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Activism and... Raise Your Banners

Other people go to Glastonbury; I go to Raise Your Banners. Instead of going to Glastonbury, and spending lots of money and seeing a CND stall on the side, I go to support a festival of political song.

There are sort of two parts to the festival. There are a number of political choirs, so in one part of the festival there’s a showcase for them, and so there was the London Socialist Choir, and Red & Green, and then all the northern choirs.

This year the festival was in Bradford. The venue was wonderful, a South Asian cultural organisation that has this series of rooms for cultural concerts and conferences. That was the main venue but they also had Bradford cathedral where the choirs could showcase. They did everything from South African freedom songs to the Internationale and everything in between.

It was inspiring because the choirs can be anything from 4-5 people all the way up to 20-30 people. The common thread is this thing, the power of music and the power of song in campaigns. The best example I’ve got is Red & Green. When we’re on a demonstration, they’re there. They pick the best places to be heard, and they inspire us and move us on.

The other part of Raise Your Banners is the songwriters and musicians, who have right-up-to the-minute messages. They themselves are inspired by campaigns for justice, national and international. They also personally support the campaigns: support campaigns against deportation of asylum seekers and against domestic violence, and in solidarity with the Leeds refuse workers who are out on strike now. The best example of that is probably Chumbawamba.

When you go to something that is national, to know that these other struggles going on and people are supporting them, not just by demonstrating and letter-writing, but singer-songwriters, musicians, guitarists, it adds something. It adds the depth and the breadth of a struggle.

I went to Raise Your Banners because it’s like going to a demonstration, being there with a group of like-minded people and making a statement. I went to have a good time, drink some beers and listen to political songs!

I came back inspired to talk to the local (non-political) choirs that we have, to ask them to focus more on peace and climate change and to see how they can help in those campaigns.

Woman peace activist, 50s

It was really good having a stall at Raise Your Banners bookfair, probably better than most other stalls I’ve been on in other places, because it was little and it felt like everyone who’d come to the festival was not only there for the music but also for the politics, so they wanted to pick up things and engage with what was happening in the world.

It felt like the music had lightened the people and given them energy and enthused them. There was a charged atmosphere, rather than people feeling: “Ugh, I have to pick up a leaflet.” I met people I knew from all over the country, and from all periods of my life, so that was very nice.

I took my 14-year-old son with me because he likes political folk music. In the first concert, with Tracy Curtis, Chumbawamba and others, he was very profoundly moved. Raise Your Banners was quite an experience for him of immersion, to be inside music for three days.

It was also great that not only was it music in concert, in halls, but that on Sunday everyone went off to the local war memorial to sing peace songs, because it was Remembrance Sunday. It felt like the songs were in the outside world, being used in a practical way, as well as just entertaining us. Another nice thing was that it was the sort of music that wasn’t passive. There were a lot of familiar songs, and you could join in. The “joining in” created a cohesive community of hundreds of people. It felt like the music belonged to us.

One of the best things was Leon Rosselson’s 75th birthday tour, “Turning silence into song”, which had been organised by his friends. There was a line-up of a whole older generation of political songwriters – Roy Bailey, Frankie Armstrong, Sandra Kerr, Martin Carthy – it was magical to see them all in the same room. You could almost see their relationships; they had been making a songworld together for their whole lives.

There was also a younger singer, Janet Russell, who had a fantastic voice, and represented the next generation, who are carrying on the traditions.

Woman peace activist, 40s

Topics: Culture | Activism