Last Friday night was the first real winter’s night. Temperature of minus four. Saturday morning saw intrepid members of North Yorkshire for Europe climb into every bit of warm clothing they could round up, and head for Harrogate …..
…. and the Big Red Bus for Remain. For one week only – this week – if you live in Yorkshire you’ve a chance of seeing this re-badged Routemaster bus parked up in a town square near you. Parking place secured, members of the Yorkshire Remain Choir, plus assorted brass instrument players (with a tuba, a euphonium, a saxophone to name but a few) and guitar-players clamber off the bus, secure a vantage post, and sing.
It’s the Christmas period now, so in addition to all our tried and tested favourites:
What shall we do with this Rotten Brexit? (What shall we do with a drunken sailor)
We’ve had quite enough of Brexit, it’s a con. (She’ll be coming round the mountain)
Glory, glory, what a helluva mess we’re in. (Battle hymn of the Republic)
and about thirty other numbers –
we have adapted seasonal fare:
Away in Westminster, where Johnson resides….
The Twelve days of Brexit.
Hark the Leavers shout and wail…
Goodness, we were cold as we sang in Harrogate. We were freezing in Richmond, 37 miles north. And by the time we reached Ripon at sunset, 26 miles south, we’d lost all sensation. Only singing warmed us a little. That and having raucous sing-songs on the bus between venues.
We were generally well received. Obviously we weren’t always appreciated. But in Ripon, a dyed-in-the-wool Leaver approached us with a huge box of shortbread: ‘I don’t agree with you at all.’ he said. ‘But that’s no reason why we shouldn’t be friends.’
Hardly any photos of course. 1. I was busy singing. 2. Nobody in their right mind would want to take gloves off, just to take a photo. Brrr.
At this late stage, most of us have difficulty in believing we’re making a difference. But it takes our minds off the prospect of being led into an uncertain future by a serial liar with no moral compass, or interest in anything beyond his own ambition.
On Saturday, about a million of us descended on London, all committed Remainers, demanding a Final Say on the Brexit Deal, which even as we marched was being debated in Parliament with as much dissent as usual.
Our own little patch of Yorkshire sent three coaches. Nineteen coaches from Yorkshire altogether. Everyone had their own important reasons for being there.
But the Yorkshire Remain Voice Choir had come to sing. We had permission to commandeer Wellington Place, right next to Trafalgar Square, and sing below the Duke of York Monument. And that’s what we did.
We’d come into being about two years ago in two ways. Over in York for Europe, Martin and Gill were crafting clever lyrics with a view to starting a Remainers’ choir. And in North Yorkshire we began to sing at our street stalls. Arnold conducted a few singers, a tuba, and a guitar. Small beginnings …. but now it’s county-wide, with members from Settle to Sheffield – almost 80 miles apart. Dozens play their parts. Composing lyrics; practising; arranging; securing singing spots; keeping song books up to date; booking coaches.
We have SODEM’s support in London, and an official photographer in Bedford-based Chiara Mc Call. We’ve sung all over Yorkshire, in London, even (thanks to Louise in South Yorkshire) in Brussels. Whenever the going’s got tough, we’ve had North Yorkshire’s Richard S’s boundless enthusiasm and hard work to keep us going. These days, apart from the original small team, we have a Yorkshire band’s worth of brass, and drums and various stringed instruments.
In London on Saturday, we had a large and pretty much captive audience. Slow-motion marchers inevitably listened – enthusiastically – as they passed. Many stopped off specially to listen, applaud and join in too. Demonic Cummings and Boris Johnson, those two splendid images fresh over from Germany, unsurprisingly pushed off towards Trafalgar Square as we began.
There are thirty eight songs in our repertoire – all, with one exception, pastiches of well-known numbers. Our signature number is of course:
‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)
Your Brexit deal is naff…‘(to the tune of ‘On Ilkley Moor’, naturally).
But we can do other folk songs:
‘What shall we do with….‘, not a ‘Drunken Sailor’, but ‘this Rotten Brexit?’
…..drinking songs: ‘I’ve been a Remainer for many’s the year’ rather than the more traditional ‘Wild Rover’.
