CÔR GOBAITH celebrated their 10th anniversary at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth on Saturday (Apr 30) with a concert which was at once rousing and reflective.
Over the years, the choir has become a feature of Aberystwyth’s cultural landscape, beloved of many people.
Following Social Forum Cymru in Aberystwyth in 2006, Susie Ennals decided to form Côr Gobaith. Social Forum Cymru was a Wales-wide gathering of civil society groups sharing ideas and looking for new ways to work together.
Susie had previously sung with Côr Cochion, Cardiff’s almost legendary socialist choir. Susie told the Herald: “On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, and there was a celebration in the town where I was living.
“I heard a group of people singing We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. It was a song of hope, and that momen t stayed in my memory. I knew that day that I wanted to raise my voice and sing about peace, justice and freedom from fear.”
Côr Gobaith’s first rehearsals took place in people’s front rooms and even in a squatted social centre. Among the choir’s founding members was, for a short time, Molly Scott- Cato who is now an MEP for the Green Party. Many people of note (sic) have passed through the choir’s ranks over the years.
Some of Côr Gobaith’s other founding members brought with them a political sensibility derived from participation in Greenham Common Women’s Peace camp.
This sensibility continues to make a significant contribution to the ethos of the choir. History records that women from Wales were key players in the camp which began in 1981, lasted for 19 years, and continues to influence social movements worldwide.
Over the years, Côr Gobaith became an important part of many members’ lives as they found comradeship and musical fulfilment through the choir.
While still in school, co-founder and editor of the EGO Paddy O’Malley sang with Côr Gobaith in its early days. Unable to attend Saturday’s performance, he sent a message to the choir: ‘To think that 10 years has passed is terrifying. Please pass on my congratulations to everyone! I have always had such a great admiration for you all.’
Hope in the dark
Côr Gobaith is committed to peace, justice and environmental sustainability. Drawing its members from as far afield as Machynlleth and Lampeter, Côr Gobaith is a street choir, determined to bring music and a politics of hope into public space. Roughly translated into English, the choir’s name is choir of hope.
Since the choir’s inception, Côr Gobaith has sung in Owain Glyndŵr Square on Aberystwyth’s Great Darkgate Street on the last Saturday of every month come rain or shine. And, let’s face it, in Aberystwyth it is too often the former!
A perennial problem for the choir is stopping banners, signboards and themselves from blowing away. Initially, this regular slot was a collective commitment to sing until war in Iraq ended and British involvement ceased. Nowadays, the commitment is to general principles of peace, justice and sustainability.
Côr Gobaith busks to raise money for local and international causes and campaigns. Often, the money raised is donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders). Côr Gobaith has also sung for Medical Aid for Palestinians, Welsh Women’s Aid and Aberystwyth’s Freedom from Torture group.
One member of the choir Lotte Reimer said: “It’s always worth the effort of turning out even when it’s tipping it down. Singing together lifts the spirits and if only one person stops to listen that’s great. Every time a child comes over and puts their pennies in the collecting pot to help victims of war or refugees, I almost choke up. But we keep singing, always!”
The white poppy
One of Côr Gobaith’s long term hopes was realised last year when red, white and purple poppy wreaths were laid together at the war memorial in Aberystwyth on Remembrance Day. The white poppy commemorates all those who die in wars, civilians as well as soldiers, and symbolises a commitment to peace. Created in 2006, the purple poppy is for animal victims of war.
Dating back to 2004, Aberystwyth has had two separate remembrance ceremonies, one laying red poppy wreaths, the other white and purple poppies.
In 2015, after white poppy wreaths were torn from the memorial and stuffed into waste bins, participants in the two ceremonies began a reconciliatory dialogue. With members of Côr Gobaith and Aberystwyth Peace and Justice Network to the fore in negotiations with the Royal British Legion, agreement was reached on a single shared ceremony. Côr Gobaith sang a version of Sibelius’ Finlandia as part of the remembrance service in St Michael’s church.
