rehearsal.
We sang two songs: Ian Campbell’s “The Sun is Burning” and the Bertolt Brecht “Solidarity Song” with music by Hanns Eisler. We had a good response, and were pleased with the standard we had reached, given that we were possibly the smallest (and oldest) choir in the festival, and had only had hours to prepare!
After (too) much wine, beer and song, we retired, and returned for the final part of the festival on Sunday morning. A wide range of singing, dancing, and instrumental workshops were on offer, and we rounded off events with a stirring presentation by Bruce Kent on how to address the current discussions about the replacement of Trident.
We parted happy that we had given our best, and in turn had many happy memories to take away from the Festival. The organisation and hosting of the Festival by Aberystwyth and Côr Gobaith (Choir of Hope) was both friendly and professional. We were also impressed by the reception from the local community, having 35 community choirs descend on their little resort.
Next year the Festival will be held in Hebdon Bridge. I think we may well be there.