On Friday 25th October, just before the start of a Shell-sponsored concert at the Royal Festival Hall, a group of fifteen singers dressed in black with purple sashes stood up behind the stage and began to sing. The Shell Out Sounds choir had struck again.
From the choir seats, they sang 'Oil in the water', a version of the well-known spiritual 'Wade in the water' rewritten to tell the story of Shell's injustices in the Niger Delta, the Canadian Tar Sands and the Arctic. While past audiences have sometimes appeared uncertain about the group's musical interventions, with many being unaware of Shell's poor environmental record, this audience was very supportive. As David Nice, the reviewer of the concert for ArtsDesk.com put it:
We weren’t at first sure who the singers rising from their seats before the orchestra came on might be, only to acknowledge the resourceful protesters of Shell’s ongoing Southbank concert sponsorship by their death-banner. That’s the way to do it. And it was certainly more fun than Carmargo Guarnieri’s pseudo-tragic string dirge at the heart of his Fourth, Brasilia Symphony of 1963.
The audience received the choir positively from the start, with many beginning to clap along. But as the banner was dropped from behind the stage, a wave of applause grew throughout the audience as people realised why the singers were there. Gavin Dixon, classical music journalist and blogger wrote:
This evening’s concert began with a protest, and very musical and well organised it was too...The protesters sang well, they even included a verse in Portuguese (it might have been Spanish) for the benefit of our guests, and in the last verse they all filed out of the hall, creating a live fadeout effect as one by one they left.
At the end of the song, and as the choir left the hall, they were met with warm applause again which seemed to reflect the appreciation performance and the message they had come to share. The Southbank need to be rethinking their dealings with Shell, because if this performance is something to go by, powerful performances are showing audiences the value of art without oil...