Côr Gobaith believes that the result is testament to the mutual respect that can be fostered through open dialogue and that the shared ceremony is a credit to the town. Town and County Councillor Alun Williams who facilitated the dialogue said: “It’s always easy to find differences, but it became clear that the different people wanting to lay red and white poppy wreaths actually had much in common.”
Street Choirs and solidarity
Côr Gobaith attends the Street Choirs Festival every year and has sung at these festivals in Manchester, Brighton, Sheffield, Bury, Hebden Bridge and three times in Whitby. In 2013 Côr Gobaith hosted the Street Choirs Festival in Aberystwyth. Refusing to rain on their parade, the gods smiled on the town that day. In beautiful sunshine thirty-six choirs totalling some seven hundred people marched down Penglais Hill to sing together on the sea-front.
Choirs from all over Britain then busked around town before an evening concert at the Arts Centre featuring all the choirs. The Festival received the support of many organisations, people and businesses in Aberystwyth, not least the Arts Centre and Town Council. It raised money for MSF, Welsh Women’s Aid and Radio Bronglais.
After all the bills were settled, donations made and a sum passed on to the next choir to host the festival in Hebden Bridge, Côr Gobaith used the funds that remained to help plant a Peace Tree in Aberystwyth’s Queen’s Square in February 2016.
The tree, a white flowering cherry (Prunus Umineko) symbolises the ongoing commitment of diverse groups and individuals in Ceredigion to working towards non-violence and peace in the world.
The choir were delighted to join with others in the town on the Peace Tree project, including Aberystwyth Town Council and Parks and Gardens, CND Cymru, Aberystwyth Quakers Religious Society of Friends, the Morlan Faith and Culture Centre, Capel y Morfa and Women in Black. As the choir celebrated ten years, the Peace Tree had been in full and splendid bloom.
At the Street Choirs Festival in Aberystwyth, Côr Gobaith’s Lotte Reimer was instrumental in forming the UK-wide network Campaign Choirs. This network serves to help street choirs support each other, especially in local, national and international campaigns.
Participants alert each other to protests, demonstrations and other events, often co-ordinating a singing action that includes members of several different choirs. Campaign Choirs is also a forum for sharing songs.
Campaign Choirs now has more than ninety members and represents over forty choirs. The network has already involved more than twenty choirs in taking collective action.
Actions have included Liverpool Socialist Singers inviting other choirs to sing together in a national demonstration against fascism organised by the Unite trade union; the Natural Voice Practitioners’ network issuing a call to ‘Belt it out at Balcombe’ against fracking; ‘Sing Trident Out’ in Basingstoke; an anti-drones protest at MoD Aberporth, a No NATO rally in Newport, Gwent; and at Britain’s biggest anti-nuclear weapons rally in a generation in London in February this year.
Home and away
Côr Gobaith’s archive records that the choir has sung at almost 200 protests, festivals, concerts and community events over the years. Regular festival dates include Raise Your Banners, an occasional festival of music and politics held in Bradford, the annual All Wales Peace Festival, now sadly defunct, and El Sueño Existe in Machynlleth.
Lotte Reimer narrates an amusing tale from El Sueño Existe. “Some members of Côr Gobaith sang with the folk singer and former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Iwan as part of an All Wales blockade of the Trident base up at Faslane back in 2006. The next time we met him we were on stage just before him at El Sueño in 2009.
“We sang his song Cân Victor Jara about the much loved Chilean singer and activist who was killed by Pinochet’s brutal regime in Chile. It’s a really powerful song and we sang it well, I think. But word got back to us that Dafydd Iwan had been going to sing it himself. So, we stole his song and his thunder! Luckily, he didn’t hold it against us.’
At Faslane in 2007, again as part of a Wales Day of action against Trident, three members of Côr Gobaith were arrested by MoD police before the choir even started singing.
The arrestees sang in their cells, anyway, while undeterred the rest of the choir sang as part of the blockade. The choir’s archive records that MoD police are not fans of choral singing.
Côr Gobaith also regularly raises its voice at RAF Aberporth in opposition to the testing of military drones there. In 2014 as the choir and others sang on the traffic roundabout outside the base, a police sergeant not only halted the traffic but insisted that impatient motorists turn their engines off and ‘respect the singing’. Only in Wales?
