For You We Sing: Capos & Drummers & Chants; Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Part 2

12 Apr 2016 10:58 PM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
—by Shawn Levy

(Read part one here)

A (NOT SO) BRIEF HISTORY OF CHANTS AND CAPOS, CONTINUED (feel free to skip if the history of Our Thing isn't your thing)

Liam teaches; Pong (red hat) learns

Starting from the night in September, 2005, when Liam Murtaugh came from Chicago and showed us how they used capos to coordinate their singing, the Timbers Army accrued a cohort of perhaps a half-dozen capos.  Over the next few seasons we learned how to spread them out through sections 106, 107 and 108 to get optimal coordination of what had become several hundred singers.  We added a couple more drummers and drums, including larger toms to replace the snares.  The capos and DnT would huddle before and after matches to coordinate plans and take stock of outcomes.  We were literally getting our act together.

In this era, quite a bit more of our standard repertoire emerged:  “When I Root,” “We're the Timbers Army” (the Twisted Sister chant), “I Am a Timbers Fan” (the Sex Pistols chant), and more.  Among the new tunes, one had a very particular birth:  “The Greek Chant,” aka “North End Noise,” aka “So who are we?”  For that, with its complex structure and torrents of words, we tried a new system:  posting the lyrics and a clip of the melody on social media (which at the time meant the SCUSA message board), printing lyrics to distribute in the stadium, rehearsing with the crowd before kickoff, and deciding to perform it at a certain minute in the match.  It took some doing, but it too became canonical, and its birth gave us a new way to introduce new material.

By 2010, when MLS was a sure thing and we could predict a (physical) end to the growth of the match day Timbers Army, we had achieved something very near the current situation: capos in front of 108, 107, 106 and sometimes 105, and a central drums section up toward the then-center of things.  In the stadium renovation, the front office, previous iterations of which had dealt with the “problem” of Timbers Army singing with scorn and threats, actually rebuilt the North End to accommodate capos on a permanent basis:  the big stage in front of 107, the nests (or, as I always think of them, go-go cages) along the rails from 101-108, and the storage area at the top of the 200s for drums, flags and whatnot.

And as we quickly discovered, we needed it all.  The scale of the MLS-era Timbers Army was beyond anything anyone had ever imagined:  Dozens had become hundreds had become thousands in something like six years' time.

For one thing, even with the massive boost of the drums and horns, it was difficult to coordinate the capos and keep all sections of the North End on the same beat and verse; we tried a megaphone and earpieces and finally settled on hand signals (similarly, the main stage capos needed a way to cue the drums, and that, too, came eventually to be accomplished through a system of hand signals).  Also, spontaneous responses to what was happening on the pitch became nearly impossible: sure, a small group could start singing something witty and in-the-moment, but there was no way to convey the tune or words to folks sitting seven sections away, and certainly not in a timely fashion; by the time word spread –if it spread – the moment had long passed.  Trying to keep the old spryness alive was like trying to run an obstacle course from inside a tank; we realized eventually that the best we could do was just aim it forward and make only subtle turns.

I remember in early 2011 standing on my corner of the capo stage, looking up into the 200 level, and being stupefied by the enormous mass of No Pity-scarved, standing, singing people in front of me....and then turning to the right and seeing the same sight repeated another 7 or 8 times.  It was like a CGI tsunami of green-and-white and faces and bodies and voices.  It was overwhelming.  It was awesome.

The author vows to finish the fight; 2012

And it required us to think again about what we sang and how we coordinated it.  In the first few MLS seasons, we made a few tweaks to the idea of how the Timbers Army sings.  Inspired by the ambient sound of overseas matches, we chose to orient ourselves toward what we called “epic” chants – repetitions of standard chants lasting several minutes which formed a truly 'atmospheric' sound and would make it immediately evident that one was at (or tuned into) a Timbers match.  We introduced a new chant or two each year: selecting melodies from elsewhere in the world (our current repertoire includes songs inspired by Greek, English, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Argentine, and Moroccan originals, among others), writing lyrics, and teaching them via social media and in-stadium rehearsals.  These include “Somos Timbers,” “Party in Portland,” “Bury Me,” “Onward,” and the two most recently introduced chants:  “Keep it Up!” and “Green and Gold,” which were launched at the tail end of 2012.

