One of those is a Conference tradition that definitely isn’t unsung: the Glee Club. It predates the popular TV show by decades, having been founded when Liberals gathered informally in the hotel hosting the Liberal Assembly. In 1965, Michael Steed and Mary Green, both Young Liberals,produced the first Liberal Songsheet – a long-lost song from that document has been added to almost 100 other songs in the Liberator Songbook, the repository of song now in its 26th edition.
From those chaotic and humble beginnings the event has grown to one of the highlights in the Conference calendar, well-attended by visiting exhibitors and journalists, though only intermittently so by party leaders. Some like to come and lead or join in the singing; others are happy to do a comic ‘turn’. With help from our glamorous assistant on the keyboards, John Hemming, and others such as Richard Clein, John Bridges and I have jointly compered the event since its original compere, Ralph Bancroft, stepped back.
The songs sung date back from 19th century hymns adapted to rouse Liberal campaigners; songs made famous or notorious by the Liberal Revue, and others written more or less spontaneously. Not all songs pass the quality control required to make it to the Songbook. Not all are reverential towards their subjects, either!
The cover of the new Songbook remembers the late Charles Kennedy, ‘a man more singed against than singing’ with at least four songs written in his honour. We have had to think what the right thing was to do, given that some written well before his rise to become Party leader referred (fondly) to his illness. We are told by Charles’ family that he was fond of the songs about him; perhaps surprisingly! Out of respect, though, for this edition we have retired the ‘Skye Boat Song’… not that we expect that will stop members of the Glee Club singing it.
Over the years, the Glee Club has grown organically, fuelled on the liquid refreshment of its members’ choice, into the largest informal event of Conference. Sometimes it even raises money for good causes. It is also the only known active repository for British political song in any party.
Last year the Glee Club even made it into Buzzfeed. So please do come along. No particular musical talent is required. Just enthusiasm, a sense of humour, a Songbook and a willingness to share in this unique political event.
* Gareth Epps is a member of FPC and FCC, a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.