Côr Gobaith sings on International Women’s Day, Hiroshima Day, International Peace Day and Earth Day. The choir’s very first political outing was to the ‘Time to Go: Troops out of Iraq’ demonstration in Manchester in 2006. Last year the choir returned to Manchester with a coach load of other people from Ceredigion to protest against austerity at the Tory party conference. On this occasion, Côr Gobaith joined a Campaign Choirs action with members of street choirs from Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, East Lancashire, Leicester, Birmingham and their oldest allies Côr Cochion Caerdydd.
Although 2016 looks to be as busy as ever for Côr Gobaith with their tenth anniversary concert, a Street Choirs Festival in Leicester and crossing the channel to sing with the Revolutionary Choirs of France, Lotte Reimer wouldn’t want people to think choir life was hyperactive and only involved radical politics: ‘We spend a lot of our time singing in our own community, supporting local groups and events. Sometimes we go to sing to people in Hafan y Waun Nursing Home, which everyone enjoys immensely.’
What a performance!
The concert on Saturday included the story of Côr Gobaith as a piece of theatre, wonderfully hammed up by members of the choir. The performance featured songs from the choir’s extensive repertoire.
As well as old favourites that stirred the soul, there were be new songs composed by choir members to reflect current issues of concern such as climate change, homelessness and austerity. Of many stand-out songs during the evening were Susie Ennals’ favourite No More War by Nickomo Clarke and Bob Dylan’s powerful Masters of War arranged by the current Musical Director Nest Howells.
Nest has extended Côr Gobaith’s repertoire of songs sung in Welsh, rewriting the lyrics of a number of well-known ballads and translating protest songs from around the world.
At some points in the evening the audience were encouraged to sing along. With a number of members of Côr Cochion, the Pales Peace choir and other singers filling the seats in the Morlan, very little encouragement was required!
We Will Rise! written for Côr Gobaith by Dr Vole, Zayeet and Paula Boulton, has become an anthem of resistance to the Conservative government’s programme of austerity and cuts across Britain. Almost needless to say, choir and audience alike raised the roof with the chorus: ‘We will rise / We will not accept those politicians’ lies / So come on get out and fight / unite against the right / We will rise!’
The singing was accompanied by vibrant images from many campaigns and protests over the years. A video playing on the Morlan foyer screen included Côr Gobaith singing his version of The Internationale on stage with Billy Bragg in Aberystwyth’s Arts Centre to mark the 25th anniversary of the miner’s strike: So come brothers and sisters / For the struggle carries on / The Internationale / Unites the world in song. The peripatetic Street Choirs Festival has adopted the song as its anthem.
Elin Jones, who at the time of writing was Plaid Cymru’s candidate for re-election as Assembly Member for Ceredigion, said: “I’d like to wish a very happy tenth birthday to Côr Gobaith. The choir has been part of many important campaigns, from saving public services to opposing illegal wars and raising funds for refugees.
“For so many good causes, Côr Gobaith has been willing to lend a voice. Ceredigion can be proud of the choir, who have added a new musical dimension to our area’s long tradition of support for internationalism and peace.”
Minister opens film premiere for port stories
WALES’ Arts and Sports Deputy Minister has launched a new film charting the histories and life of five port towns in Wales and Ireland.
Premiered at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, the series of eight short documentary films and one feature-length film, At the Water’s Edge: Stories of the Irish Sea, aim to promote the ports of Fishguard, Holyhead and Pembroke Dock in Wales, and Dublin Port and Rosslare Harbour in Ireland, as well as the three ferry routes connecting them.
The films were produced as part of Ports, Past and Present, a project which explores the history and cultural heritage of the ports, showcasing stunning views of the landscapes and wildlife of the Irish Sea coast and revealing the human histories of the port communities.
In Fishguard, residents Gary Jones and Jana Davidson talk of invasions by pirates and French armies, while Hedydd Hughes explains how she teaches children about local legends. In Rosslare Harbour, the Todd family from Fishguard meet their Irish in-laws, the Fergusons.
