Radical music: 'we will dance the can-can with our friends at ICAN'

IssueMarch 2021
Comment by Penny Stone

22 January saw a landmark moment for the global peace movement – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons entered into force on 22 January 2021 after it reached its 50th ratification last October. 

When the treaty first came into being, thanks to the work of peace campaigners around the world (under the umbrella of ICAN), we were still able to gather together safely in large numbers. 

There was a great celebration at Faslane, the nuclear weapons base just outside of Glasgow, where for once the sun shone as we danced and sang and listened to activist voices from across the world. (And ate cake, of course!) 

My co-songleader with Protest in Harmony Choir, Jane Lewis, wrote some words to the tune of Offenbach’s can-can which challenged us to dance and sing at the same time (eek!). But we fair enjoyed ourselves. Here are some of the words we sang together in 2017, which Jane has just updated:

‘We say we will dance the can-can with our friends at ICAN, till the UK government signs up to ban the bomb, so we will dance the can-can, with our friends at ICAN now the UN Treaty is in force.… Many states have ratified and we will not be satisfied, till the world is free of nuclear weapons we will dance! Sign the Treaty, make the world a safer place.… Sign the treaty, let us live in peace.’

When the 50th signatory was ratified in October, we wanted to go out into the streets and sing and dance together. 

We wanted to go to Faslane to gather in our thousands. 

But of course we couldn’t, not just now. So we’ve been making different sounds together.

Someone somewhere suggested asking their local church to ring bells to celebrate, and lots of people followed suit. 

Even Coventry Cathedral was ready to ring their bells at midday on 22 January to let people know the good news. 

Due to the need for tighter restrictions across the UK, many churches who would have rung their bells aren’t now able to, but many activists were standing on their doorsteps at midday ringing out the news. Sound travels. Sound connects. 

And if it’s not safe enough to sing, ringing bells together up and down the country seems a good reminder that we can still resonate together and change the soundspace around us in some collective way. 

There has been plenty of creative online organising as well, of course, and Protest in Harmony hosted our very own Nuclear Ban Burns Night for friends in the Campaign Choirs network and beyond. 

I edited together an anti-nuclear can-can video from footage sent in by lots of different folk. 

The purpose of making it was to make people laugh. That’s not often our aim, and I suppose the real aim was to let as many people know as possible that the nuclear ban treaty exists, and that we can begin (or continue!) to pressurise our governments to sign up, if they haven’t already.

In Scotland, we put out a call to folk singers of social conscience to record themselves singing Hamish Henderson’s ‘The Freedom Come All Ye’ to celebrate the ban. He invited us all ‘at hame wi’ Freedom’ to aspire and work towards a better Scotland where ‘nae mair will the bonnie callants mairch tae war’. 

Peggy Seeger also recorded a special performance of ‘Carry Greenham Home’ to celebrate the treaty (see link below to listen to these recordings). 

And this invitation is open to all, whether or not you’re in Scotland. If you feel at home with ‘The Freedom Come All Ye’, please share a version of that. 

If a different peace song feels right for you to celebrate the nuclear ban, please feel free to record yourself singing it and send it to me so I can include it alongside the other beautiful songs and singers. 

Protest in Harmony closed our Nuclear Ban Burns Night with ‘Auld Lang Syne’, of course, from the great bard himself: ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! and gie’s a hand o’ thine!’ echoing our shared belief that kindness is the key, and the threat of nuclear weapons makes us good neighbours to no one. 

So ring your bell and raise your ‘cup o’ kindness’ and we’ll all get to work pressuring the UK government to sign up to the treaty. 

“Many states have ratified and we will not be satisfied, till the world is free of nuclear weapons...”

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