July Activities

After a turbulent few weeks politically and socially, and likely more to come, it is a real boost to join our voices together in unity and socialism. This month, Clarion will be participating in three very different events,  all with a common theme of support and strength, for sisters and brothers, in whatever struggle they are facing.

Friday 1st July: Public Event – Preventing Future Suffering

asbestos logo

11am-1.30pm: The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6AF

 Contributions from:
 Lee Barron, Secretary of the Midlands TUC,  and Birmingham Clarion Singers
  Ceremonial Dove Release at 1pm.

Saturday 2nd July

Join Birmingham Clarion Singers at this year’s Chainmakers Festival in Cradley Heath – main stage at 11.50am.


Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th July


On the weekend of July 9th-10th Birmingham Clarion Singers will be joining other Clarion choirs at Nelson ILP Clarion House in Lancashire, for tea and songs.
Read more about Clarion House

Wednesday July 13th

Finally, we will be holding our Annual General Meeting at All Saints Centre at 7.30pm, and then will take a break from rehearsals until the autumn.

Keep a song in your heart, and strength in your convictions.










Goodnight Irene

Irene Rickman

Irene Rickman, life member of Birmingham Clarion Singers, lifelong member of the Communist Party (Birmingham CPB Branch) and loyal Morning Star supporter, has died at the age of 84.

Just weeks after the birth of Irene Hickie in May 1931, South Birmingham was hit by a tornado, causing severe damage to properties in its path.  This force of nature could have seemed a portentous sign to Irene’s parents, given the indomitable spirit of their daughter in the years to come.

Although in poor health, Irene’s mother was supportive, and made sure her large family had opportunities to develop their talents. In the aftermath of World War 2, and following her evacuation to the Welsh countryside, Irene was enrolled for singing lessons. At the age of 15, she joined the fledgling socialist choir Birmingham Clarion Singers; and as a headstrong, forthright teenager, was drawn to the fight against fascism and the belief in a better world. This political firestorm led her to join the Young Communist League.

Irene very quickly became a leading light in the soprano section of the choir, taking on challenging roles under the tutelage of fellow comrades Elsie Marshall and Katharine Thomson.

This brought her into a world of cultural and political activism, rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as Paul Robeson, Alan Bush, Charles Parker and Pete Seeger, as well as left-wing academic George Thomson. This was a world away from her life as a young typing clerk, performing “Ballad for Americans” at Birmingham Town Hall for Paul Robeson in 1949, and playing Anne Page in “Sir John in Love”, (and meeting composer Ralph Vaughan Williams during rehearsals).

Irene met her life partner Alan Rickman at a Communist Party event, and they married in 1952, the day after her 21st birthday. Alan regularly took Irene to her singing lessons at Elsie Marshall’s on his motorbike. It wasn’t long before Elsie had persuaded Alan to take singing lessons himself, and to join the tenor section of Birmingham Clarion Singers,

In 1952 the choir took its message of peace and socialism to audiences in Romania and in 1957 to Czechoslovakia, funding these cultural exchanges by taking their progressive music to local venues and public houses. The people of Birmingham were treated to the works of Mozart and Vaughan Williams, sung by ordinary working people from the factories and offices in the city.

Irene continued to play a pivotal role in Birmingham Clarion Singers, taking on many roles over several decades of performances, and ensuring her clerical training was fully employed in the role of choir secretary. As she matured, her voice became deeper and richer, and as an adult she ended up with a beautiful alto voice. In the 1970s, she retrained as a nursery nurse, finding a welcome setting for her warmth and generosity of spirit. She took great pleasure in her extensive circle of family and friends, and could always be found at the heart of social events, enjoying a sing-along or a quiet joke and observation.

Irene and Alan had two children, Ruth and Mark, and their family life was full of shared interests, including camping, protection of wildlife, a love of the British countryside and, of course, politics and singing. In 1984 Mark died suddenly and tragically at the age of 19, and Irene demonstrated her unconquerable spirit as the family courageously came to terms with the loss. Together, the Rickmans spent their remaining years supporting working people and the socialist struggle. They weathered the storms of the Party in the 1980s, and continued to give their time and energies to the movement until they could no longer live independently.