Local historian David James shares the extraordinary story of how the son of a Japanese samurai came to plant a ginkgo tree in Pembroke Dock, and local councillor Josh Beynon explores the secret location where the Millennium Falcon was built for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
In Dublin and Holyhead, poetry by Gillian Brownson and Gary Brown celebrates the centuries old link of their ports. Historian Gareth Huws explains how traces of Bronze Age settlements can still be seen in the Ynys Môn town.
Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden MS, who came to the premiere, said:
“Through showcasing the rich and diverse cultural history of our ports, bringing life and colour through visual arts, literature and film, the Ports, Past and Present project will not only enhance the experience of visitors of all ages and interests, but also encourage more time and money spent in these communities.
“Engaging with local communities and increasing the awareness of port heritage through panel discussions, creative workshops and talks – is an excellent opportunity to gain the support of local residents ensuring there is a careful balance which works for the local communities as well as visitors from across the Irish Sea and beyond.
“I’m delighted to launch the film which will showcase and celebrate the best each community has to offer to prospective visitors and users of the ferry ports, but also capture the multilingual and multicultural nature of the ports and their surrounding areas.”
Professor Peter Merriman, project team leader at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences said:
“We are delighted that the Minister has officially launched our films, which portray the rich cultural and natural heritage of these Irish and Welsh port towns. They are the result of almost three years of work by the project team and our production partners Mother Goose films, and we hope that they will inspire visitors to spend more time in the ports as they pass through them.”
The films form part of a wider tourism campaign to raise awareness of the rich coastal and maritime heritage of the five selected ports and their communities.
Project leader Professor Claire Connolly from University College Cork said: “It’s a joy to see so many images and stories from Rosslare, Dublin, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock on screen. The lives and cultures of the port towns come to life in the films and together they offer an extended invitation to stop and stay in these storied places.”
Ceredigion Museum is also hosting a travelling art exhibition looking at the rich coastal history and heritage of the port communities.
Over the coming months, the films will have free screenings around Wales and Ireland, and will then be released generally so that the local communities can promote their own areas.
Ports, Past and Present is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales Co-operation Programme, and operates across four institutions in Ireland and Wales, including University College Cork, Aberystwyth University, the University of Wales Trinity St David and Wexford County Council. The film has been led by a team in the Department for Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University.
Aberystwyth Town to welcome Knife Angel sculpture
A HUGE 27-foot sculpture, made from 100,000 confiscated knives, is to be welcomed to Aberystwyth town next month (1 June) as local community groups prepare to come together to promote key prevention, anti-violence and anti-aggression messages.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, working alongside Dyfed-Powys Police, Aberystwyth Town Council and Ceredigion County Council is bringing the Knife Angel to Llys y Brenin square, Aberystwyth, where it will stand for four weeks as a physical reminder of the effects of violence and aggression.
The iconic sculpture – commissioned by the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire and created by artist Alfie Bradley – will be on display in the town until 29 June 2022.
This will be the second time that Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has bought the Knife Angel to the Dyfed Powys Police Force area, with it’s first visit being in Newtown, Powys in January 2020. Mr Llywelyn has been keen to bring the Knife Angel back to the Force area since then, so that other communities can get involved in the key messages.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said; “The Knife Angel is a reminder of the devastating impact of knife crime, and any form of violence and aggression has on families and communities.
“Whilst there has been a 105% increase in knife crime in Wales over the last decade, rest assured that the Knife Angel has not been brought to Aberystwyth because of any major problem with this kind of crime in the area.
“However, we do acknowledge, that knife crimes have taken place here within the last year. Although a proportion of these were domestic, not street based, it is worrying that a small number of these involved suspects under the age of 18. I am pleased to see however that the Police and partners have come together over the last 6-months to put interventions in place to divert children from knife crime.
“Prevention of crime and diversion away from crime is essential. We hope that the Knife Angel will greatly assist us in raising critical awareness of knife crime whilst creating a widespread intolerance to violent behaviour within our communities.”
Inspector Andy Williams of Dyfed-Powys Police said: “While Dyfed-Powys Police is one of the safest places to live and work in the country, we still see the devastating effect knife crime has on our communities.
