Southbank Centre’s 2014-15 classical season goes oil-free
(This image was used by Greenpeace to celebrate the January 2014 announcement from Shell that it would stay out of the Arctic, at least for the rest of this year. It seems apt in this context too!)
Campaigners celebrate as Shell’s sponsorship of Southbank Centre ends
Oil-branded concerts come to an end after creative campaigns expose Shell’s record of social and ecological devastation
Campaigners are celebrating after the Southbank Centre announced that its sponsorship relationship with Royal Dutch Shell would be coming to an end in June 2014. The artistic director, Jude Kelly, announced the new classical music season on Thursday 23rd January, with the ‘Shell Classic International’ concerts now replaced with an ‘International Orchestra Series’. The change comes after a period of heightened campaigning, with the Shell Out Sounds protest choir, open letters from concerned artists and performers, and comment from public figures appearing at the Southbank, all adding pressure. Continue reading →
Shell Out Sounds give surprise performance inside the Royal festival Hall
Audience applaud pop-up choir’s song detailing Shell’s misdeeds, just before classical concert is due to begin
This evening, just as a Shell-sponsored performance by the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra was about to start, a 15-strong choir suddenly stood up in their seats behind the stage, in full view of the audience, and began to sing. They launched into a version of the classic spiritual song Wade in the Water, with rewritten lyrics drawing attention to Shell’s controversial human rights and environmental record. The audience listened and clapped along as the choir sang verses based on Shell’s polluting activities in the Niger Delta , the Canadian tar sands  and the Arctic , and applauded as the singers unfurled a banner reading “Oil in the Water” and bearing an evil-looking Shell logo. There was further applause as the song ended, and the choir then proceeded to the bar where they performed again before leaving the building. Security guards looked on but did not interfere.
The Shell Classic International season began with Orchestra Mozart at the beginning of October, and SOS swung into action to bring a little more nuance to the corporation’s PR campaign.
Concert-goers taking their interval drinks in Festival Hall Bar were greeted by an upbeat chorus, snapping fingers as they sung close harmonies about the toxic legacies of Shell’s misadventures in the Arctic, the Niger Delta and Alberta.
Anti-fracking flashmob sends message to Yoko Ono at Southbank Centre
Singing campaigners call on curator of Meltdown festival to speak out about Shell’s Southbank sponsorship
On the afternoon of Sunday 9th June, a flashmob of over 30 singers gathered in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall as audience members arrived for the Shell-sponsored performance by Spira Mirabilis of Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. The singers launched into a version of Leonard Cohen’s classic song, Hallelujah, with rewritten lyrics drawing attention to Shell’s controversial human rights and environmental record. They unfurled a banner with Yoko Ono’s quotation ‘Art is a means for survival’ and handed out flyers to audience members. They gave a number of repeat performances around the Southbank which drew applause and support. Continue reading →
‘Flashmob’ choir return to sing out Shell at the Southbank Centre
22nd April 2013
Interval halted at Shell Classic International concert, as ‘Shell Out Sounds’ highlight the sponsor’s human rights record
On the evening of Monday 22nd April, a group of about 10 singers and musicians called ‘Shell Out Sounds’ (SOS) returned to the Southbank Centre to give another musical intervention, during the interval of a Shell-sponsored performance by Imogen Cooper and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The ‘flashmob’ ensemble premiered a new piece called ‘The Riddle of the Niger Delta’, written specifically for the concert, setting the poignant words of the Nigerian environmental and human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. The group handed out flyers about Shell’s human rights record to audience members, many of whom stopped to listen and applauded at the end of the song. The Southbank Centre duty visitor manager said the performers were welcome to come back and perform whenever they liked, and were invited to discuss the issue of Shell sponsorship with the Southbank Centre PR team. Continue reading →
Music can’t change the world – unless it has already?
Shell Out Sounds are actively campaigning for the end of Shell’s sponsorship of the Southbank Centre, with music as their vehicle for raising awareness. Shell’s unjust activities regularly stand in sharp contrast to the values of the pieces being performed and the aspirations we have for the arts more broadly. Tonight’s Shell Classic International concert, conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas, opens with Schoenberg’s Theme and Variations, ‘a late testament to his love of 19th century music’. He is perhaps most famous though for being a trendsetter in modern classical music, developing vividly new ways of writing music in an attempt to change the way people listen. In this way, music’s ability to engage with politics and change attitudes often runs deeper than we might at first think. The ethical questions of arts sponsorship are interwoven with, and not separable from, the politics of the pieces being performed. Continue reading →
The respected author and broadcaster, Norman Lebrecht, has written a brief piece on his blog ‘Slipped Disc’ criticising Shell Out Sounds’ performance on Friday night. It is unclear whether Lebrecht was at the concert himself but he suggests that the concert was ‘disrupted by a small group of geo-activists’. The Guardian piece, to which he refers, uses our performance as a basis for considering the broader issue of oil sponsorship of the arts and offers a balanced view with the purpose of furthering debate. We would like to make several comments in response to Mr. Lebrecht’s blog.
Firstly, the performance took place during the concert’s interval in order to show solidarity with the concert’s performers and audience. Respect was shown to staff and audience members. The two performances by Shell Out Sounds were both met with supportive applause from those nearby, although may not have been heard by everyone present due to the size of the foyer space. Also, a number of composers, including Matthew Herbert, Steve Martland and Jem Finer, have already indicated their support for the issues we raised, in addition to music academics and concertgoers. Many have expressed their concern through an open letter to the Southbank’s Executive Director, Alan Bishop, and we invite those who are supportive to add their name. Continue reading →
Flashmob choir harmonise against Shell at Southbank Centre
1st March 2013
Interval interrupted at Shell Classic International concert, as ‘Shell Out Sounds’ sing their opposition to oil sponsorship.
On the evening of Friday 1st March 2013, a group of singers and musicians called ‘Shell Out Sounds’ (SOS) made an unexpected musical intervention at the Southbank Centre, during the interval of a Shell-sponsored performance by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and guests. The 16-strong ‘flashmob choir’ sang a sombre version of ‘Down to the River to Pray’, the lyrics rewritten to depict the sadness and woe Shell inflicts on the world. The group handed out flyers to audience members, many of whom stopped to listen and applauded at the end of the song. The Southbank Centre security guards did not attempt to stop the surprise performance.
This was the first public performance by Shell Out Sounds. The new group brings together musicians and singers who are concerned about Shell sponsorship of the Southbank Centre. This is due to the oil giant’s significant contribution to climate change, its highly environmentally-destructive exploitation of the Canadian tar sands, its fracking operations around the world, its ongoing polluting activities in Nigeria and its controversial attempts to drill in the Arctic. The pop-up choir were all dressed in black with purple sashes, and sang from memory in three-part harmony. Each verse described the suffering of a community affected by Shell’s operations in Canada, Nigeria and Alaska, and concluded with the refrain“Oh, Shell, not your name; No more oil, no more pain; Oh, Shell not your name; Art not in your name!”. Continue reading →