18th December, 2008
Pilot Night, Birmingham
Unlimited set the brief to create a piece of theatre in response to a favourite musical track. The assumption was that the piece would be performed to the track. Unable to imagine a satisfying relationship between the music and theatre in this scenario the invitation was initially declined. Speculating as to what track would have been used if the piece were to be been made, thoughts kept returning to Primal Scream’s Come Together as featured on their album Screamadelica. This track, running at a little over ten minutes, is essentially an anthemic groove with faux gospel refrain and a heavy sampling of the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
A bit of research tracked the samples to a speech given at the opening of Wattstax, a black music festival staged at the Los Angeles coliseum in 1972. A trawl of YouTube allowed the speech to be seen as it appears in Wattstax, the 1973 film documenting the festival. In its full form the speech is a powerful invocation of black pride, in its sampled form racial politics has been stripped away and it has become a celebration of music’s power to bring people together (hence, potentially, the track’s title). Shocked by this rewriting the commission an approach was made to Unlimited and the commission accepted.
The Stan’s Cafe version of Come Together withdraws the music from the audience. Instead Graeme as some kind of either politician or preacher or even record executive delivers Rev Jackson’s text live as it appears on the Primal Scream track, mostly from behind a table but ultimately standing at the front edge of the stage. Lucy delivers the female vocal line “All Together, As One”. This again synchronises with its appearance on the track but spoken not sung. She appears to be an acolyte of Graeme’s, sat behind and to Graeme’s right. Craig, possibly a bodyguard, sat behind Graeme but to his left, embodies the rest of the track. He taps the high hat pattern out on his knee and other musical lines are translated into physical equivalents. At the close of the piece, when the performance of the track is finished, the Rev. Jackson is heard over the P.A. a sample from the speech, not heard on the record, which makes clear the racial context of the original.
The performance was very tense, highly charged, restrained, quite still and for long periods silent. Craig wore an ear piece through which he listened to the original track played very quietly, allowing him to keep time. The curious device of performing live a thing that has been sampled forced a new interpretation on the material, similar to the ‘sampling’ of phrase book text in Be Proud Of Me. The text’s performance by white actors mirrors Primal Scream’s appropriation setting up the Rev. Jackson revelation. The recent victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential election gave the piece an extra resonance.
Devised and Improvised by: Graeme Rose, Lucy Nicholls and Craig Stephens
Commissioned by Unlimited Theatre for their Mixtape project Come Together was performed as part of Pilot Night, an evening of performance fragments and works in progress by a number of differentcompanies at The Custard Factory in Birmingham