“In July last year we had a murder in Ceredigion involving a knife, when John Bell died after being stabbed in Cardigan.
“That case showed the devastation knives can have, with the loss of a life and the impact that has on Mr Bell’s loved ones, withs the man responsible rightly being sentenced to life in prison.
“The Knife Angel is a very dramatic and powerful sculpture that aims to inspire people not to turn to knife crime or even to carry a knife for protection.
“I would urge anyone to go and see it. Take your children and make a day of it to take in this poignant reminder of the dangers of violence and aggression, particularly when weapons are involved.”
Aberystwyth Town Mayor, Dr Talat Chaudhri, said: “We welcome the Knife Angel to Aberystwyth and stand together with towns and cities where knife crime is a bigger problem than it is here. There is no place for violence of any kind in our community.”
Children and young people from across Aberystwyth and neighbouring areas are being encouraged to get involved as well as community groups and organisations, in visiting the Knife Angel and taking part in engagement activities which focus on the key messages – the impact of violent crime, prevention, and diversion away from violence.
If you would like to find out more about how you, your community, school, college or university groups can get involved, please contact the Commissioner’s Engagement Team on OPCC.Communication@dyfed-powys.police.uk.
Young person celebrates kickstart job and overcomes several obstacles
22-YEAR-OLD Lee from rural Ceredigion found it challenging to secure permanent employment. Having no mode of transport as well as his diagnosis of autism and depression meant that Lee has experienced significant barriers with finding and maintaining employment. Communities For Work Plus (CFW+) provided Lee with the right tools and opportunities to find the right role for him. He now has a job at ASN Watson (Savers), with a more positive future ahead.
Lee was struggling financially with increasing debt and although he had been working in the past, the nature and environment of the work was not practical for Lee’s abilities; he was often misunderstood by employers.
After being referred to CFW+ from Job Centre Plus, Aberystwyth, Lee received support with job searches, applications, cover letters, cv writing, and interview skills. He’s now in paid employment, secured through the Kickstart Scheme. The UK Government Kickstart Scheme provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit.
Lee said: “The project helped me a lot as I struggle to know where to start when it comes to finding jobs, but this definitely helped. Communities for Work+ has got you covered!”
Communities For Work Plus is a Welsh Government funded project, delivered by Ceredigion County Council which supports individuals in or at risk of poverty, aged 16 or over, across Ceredigion and throughout Wales. Participants may be experiencing in-work poverty, unemployment, living on minimum wage, or struggling to pay basic monthly outgoings on sporadic zero-hour contracts.
Misha Homayoun-Fekri, CFW+ Mentor said: “Lee has been a pleasure to support. He was always very responsive, and we worked together every step of the way. I am so pleased for Lee that he has found a job that he can be happy in.”
Since starting his new role, Lee has become a lot more independent, his mental health has improved, and has started to save money for the future.
Councillor Wyn Thomas, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Lifelong Learning and Skills, said: “One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. A report released by the Office for National Statistics shows that only 21.7% of autistic people are in employment; meaning that businesses are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from the strengths that autistic people can bring to the workplace. So, it’s great to hear that Lee has found an autism-friendly employer through the support provided by CFW+ and I encourage more employers to be more inclusive to all abilities when considering employees.”
If you think the project may be able to help you or if you would like more information, contact the team on 01545 574193 or email TCC-EST@ceredigion.gov.uk.
Popular This Week
Education2 weeks ago
Celebrating 10 years of the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol
Health5 days ago
No monkeypox cases identified in Wales say public health officials
News2 days ago
Aberystwyth Town to welcome Knife Angel sculpture
Education1 week ago
Wales’ first law department celebrates 120 years at Old Bailey
Community2 weeks ago
Nearly 7,000 in Wales sign up for UK’s biggest ever plastics investigation
News2 weeks ago
Japan looking at the revival of Welsh for help with the endangered Okinawan language
Business2 weeks ago
Welsh start-up numbers soar but insolvency-related activities also rise in Wales
Education2 weeks ago
Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m