The main space of the South London Gallery had for the Weasel festival an extremely garish, psychedelic, partially 3-D mural on the back wall, composed of blown-up photographs and drawings. A triangular, day-glo pink and blue stage was set up, its point directed at the main space. A wee bar was set up near the entrance. We Slackers (eight of us) had our final preparation meeting in the foyer over a huge tub of pineapple chunks. To the strains of the Errorists soundchecking in the main room we went through our programme and ironed out almost all ambiguities, decided who was doing and saying what and when. When we sang through our opening (and closing) tune, we were all immediately impressed with the warmth of the acoustics in the gallery. The words, a paraphrase of Goethe, are Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it; just begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
People started arriving in dribs and drabs. When we started there were probably around 50 people in the room.
1. We dispersed among them and started singing the above song, in unison and then as a round.
2. Using placards with the lyrics on them, we gently tried to get people to sing a three-part number,this room singsmoving into the light simple, so-o-o simple
while wandering around the room. 3. Standing in a circle, we each said something about what Slackers are (leaderless and conductorless, angry and happy and hungry, inclined to sing in bandstands, not necessarily that worried about singing in tune, an antidote to cynicism, out to make your life just that bit more … confusing, etc).
4. Warm-ups: a quick selection of stretches and limb-shakes, face exercises, and ascending and descending arpeggios of the words We like to sing in the street which went amusingly high and low.
5. We divided people into four parts (low, high, middle-low and middle-high), getting them to stand around the room. We spoke through the song (Ke Arona) and explained it was an ANC song that meant All power to the people; our enemies are on the run. We sang it and then taught the parts to each group, two of us per group. There was a handful of people who stood back but mostly people were joining in. We had more lyric-placards to wave around.
6. After a mere five minutes’ practice or so (the room taking on a very relaxed workshoppy we sang it through altogether, and it sounded really good. Everyone clapped at the end and it certainly felt as if people had surprised themselves.
7. Finally Rachel and/or Cara explained how we sometimes change the lyrics of songs, and to demonstrate we hummed the first tune again, then sang it with the lyrics some of us had previewed in several branches of a certain coffeeshop chain in central London a couple of weeks ago: Whenever you drink coffee at Starbucks, remember, just remember: Starbucks, McDonalds, exploitation, innit. Starbucks, McDonalds, same old shit, innit. (NB ‘Innit’ is South London shorthand for ‘I daresay you would be happy to concur with the preceding sentiment, my good man.’) After a few goes through we went back to the Goethe-y version on which we ended. Carl announced that our next appearance would be at ‘ an airport near you‘.
The next acts, DJ Rubbish (a funny freestyle rapper and his dj) and The Errorists (a trio of cello, suitcase and vocals with a Morrocan(?) flavour), despite clearly being good, were done no favours by the echoey acoustics that had suited us so well. Feedback from friends and strangers alike was positive — the sense was that people had initially been embarrassed or scared, but settled into it and ended up enjoying it. The whole thing took half as long as we’d initially intended. My friend Joe described the experience as ‘liberating’ and I know what he means.