 Alan died in April 2015, and, with the recent loss of her elder sister, Audrey, Irene became uncharacteristically melancholy and world weary. In her usual decisive manner, she decided it was time to bow out, from a life lived to the full, leaving a legacy of music and political activism to inspire the next generation.


Annie Banham


Birmingham Clarion Singers



(With special thanks to Ruth Rickman-Williams and Jane Scott, for their valued contributions)


Our Spring Concert and Retelling Ballad for Americans

Flyer v2

Doors Open 7.15pm


Clarion and Robeson 1949

Birmingham Clarion Singers perform Ballad for Americans (with Paul Robeson listening on the left) at Birmingham Town Hall 1949

To change the lyrics to Ballad for Americans is akin to a rewrite of the UK’s national anthem – you know you are going to upset someone along the way!

Ballad for Americans was performed by The Clarion Singers at Birmingham Town Hall on Saturday May 21st, 1949 when Paul Robeson was our Honorary President. The version we are performing on March 12th 2016  was updated by Annie Banham and Jane Scott for this concert, remembering Paul Robeson 40 years after his death and the continuing struggle for freedom, equality, dignity and justice for all.

Written in 1939 by John La Touche and Earl Robinson it was originally called “Ballad for Uncle Sam”. It was performed for the first time as “Ballad for Americans” on 5th November 1939 by Paul Robeson and it then became a regular feature of his repertoire, recorded in 1940 with the American People’s Chorus. The song emphatically asserts the democratic character of American nationality from class, ethnic and racial, and religious angles.

It was sung at both the Communist and Republican conventions in 1940 and became a huge popular hit until falling into disfavour as a result of the blacklisting of Paul Robeson in the 1950s McCarthy era due to his past support for the Spanish Civil War, of communism and the Soviet Union which he refused to renounce, and his active involvement in the civil rights movement. The 1940 election was at an important moment in American history, with the rise of Nazism, and the witch hunts of the McCarthy trials. The inclusion of the 9/11 terror attacks in the retelling of Ballad for Americans is an acknowledgement of another cataclysmic moment in American history, and how in the era of George W Bush and the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, notions of freedom and nation took on new meanings.

It is now 2016, and we are in the midst of another presidential campaign.

The outgoing President is Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the office.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is standing on an “everyday Americans” platform, with liberal policies on welfare and education, but more reactionary views on taxation, foreign policy and military powers. Her husband was the 42nd President of the United States.

Bernie Sanders is a self-described socialist, progressive, and proponent of workplace democracy, LGBT rights and the eradication of institutional racism. His elder brother is Health Spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales.

In the Republican corner we have Donald Trump, a right wing “personality politician”, with some worrying views on immigration, foreign policy and human rights. His grandfather worked as a Klondike Gold Rush restaurateur and brothel keeper.

“The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” Paul Robeson 1898 – 1976.


Also at the event,  DIY Poets will be performing several of their original works, and the book

Over Land Over Sea – poems for those seeking refuge

will be available for sale.

More here:  Morning Star article 7 Jan 2016 Solidarity which sings


Paul Robeson 40 years dead.


UPDATE: See here for some fantastic photographs from the evening, courtesy of Alan Humphreys (all rights reserved)

Presented by Tayo Aluko & Friends

Paul Robeson, the great African American actor, singer and political activist died on January 23, 1976. 40 years to the day, Tayo Aluko, writer and performer of the award-winning, internationally touring monodrama Call Mr. Robeson presents a concert in tribute to Mr. Robeson. Featuring the Liverpool Socialist Singers and the Birmingham Clarion Singers (Robeson was their Honorary President and Tayo Aluko is the current one!.)

This production will be based at The Quaker Meeting House, just ten minutes walk from Unity by the Blue Coat School

Dates: Sat 23 Jan 2016
Time: 7:30pm Prices:  £8adult | £6 concessionMore details here.