Charismatic singer and human rights activist Ian Shaw has a commitment to showing us the personal in the political. His concert Shine Sister Shine made us lock eyes on serious issues of female and refugee experience with grace and clarity of purpose. “I’ve always been very concerned,” he said, “that men don’t treat women the way they ought to be treated — and also…” (adding a codicil possibly directed at the dubious record of the UK’s former Home Secretary turned Prime Minister) “…that women don’t treat women the way they should be treated.”
The album is “a celebration of the actions and art of extraordinary women”. Stella Duffy calls it “a soundtrack to hope”; it’s a labour of love, an album of songs written by women including Joni Mitchell, Gwyneth Herbert, Peggy Lee and Alicia Keys. At Kings Place a polished quartet performance was followed by a Q&A and an inspiring collaboration with the Citizens of the World Choir directed and conducted by Becky Dell and made up of refugees, asylum seekers, volunteers and campaigners — mostly young women. The programme was serious and engaged, but also musically engaging.
Witty and urbane, as a singer Ian Shaw’s got the lows, the highs, the growls, the squeals. The power and volume of his voice are complemented by his sensitivity and versatility across genres. He is a great interpreter of a diverse repertoire and a communicator with a deep commitment to social and political issues affecting women and refugees. In a Q&A with Jo Good from BBC Radio London he talked movingly about his experiences working in Northern France with the charity Side By Side Refugees. He said frankly, “It’s not a refugee crisis, it’s a political crisis.”
Right now in France, women and children are pleading with border agents who are using tear gas and batons to barricade legal ports of entry. The young women and men of the Citizens of the World Choir filed through singing from the back of the auditorium. It was a beautiful sight to see on stage — and what a thrill it must have been to be up there. The choir does so many things: during the longueurs of indefinite detention it simply gives people something to do. For an audience it brings a human face to the stories and statistics in the media. Also, at a fundamental level, as Shaw says, “music brings people together”.
The songs were played with serious jazz chops by pianist Barry Green with Mick Hutton on bass and Dave Ohm on drums. The material ranges from rock to pop with jazz, soul and gospel flavours. In Joni Mitchell’s Shine the refrain “Oh let your little light shine” was softly chanted like a prayer. The 2007 song has a topical appeal: “Shine on good humor/ Shine on good will/ Shine on lousy leadership/ Licensed to kill.” I was touched by Oscar Peterson’s gospel anthem Hymn to Freedom: “When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty/ That's when we'll be free.”
During the rousing choral finale of the single Shine Sister Shine the back screen presented a slideshow of superwomen from Maya Angelou to Ella Fitzgerald, through Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi, concluding with a dedication to Jo Cox, the Labour politician assassinated by a white supremacist a week before the Brexit referendum in 2016. During the encore Ian Shaw addressed us a final time on a personal level to take political action: “A little thing you can do for me. Write to your MP to request that we stop indefinite detention in the UK.” Please do: www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/.