We can do Old Time Musical: ‘I’m forever European’ (‘I’m foreverBlowing Bubbles’).
Radio Two standards such as ‘Delilah’ ask:
‘Why why why deceive us?
More lies won’t appease us’.
We can reference American traditions:
‘We’ve had quite enough of Brexit it’s a con’. (‘She’ll be coming round the Mountain’)
While ‘The Battle Hymn to the Republic’ becomes ‘Our eyes have seen the threat to all the freedoms we hold dear’.
Hymns too …. ‘Bread of Heaven’, and the Last Night of the Proms (‘Land of Hopeless Tories ‘).
There’s one song in our repertoire that’s not original: ‘Ode to Joy’. It moves many of us to tears every time we sing it.
Brexit or no Brexit (no Brexit please!) we’d like to continue. A pro-Europe Choir and Band for Europe?
Photos and videos labelled ‘CM’ are by our wonderful friend and supporter Chiara McCall. Follow her on Instagram @chichi76.myreflection
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that we’ve been on another demo: a Flash Demo – one of the many that sprung up around the country as a direct and horrified response to Boris Johnson’s decision to ask the Queen to Prorogue Parliament: here’s an explanation.
If you’re reading this on Saturday, we’ll be in York, demonstrating again, alongside thousands of other in Leeds, and cities all over the country.
On Thursday, we heard from politicians from different parties, cooperating to fight together. We heard from campaigners. We heard from those from mainland Europe who’d chosen Britain as their home. We heard from individuals terrified of the effect of No Deal on their own health or that of a loved one, dependent on prescription drugs. And best of all we heard from children, some still in primary school: informed, passionate, articulate speeches. Those children, still a long way from voting age, are our future.
This time, these rallies aren’t about Brexit. Not really. They’re about our Democracy.
Here are photos.
Shaffaq Mohammed, Yorkshire & Humber MEP (LibDem)
Louise Houghton, South and West Yorkshire for Europe.
11 year old Laura.
A very impassioned 10 year old.
But I’ll leave you with this one, snapped through the window of a barbers’ shop in Leeds. You might not like the language. Gotta approve the sentiments.
For a while now, Yorkshire for Europe groups have been getting down to London once a week to support Steve Bray of SODEM, and demonstrate peacefully outside Parliament. Week by week, the Great Yorkshire Songbook has evolved, featuring such memorable numbers as ‘We’re down from Yorkshire just to say…’ to the tune of -what else? ‘On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at’, and ‘Why, why why Theresa?’ to the tune of ‘Delilah’. Cornwall for Europe does much the same, but they have a great tradition of sea shanties to draw on for their songbook (‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?‘).
Adrian from North Yorkshire for Europe threw down the gauntlet to Cornwall. The Great Yorkshire/Cornwall sing-off. Challenge accepted.
On Monday, two coaches arrived in London. One from the north, stuffed not only with Remainers in good voice, but Yorkshire flags by the dozen, European flags, Union flags, placards, and Mark’s tuba. Oh, and seven students from Sheffield University, hitch-hiking to Transylvania for charity, via our demo. And a coach from the south-west, idem, except that they had black-and white Cornwall flags and placards, and a Cornish bagpipe instead of a tuba. And no students.
And outside Parliament, we sang. We soon learnt each other’s songs, and we sang, sang, sang. Alistair Campbell came for a while with his bagpipes. Our MEP Richard Corbett came and joined in, so did Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, and Lib Dem Tom Brake, who brought chocolates too.
Alistair Campbell and bagpipes.
Steve Bray, that stalwart who protests all day and every day, whatever the weather joined in the fun, and was invited to judge the two choirs. ‘52% for one, and 48% for the other!’, suggested some wit in the crowd. Steve was far too polite, and suggested a draw. Team Yorkshire thought that Cornwall had the best tunes, and were more tuneful, but we were LOUDER.
