Shell Out Sounds -> Voices for a Shell-free Southbank



Amandla_A4 poster-print








Shell Out Sounds is hosting a screening of the film ‘Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony’ followed by a short performance (come along at 6 for a quick rehearsal if you would like to sing with us!) Join us for a night of music, revolution and cake, and come see what we are up to these days.

6:00 Sing up (rehearsal) and welcome
7:00 Screening
8:45 Talk about Ken Saro-Wiwa
9:00 Shell Out Sounds Choir (open participatory performance)

We are also planning melodic and victorious celebrations on June 8th, to mark the end of Shell-sponsored classical concerts at the Southbank Centre. Bring your voices and instruments!

Suggested donation: £3-£5

All proceedings from this event will go to supporting acts of harmonic disobedience against Big Oil sponsorship of the Southbank Centre, and to buy a seat in the Royal Festival Hall in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni writer executed for resisting Shell’s devastation of the Niger Delta.

Amandla is a film about the role of music in the struggle against Apartheid.













(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.

The Southbank Centre claim that Shell decided to end its sponsorship after eight years and seek new opportunities. However, the Southbank has known of Shell’s decision for only a few months and the Southbank has now been left without a new sponsor to take its place. Such an abrupt turnaround suggests that this was not a well-planned conclusion, but the consequence of internal tensions and external pressure. The Southbank Centre needs to make public the real motivations behind the end to this relationship in order to demonstrate that it is an institution which is now wholeheartedly committed to sustainability and social justice.

Kevin Smith from Platform, (a group that researches oil industry sponsorship), said:

‘If the Southbank Centre is dropping Shell as a sponsor, it will be positioning itself as ahead of the game in terms of ethics and sustainability. Oil company money, made from trashing the climate and trampling over communities and ecosystems, is an unpleasant stain on the UK cultural sector.’

Chris Garrard from the Shell Out Sounds choir said:

‘In a recent interview with the New Statesman, Jude Kelly admitted that climate change was her greatest concern for the future, a public comment that would have been difficult to make while collaborating with a company responsible for over 2% of historic carbon emissions. In our performances, we have demonstrated that art-making does not need big oil and that cultural sponsorship should not exist to hide injustice – we are thrilled that the Southbank agree.’

Shell has been widely criticised for a range of environmental and human rights injustices: extensive spills and contributions to the military in Nigeria, extraction of tar sands oil on Indigenous people’s lands in Canada and attempts to drill in the Arctic. its reputation threatened to tarnish that of the Southbank Centre by association. Over many years, groups including Platform, London Rising Tide and Shell Out Sounds have protested and raised awareness at the Southbank. Last October, the Shell Out Sounds choir gave an unsanctioned performance from the Royal Festival Hall’s choir seats before a Shell Classic concert could begin, following-up multiple choral ‘flashmobs’ in the Festival Hall foyer during concert intervals. In November, on the anniversary of the death of the Nigerian activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, twenty-one artists who had previously performed at the Southbank, including actor Mark Rylance and composer Matthew Herbert, signed an open letter asking for Shell to be dropped. The author Margaret Atwood and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt have both also raised the sponsorship issue when they made appearances at the Southbank in 2013.

The successful campaign at the Southbank is part of a growing movement against oil sponsorship. Liberate Tate, a collective of performance artists, recently performed ‘parts per million’ at Tate Britain, where fifty veiled performers recited historical increases in carbon emissions as they moved through the BP-sponsored chronological galleries. Only last week, the Reclaim Shakespeare Company performed an adapted version of Macbeth in the gallery, where sinister BP executives tempt a fictional Tate director into a shady sponsorship deal. All these groups are part of the Art Not Oilcoalition, a growing community demanding an end to cultural sponsorship by large oil companies. The Southbank’s decision now clears a path for other institutions, such as the Tate, the Royal Opera House and the Science Museum, to end their relationships with companies such as BP and Shell. The campaigns to end these relationships will press forward with renewed energy and innovative, creative strategies.



