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No Masters NMCD49

Here's something radically different from anything else we are likely to stumble upon this autumn. A massed choir of 50 voices, attacking topics like exclusion and inequality; it might sound as though it could be heavy going. Quite the reverse, in fact. The people behind the project are Chumbawamba, whose previous forays into what we might recognise as folk music have been characterised by a robust wit and irreverence. Here, the choir covers topics ranging from the Calder Valley floods, the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1930, homelessness and forced migrations, to the potential rhymes for notorious Tory minister Jeremy Hunt. That last song is typical of how funny they can be. Most of the credit for that goes to the main writer, Boff Whalley, although there are contributions from other members of the troop.

Choral singing survives in pockets of the cultural hinterland of this country. This revival of the form in a radical context has its roots in a role as a disseminator of an alternative view of history and society. The choir calls itself “a singing newspaper”, but it could equally well be regarded as a radio ballad, with the old MacColl-Seeger techniques of merging the speaking voices of the people on the streets with those trying to make sense of it all. The difference is that the radio ballads never had 50 voices. A song like When They Go Low, We Go High is a celebration of that fire power.

Commoners Choir must be wonderful live. In the meantime, this album is a mighty testimony to collective creativity. I found my youngest daughter singing along with it lustily on its first playing, so they must be doing something right. Even if you were a card-carrying Conservative you might find it irresistibly catchy as well.

Dave Hadfield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 121 of The Living Tradition magazine.