A Side Trip to Saltaire (or the Commoners Choir)


The British punk collective Chumbawamba has long been one of my favorite musical groups. While they’re best known for a pop hit they had in the 1990s they actually have an extraordinary range that spans from hard core punk to various kinds of house and techno pop to traditional folk music.

I never got a chance to see them live. They broke up about a decade ago so that their members could pursue their various other artistic projects. One of Boff Whaley’s was the creation of the Commoners Choir. It is a working class and socialist (slash anarchist) movement choir. They primarily sing original compositions.

It so happened that when I was in Manchester they were performing in Saltaire. Saltaire isn’t exactly close to Manchester but it is accessible by train (Britain has an amazing train system). So, one evening after working in the library I hopped on one, transferred in Liverpool, and found myself in Saltaire.

It is a beautiful, and weird, town. It was founded as model village in the 19th century in one of those efforts by an industrialist to create a comfortable company town for his employees. Unlike say the company coal towns in US, the place that he created is incredible. All of the buildings in the center of town are made out of the same kind of beige stone, all exquisitely carved, and almost glow when hit by the light of the setting sun.

The concert itself took place in a social club that I think was vaguely affiliated with the socialist wing of the Labour Party. It was easily the best choral concert I have been too. The music was fantastic, by turns funny, combative, educational, and inspiring. People took turns introducing the songs and explaining how they came about. And the overall spirit of the event had a far more communal and intergenerational feel to it than most such performances I have been too in the US.

Afterwards, I had the chance to speak with Boff for a little bit. He’s offered to let our choir at the church use some of the Commoners Choir music. So, look for a rendition of “Hope” or “Angry Song” or something similar in the coming program year.

About the author


Add comment

By cbossen

Follow Me