And at 6 o’clock, we followed Steve’s daily tradition. We trooped after him and his mega-megaphone and bellowed People’s Vote slogans as loudly as possible across to the House where members were about their daily business. If you’d been watching the BBC 6 o’clock news at 6.11, you’d have seen us. And again at 10.00. A friend in Cardiff spotted us on the Welsh news.
During the day there were interviews with Norwegian radio and French TV (Arte is doing a full length documentary on Britain and Brexit, and have been filming in the area for 10 days).
Just one more job to do before the long journey home. Get along to the press hub, and be there while Channel Four does its daily interviews on its 7 o’clock news. More flag waving, shouting and singing, and a bit of trespass onto the lawns with a placard by Steve Bray.
We met Londoners, tourists, people from around Europe who’d made England their home and no longer feel as welcomed as they used to. We’ve had our photos taken, had discussions with dozens and dozens of passers-by. Does it make a difference? We don’t know. But we know we brought cheer to so many people who like us, hope that Brexit is not a Done Deal.
Last week, the one at the end of which the long-planned Put it to the People March was due to take place, the Brexit Drama went from bad to worse to excruciating. It seemed a perfect time to go to London and make our views known.
We’d been before of course. Twice. We’d been last June, we members of North Yorkshire for Europe, sharing a coach with protestors from York. We went in October, with a coach of our own. We went again on Saturday, with three coaches, part of a flotilla of 19 from Yorkshire and 200 from the country as a whole.
Here we are arriving, marshalling ourselves.
And here we are singing one of the nineteen songs from the Yorkshire Remoaners’ Songbook. Our signature number is this….
We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say (just to say)
It would be untrue to say we started marching. The crowds were such that we often didn’t move at all, and when we did, we shuffled. We soon got split up, but it was always cheering to see that wherever we looked, there was a Yorkshire flag – the white rose on a blue ground – somewhere in sight.
There were fellow marchers to talk to – the young girl who’d chosen to spend her 13th birthday marching, the elderly Irish woman who’d come over to vent her anger at how Ireland’s particular issues were being sidelined. There were witty posters to admire: there are a few at the end of this post. And more here.
On we went, making the roads on our route totally impassable for passers-by. One hour – two hours – three hours of shuffling – we were still only in Pall Mall. By now the speeches were beginning in Parliament Square on the other side of Trafalgar Square, and we were still nearly a mile away. Never mind.
Drummers struck up, and entirely unbidden, our voices, hundreds strong, spontaneously divided as cantor and antiphon, though the words were the same: ‘Stop Brexit now!’ This little interlude seems to me to be a metaphor for how most Remainers that I know treat one another: cooperatively, in harmony, and with mutual respect.
And then … then we had to go. We had to find our coach, due to depart on the long road back to Yorkshire.
Although we were marching to be given a Final Vote on the Brexit Deal, there’s now equally loud pressure that Parliament should Revoke Article 50. Now.
If you’re a British Citizen, and haven’t done so already, please sign here.
And if you’d like an aeriel view of the whole thing, here you are, thanks to The Guardian. We’re off camera. We didn’t get to the centre of the action.
‘Just walk round the room. Any direction – no, not in a circle.. Just … don’t bump into anyone’
That’s how we began every rehearsal for our improvised drama ‘The Lie of the Land’, which played to a pretty full house in the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough last Monday. Those first minutes of every session provided time to focus and to learn how to use available space.
We brought in stories about Brexit that mattered to us. An ex-Science teacher deplored the ‘brain drain’ and the fact that foreign nationals no longer want to come here to pursue their careers. A mixed race woman observed the casual and less-than-casual racism that the Referendum seems to have legitimised. A deaf member of the group worried about the possibility of arts funding dedicated to people with disabilities being withdrawn. Someone gave vent to his anger on behalf of his children that the British Government has turned its back on the Erasmus programme. A management consultant spoke about his worries that England, perhaps less accessible because of visa restrictions, and no longer part of Team Europe, will become increasingly isolated. I, having spoken about no-longer-welcome long time residents known to me, talked about a much loved Ripon restaurant that has recently closed because it can no longer easily access the European staff on whom it has come to depend. British workers aren’t interested…. And so on.