Having rewritten several time-honoured carols with newfound corporate and climatic material, Shell Out Sounds (SOS) chose Sunday December 1st as a good day to visit some of the (too) many Shell-sponsored cultural institutions in wintry London town to sing them. 

They began in the Science Museum’s Shell-sponsored Atmosphere exhibition, where it was hard to tell if the visitors thought the performance was just another element of the aurally and visually over-stuffed space. Apparently, in visioning Atmosphere, Museum boss Chris Rapley wanted to avoid ‘”polarised and shrill” commentary’, which is presumably why he went with Shell, whose polar (drilling) ambitions are clear to all. Fellow sponsor Bank of America, great friend of King Coal, also falls into the Rapley’s “calm and considered” category. With any luck our rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Hateful’, (aimed at the corporations themselves, not their employees, we were keen to point out), fell firmly into the polar-friendly and far-from-shrill category:

‘Angel of destruction

Loveless corporation

Lo how the earth doth suffer where you tread

Shell’s wells are spilling

Quotas need fulfilling

The temperature is rising

But still we’re petrol guzzling

So next it’s Arctic drilling

We’re heading toward’

Stopping briefly to point to the ghost of logos past, we left the Museum and headed directly to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where we cheered passers-by with another carol – was it ‘Hark, As Greenwash Loudly Sings’? in front of the poster advertising the Shell-sponsored Pearls exhibition:

‘Hark, as greenwash loudly sings

Paying for such wondrous things

Concerts of great music stars

Artists from both near and far

See the paintings, sculptures too

Workshops for the kids and you

Take home lots of tales to tell

Brought to you by harmless Shell

Hark, as greenwash loudly sings

Glossing over awful things’

Sadly short of time, we had to pass on cheering visitors to the National Gallery (sponsored by Shell, Anglo American, ExxonMobil & RioTinto) with one of our merry interventions, we headed straight for the South Bank, where we were set to join many more singers for a post-corporate carolling finale. There, about 40 of us took the stage in the Royal Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom and went through our entire repertoire, now joined by a wonderful accordion player. Dedicating our performance to the Arctic 30, we told their story in a rewritten ‘I Saw Three Ships’, (renamed ‘I Saw A Ship’ ), as well as ‘Rudolph the Branded Reindeer’ (‘had a very shiny nose/Shinier than his hooter/Were his shiny Shell logos’). Also popular was our rewrite of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen':

‘Shell and others have a scheme for turning oil to gold

They fasten on the people’s need for keeping out the cold

The energy makes fortunes at the prices it is sold

For the rich there is comfort and joy, (comfort and joy)

But there’s little left for those that they employ’.

Then we headed outside for a bit of a joyous reprise, where hats were tossed, mince pies passed around and several passers-by threw caution to the wind and joined our Shell-free throng, (which is not easy to say after two glasses of mulled wine.) This verse from ‘O Come All Ye Hateful’ fit the afternoon well:

‘Yea, we beseech thee,

South Bank hear our heart’s plea

Let not this creeping demon foul these halls

Art is our saviour

Shell the devil’s manager

No blood and oil-drenched money

Lat art be oil and guilt-free

And kick Shell out the door please

Members of the Board’

(After this, the choir was informed that the Chair of the Board of Southbank Centre Governors, Rick Haythornthwaite, spent 17 years at BP and is now Chair of energy giant Centrica, and Board member Susan Gilchrist is Group Chief Executive of Brunswick Group, a large and influential PR company which has handled some of Shell’s toughest PR challenges.)

As the songsheet said:

‘Let our voices be heard on cultural sponsorship’

Oil in the Water – October 25th – Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra pop-up choir:

We’re going well, we’re going Shell – October 6th:


Flashmob – 9th June:

SOS strikes again – April 22nd:


First strike – March 1st: