FAVOURITE SONGS: 'Solidarity', BILLY ELLIOT
So why have I picked "Solidarity" as my favourite song from a musical? I mean, it's hardly the best known - you won't find people on Britain's Got The X Factor singing it or countless YouTube covers of it. It won't even be on Michael Ball's new album and he really must be running out of tunes now. It's just not that sort of number.
I picked it because it does everything a musical song should. It advances the story, it deepens the characters and blends the choreography seamlessly into the action. And it's topped off with delicious dose of Britishness - I just can't help but a love a West End song that rhymes 'gits' with 'shits'.
For those unfamiliar, it occurs near the beginning of Billy Elliot during Billy's first ballet lesson in Thatcher's Britain. The backdrop is of civil unrest as striking miners are pitted against the Government and the police. This is a community in the north of England on its knees. For the kids, these after-school clubs are one of the few things that offer refuge from the bleakness.
As the kids dance, the striking miners appear on one side and the Metropolitan Police on the other. The electric guitar twangs and suddenly this ballet lesson is transformed into a threatening standoff wanting to "do the fuckers in". The juxtaposition hits you square in the chest as the girls continue to dance and separate the two warring factions. The choreography beautifully mixes the ballet with the picket lines.
Everywhere you look during this song there are divides: boys vs. girls, north vs. south, police vs. miners.
The miners and the police are at once both the same and total opposites. Both are working-class men and both are looking after their families. But the animosity is very real. The police taunt the miners with the amount of overtime money they have, while the miners respond with "while you were on the picket lines, we went and fucked your missus". The insults fly thick and fast. It's a great testament to the lyrics that they didn't shy away from using the proper vernacular.
As both sides sing about 'solidarity' you start to question what the word means. As they comically swap their hats in the routine, you realise the absurdity of the lines drawn. By luck of their birthplace, they could have worn either the police hat or the miner's hardhat.
At the nucleus of all of this is Billy. Who is taking his first, tentative ballet steps and ends with his first pirouette. There's something touching about this moment of beauty emerging from the ugliness around him.
The song is rousing in an unexpected fashion. It's no "One Day More" or "Defying Gravity". It's actually quite repetitive - almost half the lyrics are a repeat of the line 'Solidarity, solidarity forever' - but its simplicity is key at this early part of the show. It has to communicate that strong sense of belonging and community. Those two concepts are key to making the whole story work and this song does it beautifully.
I was sad to see Billy Elliot leave the West End; I always felt its combination of heart and politics was a winning formula. Still, I am sure it will continue to have a life on tour. Solidarity forever.
Watch a clip from 'Solidarity' below
Photo credit: Alastair Muir