Manchester is currently marking the 200 anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. This was violent attack on over 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters with 18 killed and hundreds injured. As part of a number of events the Art Gallery has an exhibition and events entitled ‘Get Together and Get Things Done’. Our choir was invited to sing in Gallery 17 on June 9th. Liz Powers, our choir director, chose a set of songs that reflected the themes of democracy, protest and freedom.
It seemed natural to start with Sing John Ball – a rousing song about a medieval priest who travelled around the country preaching equality. For a city like Manchester with its history of the cotton trade it seemed appropriate to be singing Labour and spin for the love of one another. Next we sang a rousing version of Siyahmaba in both Swahili and English – We are marching to where freedom begins.
Having recently celebrated the centenary of women winning the right to vote it seemed natural to sing two suffragette songs. Manchester after all was home of the Pankhursts and the site of a number of suffragette actions. The first Nana Was a Suffragette highlights the life of a Manchester suffragette and the impact of her life on her granddaughter. Liz beautifully sang the verses and the choir did the choruses. Then it was the time for the Pankhurst Anthem – The pounding of our hearts as we march on through the streets.
We sang two further songs from South Africa – Nelson Mandela, which celebrates his life with some impressive handclapping by the choir, and Siyahamba (Freedom is Coming) which celebrates the hope for freedom, justice and power.
We then sang We Need Each Other Now which seems to capture something of the mood of uncertainty around today – And while we sit upon the fence, in harmony and dissonance, the bells toll out intolerance, we need each other now. Finally there was You’re The Voice an upbeat song that encourages us to speak up and play our part and not be frightened. We had a larger than usual audience who applauded us so vigorously that Liz decided to invite them to sing Freedom Is Coming with us. This was a neat, empowering way of finishing our performance and went down very well.
Thanks go to Lizzie Gent and Larraine Thompson for organising the event so well, to Karen Shannon of Manchester Histories for promoting it, to Meg Parnell of Manchester Art Gallery for welcoming and looking after us and to John Eaden for the photos and this video of us singing the Pankhurst Theme.