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Savitri D – Director
Nehemiah Luckett – Music Director
Laura Newman – Soprano and Composer
Call me a child of the ‘60’s, but I love a good happening, providing it’s bursting with social content! For those following Rev. Billy and the talented members of his rousing choir over the years, they seem not only chosen but, called to perform their vigorously inspiring anti-Fat Cat songs and actions, ever joyously, albeit, at times, painfully, given the recently stepped up arresting of Rev. on his home turf, NYC. Rest assured, if those wildly enthusiastic cheers of appreciation from the open minded, some, no doubt, formerly closed, at Wilton Music Hall May 2nd were anything to go on, any hassles inherent to their metaphoric beast busting over the years haven’t been in vain. Amen. Earthalleluia!
There’s an old saying that if things weren’t so sad, they’d be funny, and that applies double here, as the issues being addressed are literally, mind boggling in relation to their levels of corruption and the havoc those spear-heading them will wreak if they’re allowed to continue. Stopping the machines of war, banking fraud, housing hi-jacks, climate change, racism, militarisation, GMOs, endangered species, sexism, TPP, etc. is like it or not, our job, as in ‘we the people,’ however ‘wee’ we may feel in comparison. Enter rabble-rousers Rev. Billy and company, like an activist Calvary, armed with songs aka anti-corruption anthems amounting to war cries for the peaceful of heart! It’s enough to make you want to take to the streets and, take to them we shall, en masse, hopefully, before it’s too late…
As is needed in such an arena, the, on this occasion, fifteen strong choir, counting three piece band, seems like a microcosm of mankind, with its winning mixture of ages, races and nationalities, whatever they are. Hey, we’re all citizens of the earth, after all! And the sound – well, it must be experienced live to be fully appreciated, and seen too, as this isn’t one of those formal, still as soldiers at attention choirs, and that’s another point – we are NOT good little soldiers, which is why we need to keep fighting the good fights, in the name of our Mother – EARTH! Nope, everyone is grooving and gyrating to their own get downness as it were, and it’s pure pleasure, bliss, even, listening to their combination of harmonic, alternatingly funky, soul-filled, bluesy, roaring gospel and happy in spite of everything, sung advice on a spiralling array of pertinent issues, while watching them openly celebrate life on this planet! Viva la Stop Shopping Choir! The resident Diva of the choir, in terms of vocal power is Laura Newman, who whoops everyone into a frenzy at first note, seemingly, with the greatest of ease and minimum strain on her glorious, free ranging vocal chords! The songs are so well written and performed and so infectious they make you want to make up your own words so you can sing along, in lieu of being able to hitch a ride on anything at first listen, apart from invariably catchy choruses. Hopefully a recording of their current set will be released soon; if so, I urge you to buy it in order to help Rev. and the Choir continue their work. It may well serve double duty when the time comes and you, me (and everyone else) and that ole boom-box hit the streets! Non-nationalistic, let’s work together anthems are what’s needed right now!
Along with…an ironic sense of humour, which is what Rev. Billy aka Bill Talen has now and likely, always had, in shades. Which, must have been why, in white preacher suit and boots, he scooped up the inner nerve to enter the inner sanctum of the Disney Store in Times Square in the ‘90’s, surreptitiously stepping up into a whole new spectrum of soul-stirring performances designed to enlighten the non-suspecting, ill-informed, along the way, helping them awaken from their TV news induced twilight years, no matter their ages. I vaguely recollect seeing Rev somewhere along the line when I was in my hometown, Philly circa ’89 – ’96 and being intrigued by his confident mixture of way outness and common sense. So much so that when one of our more adventurous Press contacts invited us to review Rev and the Choir at Conway Hall in 2011, our yes was instantaneous, after which we savoured every moment of Rev’s allegedly OTT corporate devil purging in the centre aisle of that esteemed place and the Choir’s boiling blend of social atrocities and logically lilting advice. Conway Hall was a more than fitting venue for such goings on in the name of liberty and justice for all, for, according to Wikipedia, it is ‘thought to be the oldest surviving free thought organisation in the world, and is the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom, ‘ Nuff said! Following on from his Cuban heels at that soiree, we covered (and participated in) Rev and the Choir’s Exorcism of BP at Tate Modern, (a truly epic event of its kind). It’s also been my pleasure to write about The Shopocalypse CD and, Rev’s treatise on Climate Change, The End of the World, which I heartily recommend. Personal illnesses and setbacks aside, we boldly ventured forth to Wilton Music Hall…
Wilton Music Hall, like Rev, seems a law unto itself, and given its cavernous, high ceilinged interior and randomly spaced church pews, would make a fitting space for a revival meeting if it wasn’t for its dangling strings of warm white, overhead fairy lights lending a carnival atmosphere. This mix of worldliness and classic theatre suits Rev Billy down to the aisles and when the choir strutted their hand clapping, chanting selves up each side, the stage was well and truly set for holy pagan magic!