Which brings us up to today and, more pointedly, tomorrow.

Since the end of the 2012 season, for a number of reasons, the capos and DnT haven't introduced a new chant, but there's a feeling in the air that things have started to get a little routine and we ought to try to come up with some new stuff.

We're in a new age, though.  Many of the sea of fans who've joined the North End since the advent of MLS have their own personal, emotional connections to the songs they sing and want to share in the creation and development of new material.

It requires a delicate balance.

On the one hand, the capos and DnT have learned pretty dang well what works and how and why: what can be sung (and, especially drummed) for a few minutes by a massive group; what kinds of material are needed to keep up the flow of songs throughout a match; what material would be unique to the TA (at least in North America); what chants have already been done and/or dismissed previously.  Plus, of course, the capos and DnT have to lead and play the material.  Their combination of expertise, expressivity, and volunteerism ought to be respected.

On the other hand:  there's a lot of good material out there (my own BRILLIANT ideas aside); I can point to the “Urruti!” chant that began in the front of 108 and rose to canonical status as a pointed example.  We ought to be able to incorporate the best ideas from the whole community into our repertoire.

So:  We we've come up with a few ways to generate some new material, and we'll be jazzing up the songbook a little during the coming months.

First we're gonna introduce a couple of chants devised by the capos and DnT.

Then we're gonna reach out to the Timbers Army, the North End Choir, to nominate and elect new chants for regular use.

To start, here are three new chants from the capos and DnT:

1) “Rose City” – Easy-peasy and, in fact, an oldie but goodie.  (Short chants like this make really good palate-cleansers or rev-ups when things get a bit stale during the match.) Two words, sung to this melody (which some of you might know as “Start the game!”).

2) “We Love You Timbers” – Another somewhat-oldie, sung to the famed “I love you, baby!” portion of “Can't Take My Eyes Off of You” by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (at 1:35 here).  The lyrics are also a cinch:

“We! Love! You! Ti-imbers!
Nana nana nana!
We! Love! You! Ti-imbers!
Nana nana nana!
We! Love! You! Ti-imbers!
Nana na nana naaaa!” 

3) “Adi! Boma-Ye!” – Nearly launched as a Kalif chant, it was made famous as a celebration of Muhammad Ali during his “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Zaire, and it literally translates as “Adi! Kill him!” The melody is at the beginning here.  (Note:  Short chants make the best chants to celebrate players as they allow for a quick start/stop in response to action in the match; hopefully we'll have lots of chances to use this one while there's smoke in the air!)

Give 'em a whirl as you drive around, do the dishes, prefunk at the pub, what have you.  We'll be trying them out at the upcoming Dallas and San Jose matches.

And then turn your minds to this:

The first-ever (perhaps anywhere) Crowdsourced Chant Competition/Election.

Later this year, we will be setting up a means for anyone in the North End to submit a chant for the TA, who will then vote and select not one but two new chants that will be incorporated into the match day repertoire.

It will work something like this:  through an as-yet-to-be-finalized process, prospective chant-writers will submit a clip of the melody of their suggested chant along with lyrics; an election period resembling that used for 107ist board members will follow; and the top two chants, as described below, will be incorporated into the mix. Some details:
  • For this particular election, we are seeking player chants only – i. e., songs celebrating our on-pitch heroes (Nagbe, Valeri, Chará, etc.).
  • Anyone (including the capos and DnT) may nominate as many as two songs, but only 107ist members can vote (this prevents ballot-stuffing and interference from the Fishing Village, among other ills).
  • The top vote-getting chant and the next-highest vote-getter for another player will be selected (e.g., if the top vote-getter is, say, a Jake Gleeson chant, the second chant will be the highest vote-getter for, say, Ben Zemanski, even if Jake's got the overall second-most-popular chant as well).
We'll be announcing the start of this competition/election later this spring, along with specific details about how it will work and some pointers as to what we've learned about what makes for the most effective chants (and, for those who haven't been singing with the TA since 2001, a list of songs that have already been used for players now departed).

