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'Carols not barrels' performed inside and outside Shell-sponsored institutions, 1.12.13



(The front of the day's leaflet)

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.

(SOS points to the past at the Science Museum)

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.

(Naughty and uplifting: uninvited carol singers in the Royal Festival Hall, 1.12.13)

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.)

(Outside, passers-by joined us and minced pies made the rounds)

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'