Photo by John Couzens
‘Monsanto is the Devil!’ ‘Cast him out!’ made a house shaking opener, fuelled by twelve singers, not counting those on piano, guitar and drums and, of course, Rev, with wild whoops at the end – a call to action if ever there was one! The choir, in assorted black cinched garments, white aprons, caps, and, Shakespearean ruffs, almost looked as though they were heading to the Salem witch trials. The next harmonically activating pair of songs interactively addressed both sides of the epidemic of Police violence being perpetrated against people of colour in America, via performer and, audience reactions. ‘We gotta Love them too’, was the Ghandi/Dr King peace abiding message to people in relation to Police, while ‘Get Home Safe (Don’t Shoot)’, followed by a reading of the names of some of the unjustly slain sent a deeply moving message on behalf of those being unfairly targeted. The next pause inspiring number, an evocative blues entitled, ‘Climate Changed Me,’ sung and played on piano by Music Director, Nehemiah Luckett, dueted, at one point, with a soulful woman Rev referred to as ‘a Broadway star’, addressed another take and give - between humans and Earth, stressing the unnatural changes brought about by mankind. Lines like, ‘When the flower lost its bee,’ brought us to the conclusion that ‘Humans cause climate change’ and Climate causes Human Change.’ A stomping, brief revival meeting closed the song, inducing fleeting, discernable flickers of interest in some of the perpetually cool amongst us slowly coming to, possibly from a Starbucks induced stupor. Outer amusement, at least, hints at possible signs of life stirring within. That said, awareness could, possibly, seem a bore to those for whom smiling is such a chore! Sometimes it seems as though the whole, so called civilised world’s turning into some kind of warped catwalk, in which even pesticide laden, poisonous supermarket produce must be uniformly beautiful or be discarded!
Cue Rev’s talk, a sermon of sorts, blending wry humour with plan facts we definitely needed to hear. After joking that “Brooklyn Larger” was their new sponsor, Rev had to admit that “there’s nothing like the Guardian in America”, therefore, no main stream media source whatsoever offering any modicums of truth about issues about like Climate Change. Considering the millions Rupert Murdoch spends smearing alternative media like RT in the States that goes a long way towards explaining the complacency of US friends who still act as though unified action is, for the most part, optional. “2100 is now projected as the time when things will go to hell”…”when we’ve officially reached four degrees”, widely regarded as the tipping point in scientific communities. “There is no one person talking to us about this”, though exceptional people such as Vandana Shiva and Naomi Klein are out there, on the internet and in print, if we’d only care to listen to them. Rev was right in saying “The denial is real”, and in his talk, he addressed several other issues too, among them, housing, racism, and militarism. He’s also right in surmising that London (indeed many Western cities) taught us to “push nature away” too, encouraging us to think caring for the Earth is “unsophisticated” aka “for peasants”, enabling those who succumb to multinationally spun propaganda to “stand by while indigenous people are pushed out”. Take it from me, that includes native Londoners too who have, long term resident class system aside, for some years in London, been more widely than ever seen as “Cor Blimey” types by the new landed gentry relocated there, thanks to their over-payment by corporations centred on new media, investment banking, real estate development, marketing, branding, etc. infiltrating this city, at the expense of poor and working class people who are needlessly, inhumanely being made routinely moved out of their homes and, areas, so their flats and houses can be made into luxury digs for the invading hoards. We need look no further than the resounding Tory 2015 election wins, yielding more all-encompassing Conservative control than ever, as evidence that denial is not only REAL, but as rampant as the delusion that being ‘high class’ allows trashing any humans you consider ‘less important’, just because they’re poorer in financial terms!
Though Rev joked about preaching earlier on, when he really got down to the nitty gritty, his seasoned comingling of grim realities and potential actions, drawn on love and peace, achievable only through unity and unwavering determination, harmonised with many things we, the people have already been thinking, but have just been too damn scared to vocalise, too often for our own good. “We’re just waiting”, Rev acknowledged, citing Naomi Klein’s advice in her latest, essential book, This Changes Everything, to avoid getting so revved up about things that are wrong in society that, we forget “Our actions can’t be violent”. “There is no Nelson Mandela of Climate Change”, as Rev stated, but as Ghandi wisely proclaimed, ‘We must be the change we want to see!’ Finally, Rev touched on a sore spot for many truth seekers these days…While it’s a known fact that much of TV dumbs us down, we also have to be aware enough not to be CGIed into ignoring reality. Just as talking about things can fool us into thinking we’ve actually taken action to rectify them, large scale films, real or animated, in which people and/or creatures unite and win out over the system need to be put into perspective, as they could, simply put, make us feel things are better than they actually are. The middle, feet on the ground way is definitely the only road to travel in the here and now!
This segment was capped off by the appearance of none other than David Graeber on stage, the NYC Occupy Wall Street activist credited with coining the enlightening statement of fact cum battle cry, ‘We are the 99%’! Belated thanks to David Graeber, now a Professor of Anthropology at LSE, also well known for, among other awareness inducing books, his 2011, Debt: The First 5000 Years for that comparative phrase, as truer words were never spoken and they clearly cut to the chase for the, often in too much of a hurry to stop, doggedly uninformed! There are also unified groups such as BP or Not BP in London which Rev and company link up with for actions against BP sponsored arts and culture exhibitions, like the one they collaborated on at the British Museum the afternoon before their show on the 2nd. We’ll all have our John the Baptist moments”, Rev assured us, “when we are out there shouting on a rock”. Presumably, for many, given the dwindled number of passers-by pausing at Occupy London’s actions in Parliament Square these days, when we have no other choice.
Rev Billy with the Stop Shopping Choir and BP or Not BP at the British Museum May 2, 2015
“Fundamentalism is a deadly disease” was followed by one of the singers rapping for us to “Stand Up”, adding “you can’t change the subject when millions cry”. After, ‘It’s the End of the World’, with its bittersweet reminder that if things don’t improve quickly environmentally speaking, there will “only (be) so many beautiful days on Earth, struck a deep chord, heightened by the lines “the children do not know, the creatures do not know”. We’re responsible for them and our environment, after all! The lovely closing, nearly a cappella song from the vibrantly harmonic, ever on the money choir was one of thanks, for “their activist friends, all who’d put them up” and otherwise helped them produce and stage their non-stop actions and ever inspiring show. Overall, we’d been on a journey with them, led by fearless Rev Billy, serving as a potent reminder to stay strong and have faith that together, we can affect positive change and through it all, to never, lose your sense of humour, however darkly ironic the cacophony of corruption in high places becomes.
As the good Rev, aka Bill Talen pointed out, “he’s not religious”, (big laugh from irony lovers) though the fervour with which he and his very excellent choir put their points across, is, for those within ear shot, especially those with similarly activists bents, truly, something of a religious experience.
Rev in action in Austria - Spring Tour 2015
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