On Sunday October 6th, a coach full of choir members together with spouses and friends arrived at The Tristan Bates theatre, tucked away nestling in a side street in Covent Garden, London.
After a thorough rehearsal and a quick break to explore the local area, we assembled back in the Theatre to see our new president, Tayo Aluko, perform his one man show “Call Mr Robeson”.
In an intimate atmosphere, Tayo took us through Paul’s life, embuing every trial and tribulation with verve and gusto. The stage was set as a giant broken 78” record that had been shattered, strewn with memorabilia from Robeson’s life, and a pianist tinkling on the keys of a piano in the background.
Tayo appeared, and the atmosphere was electric. He took us from his studying at Rutgers to his football career and how his father told him to keep going when he was subjected to racism. We were treated to insights about how he heard Welsh miners singing in London and how he realised that all the working classes were subjugated, how he visited the Soviet Union and felt that at last he was equal to anyone. Later he eloquently retold some of the great man’s speeches, and gave an oration from his appearance at the House Committee on Un-American Activities (hence the title “Call Mr Robeson”) We saw Robeson’s eventual breakdown and subsequent retirement. A very moving and touching show.
After the rapturous applause Tayo opened to questions and introduced some of the crew who contributed to the unique look, sound and feel of the show.
We finished the evening with a Birmingham Clarion Singers performance of several songs, opening with “Ode to Joy” – the English translation of Schiller’s poem was by Paul Robeson. This was followed by “You Ain’t been doin’ Nothin if You Ain’t Been Called a Red’”, and the powerful “The Message”. These songs represented Robeson’s ideology, and end to inequality, and a confident opposition to forces of fascism and oppression.
The next three songs chimed with Robeson’s international approach – “Viva la Cinque Brigada”, The “Greek Freedom Song” and Brecht and Eisler’s “Solidarity”.
We ended with a trio of songs reflecting Robeson’s gospel, jazz and African roots; “I Wish I Knew How”, “Down in the River to Pray” and “Nkosi Sikele’ i”.
We had a good response from the audience, and after a quick catch up with our joyful president, we headed back to Birmingham, just as Birmingham Clarion Singers left their concert with Paul Robeson, so many years ago.
To see “Call Mr Robeson” and guest performers, visit: