Co-operative Songwriting

Co-operators get together to attempt to make loud noises in unison

Shaz has a plan

On a big picture level I want to get more young people involved in the co-op movement. For example, Central England Co-op do lots of great member based activities, but they mostly involve older people. For the Co-op movement as a whole to survive we need to be better at attracting young people. As part of Central England Co-op’s Membership and Community Council I can apply for funding that helps the Co-op movement. Last year I helped set up a 5 a side football tournament. This year I wanted to do something with music. I’ve been keen to write music with others and a successful funding bid for Central England Co-op meant that I could write music in a Co-operative manner.


I know of a few musicians and went about recruiting people that I know could play specific instruments, who also valued co-operative values. To facilitate I asked guitarist and song writer Ben. I then found a drummer in the form of Shaziety creator Sandra Starke on drums and fellow Membership and Community Council member Cath on bass. Since I’ve been learning piano for over six months, I’d bring along a keyboard. Hopefully some other people would turn up.

The event itself

I arrived in plenty of time at the venue, The Warehouse Cafe, which is a Worker Co-op to set up. Ben arrived and we sorted out strategy. Helpfully more people arrived and we had a full complement of band members. A second Ben joined us, who had lyrics already lined up and Warehouse Cafe member Laurenz. Luckily, Laurenz brought a guitar with him. We sat down as a group and Facilitator Ben outlined what we hoped to achieve in this session. Of course I spoke about Co-operatives, how this session came about and provided delicious chocolate from one of our stores.

Facilitator Ben then had us complete a exercise where we had five minutes to write whatever we wanted. I’ve written with Facilitator Ben before, meaning I knew what to expect. Sandra on the other hand is a possibly a bit too structured to be able to improvise in this manner. It was a good learning experience for all. After we’d finished we collated some of the words and Singer Ben took what we had and started to make coherent lyrics with the material provided.

We make noise, a lot of noise

Facilitator Ben got the rest of us to go to our instruments. We talked about what we wanted from the music itself. Various suggestions were said, including a punk waltz (3:4 time signature). As a group we were hobbyist musicians and so we did not have in depth knowledge of music theory between us. We would mess around with chords to see what would work. My piano teacher would have been ashamed. By this point Singer Ben had some lyrics in place. We had a jam by using a mixture of chords. F, Cm, A # amongst others were used. After a trial of the Waltz, we decided to ditch that.

We make more noise

We considered the first run through to be a success. Singer Ben set about refining his lyrics and the rest of us discussed what we should change music wise. A rousing chorus with slower, gentler verses was our verdict, but the final chorus with have a rowdy outro. I decided to calm my piano playing during the verses to playing diamond style chords, whilst going full throttle during the choruses. In the full throttle parts I struggled to switch between the chords at speed. I know how to play the chords in isolation, but at speed, under pressure, will take more practice. It will take a lot more practice. By our final run our audience of three decided to join in by hitting pots and pans for percussion. I’m counting this as my second gig. We were also joined by a Dan who became an additional vocalist and percussionist. To finish off the session we had a raucous finish with the word “together” repeatedly sung as the outro, to everybody playing to a Presto tempo.

We will do this again

Happily, the feedback from everybody involved was positive. We have got partway through creating a song that we all like. We have the funding in place for three more sessions, where we can build upon what we’ve already created. If you’d like to take part in any future sessions, please let me know. By the end of these sessions we may even have a couple of songs that we could play in a gig.

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