And so it was that a good number of Manchester Community Choir set off on Friday afternoon for the annual Street Choir Festival, which this year was hosted by Calder Valley Voices in Hebden Bridge. The aim of the festival over the last three decades has been to promote a world free of oppression, exploitation, exclusion and violence through song.
Our carload dawdled our way with the slowly moving traffic along the M62, until we reached the B road across the moors, and then had a fabulous descent into Mythelmroyd via Cragg Vale (longest continuous gradient in England). The Tour de France bunting and yellow bicycles were still out – it must have been buzzing there the previous weekend. When we finally arrived in Hebden Bridge we made our way to the lovely community owned Town Hall to register and collect tickets for the concert that evening. Then to find somewhere to eat. Although we had a lovely meal, it took so long to arrive that we missed the Deep C Divas completely, but O’Hooley & Tidow, nominees for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, more than made up for it in the Hope Baptist Church. Across the road, Seize The Day were performing at the Picture House
Sunny Saturday morning began with a visit to the Town Hall to put our names down for the Sunday morning workshops, before around 1000 singers filled the PictureHouse and Hope Baptist Chapel to rehearse for the mass sing . Then it was off to Lees Yard, where we sang “May You See Diamonds” (Ali Burns), “Only Remembered” (arranged Mr Ian Hague), “Rhythm Of Life” (arranged Carol Donaldson) , “Chanson” (Helen Yeomans), “We Shall Overcome” (arranged Carol Donaldson) and “Nkosi Sikelel’i Africa” .
The press covered the morning well with our own Alan McDonald being interviewed during the rehearsal in the PictureHouse by Radio Leeds; and Radio 3’s The Choir featured an interview with one of Calder Valley Voices and “May You See Diamonds”.
The atmosphere in the town at lunchtime was great, relaxing in the sunshine, with cafes, pubs and shops enjoying another busy day. Then the busking started up. As you walked around the town, snatches of songs reached your ears from all directions. Each choir had two busking spots, with plenty of time to listen to other choirs in between.
In the evening we got changed into our smart green tops, before heading back to the Picturehouse. Unfortunately by now the weather had broken so we had to scurry from the PictureHouse to the library in the rain, dodging the puddles, for our short rehearsal. However, once on stage we gave it our all, four songs in just ten minutes, then we were able to relax and enjoy listening to the other choirs – big choirs, small choirs, lively songs, funny songs, thought provoking songs, all sung with enthusiasm. After the concerts the bar stayed open in the Hope Baptist Chapel for those with the energy to carry on partying.
On Sunday morning we headed for our various singing, dancing, percussion, and campaigning workshops. Mary and I were at the Trades Club for our first workshop – Breton Dancing with Yannick Minvielle-Debat who taught us some basic footwork and also some interesting hand movements. The second workshop I chose was Helen Yeomans’ singing workshop in which we learnt a beautiful song which Helen recently wrote, called “Unto This Land”.
The weekend finished with a picnic in the playing fields, where we all had a chance to say goodbye to friends from other choirs, until next year, before heading back home across the Pennines.
If you didn’t make it to Hebden Bridge this year, be sure to join in the fun at Whitby in July 2015!