The first time I heard the Internationale I was about 17 and a member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party. It was in Bow Town Hall at the end of some political conference and everyone stood up and sang the Internationale. It was the best bit of the whole conference, I loved it even though I didn’t understand much of the lyric, I understood ‘The Internationale unites the human race’.
Over time I got to hear the words more and understand their meaning, the more I knew the greater the impact of the song. I’ve heard it sung many a time over the years, I can’t record ever hearing it sung from a record or the modern equivalent. I’ve always heard it sung live and mostly been part of the singing.
But over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the Internationale being sung by a real choir and in the most bizarre places.
Climbing up to Blackstone Edge is no mean feat. If you start your ascent from the visitors’ centre at Hollingworth Lake, which is my favourite place to start this particular walk, you amble along a rather pleasant stream, then turn sharply uphill and diagonally across a very rough field of unkept grass and wild flowers.
You then have to make an acute turn to the left alongside and above a farmhouse, no longer used as a farmhouse just a house, and then through an oak wood onto a golf course. You then have to walk along a very narrow country road that is just wide enough to allow a car to pass, so if you hear a car coming, jump up tight to the stone wall and hang on for dear life.
Past some rather pleasant farm labourers’ cottages with allotments on the other side of the track and onto open ground. A very steep climb then begins, you have to work hard at this climb fit or not, there is an original Roman Road still intact.
You can see the central gully for runoff and the side stones marking the edge of the road. There are cartwheel tracks worn into the stone.
I was told it’s not Roman but medieval, you know how some people just love to destroy your enthusiasm, it was one of them. But to me it’s a Roman Road and I see the Centurion leading his legions across the British countryside, nervously looking out for the terrifying Druids smeared in green.
At the top is Blackstone Edge, a wondrous view across Manchester, jagged black rock protruding, pointing its age-old claw at the gale force wind, trying its damnedest to throw you from the summit.
Here gathered the brave souls of various community choirs to sing Chartist songs. Because that is what the Chartists did and they did it here. Why here? I asked, but no-one really seemed to know, maybe it was a safe place to meet, maybe it was a central place to meet, but it is well documented that the Chartists came here and sang, so on this anniversary day we did the same. The Internationale was sung in conclusion. It was strange and incredibly moving, even if it was the Billy Bragg version.
Next stop was on the village green in Whitby, hundreds of choir members congregated to sing, fists held high, voices proud and united, the Internationale moved me once again.
Then it was at the end of a pier in front of a lighthouse, an audience of one, me and possibly the most impressive rendition, tears rolling from my eyes.
The sandy, windy, wet beach was the last time I have heard the said song to date, still tugging at my spirit. A message from the past telling us to stop pissing around and get on with it. Arise…