So consider this an early heads-up:  If you want to contribute a chant, think up something short, punchy, catchy and celebratory for your favorite player (or two), and start looking for a short video or audio clip of the melody.

Who knows:  Maybe someday some long-winded mofo like me might write an epic post for this very blog telling a new generation of fans how that classic melody of yours first came to be sung in the North End.

Because every legend's gotta start somewhere....
Shawn Levy capoed the North End on and off from 2006-2012 and has led the TA in LA, New England, Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, Columbus, and (heh) Guyana.  Among the melodies he contributed to the TA songbook are “Bella Ciao,” “If You're Not Jumping,” and “Does Your Mom Go?”  These days he sings next to the drums in 106 and serves on the board of Operation Pitch Invasion.


  • 28 Sep 2016 1:31 PM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    FDChief says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 3:47 pm 
    My vote, as always, goes to reviving the Tommy Poltl chant only for our current favorite DM: “He’s short, he’s hard, he’s got a yellow card; Diego Chara! Diego Chara!”…
    That and there has to be some sort of tango rhythm we can use for a Valeri song.

    Lexi Stern says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 3:52 pm 
    Heh… see what you can do with this:

    FDChief says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 3:56 pm 
    Great stuff from a great songwriter…might be kinda hard to work DV8 into that one, tho…

    FDChief says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 4:04 pm 
    OK…how about this:
    “Let our love be a flame not an ember
    DV8; no dejar titere con cabeza (Argentine slang for “take no prisoners”)
    Bring a tear to my eye, Green and Gold ’til we die,
    As we dance to the Valeri Tango!”

    FDChief says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 3:54 pm 
    And has anyone considered reviving Fochive’s “Zinga-zinga-zumba/Musa-musa-musa” chant from last season? That was a hell of a fun chant and even though Fochive is gone, it’s a great reminder of the Championship season…

    Lexi Stern says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 4:02 pm 
    A common sentiment around that one was that it belongs to a particular moment, so we should let it be. (Devil’s advocate response: So was Can’t Help Falling in Love.)
    Fochive said it originated as a victory chant. Course, we already have one of those.  Seems as if there’s a group in 107 that’s been trying to get it going prematch.

    Shawn Levy says:
    Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 5:07 pm 
    Replying to both your questions here:
    1) We have always striven not to repeat a chant for a player once that player has moved on. It does mean that some brilliant stuff was used very briefly (the Obatola chant is legendary), but it’s part of how it’s always been.
    2) The Fochive thing has some ardent admirers (myself included), but there was, as Lexi indicated, a lot of sentiment to let the precious moment live on as a precious moment. From the point of view of the capos and drums, it seems more like a stage-performance piece than something to be sung/chanted during the action of a football match. And I can see that point. Keeping up energy is a key part of what we do. That said, I love the memory of it, and I love every time I hear it before the match. So even if it’s never incorporated into the 90-minute song list, I’d be delighted if we never let it die.

    Green Sailor says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 10:20 am 
    I just beg… BEG… for any new chant lyrics to be simple. After 3 years of the “Gates of Hell” chant, no one in the 200s knows more than 50% of the words, even myself. Hell, I didn’t know there were more words than what I had sang previously until I was at a Thorns match and stood directly in front of Sunday – it was a revelation.
    Sometimes I miss Pong’s “Repeat after me!!!” chants, which are still referenced often in our home. We can really use a decent Nagbe and at least a Maestro chant.