We worked with these stories in turn, Chucking ideas into the pot, junking some, adapting others, polishing them into short tableaux and vignettes. Mine for instance, had two of us being shown into a restaurant, with staff busy serving relaxed diners. As I told my tale, the staff gradually disappeared, until, as I finished speaking, all the diners found themselves alone in unstaffed premises….
As the Management Consultant finished speaking, a group of us, friendly, cheerful, wrapped in our EU flag, welcomed trading partners sporting the flags of nations from around the globe. The lonely bearer of the Union Flag found herself increasingly ignored, until finally, Mr. America tossed her a raddled and threadbare looking soft-toy chicken.
When the Science teacher spoke, his discourse was regularly interrupted between paragraphs by speaking members of various tableaux. ‘Three years to finish your research? Ah… that could present a problem’. ’I’m vairy sorry, I don’t want to accept ze job. I don’t want to come to ze UK any more’. And finally ‘ Yup. I’ve decided to take that job in Sweden’.
And so we continued till each of our stories had been told.
We’d begun the play though as proud members of the British Empire, sovereignty intact. We came on stage, upright and military, singing a rousing sea shanty ‘A Drop of Nelson’s Blood’, completely overlooking the fact that as we advanced, we were trampling over the body of a slave.
We threw ourselves to the floor to allow the showing of a short stop-motion animation in which Playmobil figures told the early history of the EU, Britain’s membership and the Referendum, after which there was a full-ensemble mime sequence suggesting our individual feelings of loss.
So it went on, with our individual stories interspersed with comic mini-moments when Mr. or Ms. Sensible would try and prevent an ardent Brexiter leaping from a cliff in quest of the Unicorn.
Our finale had our splendid and multi-talented musician Tim declaiming from a megaphone those fake news stories about the EU of which the likes of the Daily Mail is so fond (‘EU bans barmaids from showing cleavage’, ‘EU will force .uk website addresses to become .eu’ etc) , all of which we greeted lustily with ‘No! Really? Bastards!’ before a final vocal surge in which a susurrating murmuring wind was gradually replaced by whisperings which culminated in a vociferous shout for a People’s Vote.
After the interval, some of the troupe took on roles as Shadow Minister for Trade, the very recently appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, a German industrialist, a wealthy Brexit backer and so on, for a Question Time in which members of the audience were encouraged to ask genuine questions. It went surprisingly well and authentically.
For those of us who’d not done any drama since we left school, this has been a moving, stimulating and thought-provoking experience. Cathartic too. Perhaps we should have invited Theresa May.
I hope there will be photos later, when we’ve scavenged them from those who were charged with taking some. We were too busy to take any…..
I’ve got two daughters who have the acting gene: who’ve often performed and entertained on stage over the years. Where did they get this gene from? Not me. I was a servant once in a school play, and spoke two whole lines. That’s my Drama CV.
Yet apparently, Malcolm and I will be part of a troupe appearing on stage for one night only at the Frazer Theatre Knaresborough, to perform an improvised drama about … well, what else?… Brexit.
It was Phil’s idea. He’s a professional theatre director, and he’s one of our People’s Vote team. He thought we needed something to entertain the campaigning troops all over North Yorkshire and bring us and a wider public together for something a little different. Adrian, also part of the team, offered practical and technical expertise.
And suddenly … there we were, rehearsing, about a dozen of us. Most of us had never met each other before. No script. No lines. No clear idea where this might go…. yet. This was to be Improvised Theatre. We played games. ‘Think of one thing you like about being part of Europe.’ (Just one?) ‘Now make a statue of it.’ We’ve made more statues, taught our poses to others, worked with them to make vignettes. We’ve played ball games, word games. We’ve told stories about our own experiences of Europe and of the-Brexit-to-be, and with Phil, woven these into scenes and tableaux . We’ve sung a sea shanty, improvised ‘Question Time’. Phil and Adrian persuaded someone to confect a video. All this weekend, we’ll be working solidly to pull everything together. Well, Phil will. He’s got an eye for when there’s a nugget worth mining for, a gem worth polishing.From the latest North Yorkshire for Europe newsletter.