    Shawn Levy says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 2:29 pm 
    You’re gonna love the new “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” chant….:-)

    Scott Jeffries says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 12:59 pm 
    Shawn, I’ve talked to you before about how I feel about forcing chants and my opinion has not changed. I appreciate the way you framed it with how TA chant development has changed over the years, and you illustrate the current difficulty with starting new chants well. Our setlist has grown stale and we could use some new numbers, but this all just feels too official. Yeah, it’s hard to start chants, but the Urruti chant did happen completely organically, as you noted – a small group of people came up with it, they promoted it on social media, they did it before games, and it took a couple years but it finally spread TA-wide (with some help from the capos, I must note).
    I don’t like capos giving us sheet music and telling us what our new chants are. That is antithetical to the spirit of the TA. It’s top-down, not bottom-up. If enough people want to do a chant, it reaches critical mass. If not, it dies out like so many spontaneous bad ideas before it. I respect that they’ve been doing this for a long time, they’re in the best position to facilitate new chants, and they have some good ideas. But let’s subject those ideas to public opinion like everything else. I don’t want to be a performer.
    I *really* don’t like the American Idol-style voting contest. God, it’s all so procedural. We need a better way of sharing ideas fan-to-fan without having contests and winners. Why not a facebook and/or twitter page? Yes, it would be as full of bad ideas as Scarf Squad or the old SCUSA chant suggestion thread, but at least it’s an avenue that doesn’t require shouting over 5,000 people. “Diego plays for Rose City” is a perfect example of something that just needs the “pass it on” treatment. Nobody doesn’t like that chant, a lot of people would do it and try to do it, but it’s hard to teach people all the words and it doesn’t spread beyond isolated sections. If people could just get their ideas out more easily to as many people as possible, with a little help from the powers that be, things might catch on. Give the fans a forum. Help them organize. A simple retweet would go a long way and get people talking to each other who otherwise might not cross social circles.
    How about a compromise: for every new chant we add, we drop a verse of “Portland boys” until it’s gone forever? 

    Shawn Levy says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 2:27 pm 
    Appreciate your thoughtful response and your serious concerns.
    I’d like to offer a few responses in the spirit of dialogue and clarification:
    — You say you don’t like “capos giving us sheet music and telling us what our new chants are,” but that’s pretty much what has happened with every chant introduced since about 2009 with a tiny handful of exceptions. (“Goals!” is the only still-current one I can name.) Were those rollouts problematic? I certainly remember singing/performing them with you happily. And these days that material constitutes about 60-70% of what we sing, I would reckon.
    — I agree that one brilliant idea by one person, amplified by a small group, can become a beloved staple, and in an ideal world, that never stops. But we’ve gone three full seasons without any new material (“Goals!” was 2012, as were “Bella Ciao” and “Keep It Up,” and “Urruti” is defunct), so the capos and DnT met, at my urging, to look at the process of how we got chants in the past and how we can open up to new material. There were procedural obstacles within the two groups, and we ironed those out. And then we let a few small chants through the newly streamlined system (the three I introduced above) and came up with a way for something from the whole North End to become part of what we do. This may all sound “too official” or “American Idol-style,” but it constitutes the first positive steps in several years toward making actual change. It’s not the final word.
    — In light of Jamie Goldberg’s Oregonian story about two-sticks, I realized something. The capos/DnT are like the tifo group, doing the mass-scale, epic stuff, whereas the one-offs that are beloved only by small groups of people here and there in the North End are like two-sticks. I don’t think it’s impossible for both things to co-exist.
    — Wrangling the capos/DnT into something they don’t want to do is…unlikely. And that’s all I’m going to say on that matter…;-)
    — That Chara chant you reference is great. So are two other Chara chants I know of. I don’t know how to select among them. Why not give the choice to the people who do the singing? To you it’s “American Idol” and “antithetical to the spirit of the TA.” But I might point out that “American Idol” was a beloved show and that the TA held a poll on SCUSA to select its official crest.
    Anyhow, as I say, I do appreciate the dialogue and I hope you believe me when I say that I listen attentively to ideas other than my own. I’m just one guy in all this (albeit perhaps with too much time on my hands).
    Cheers, and see you soon!

    Landis Taylor says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm 
    We need a Nat chant “Fear the Beard, Fear the Beard, now I need another beer” simple and fitting

    Chris says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 9:50 am 
    Thanks for all your efforts, it’s super hard getting such a large group of people organized to agree on anything and I’m looking forward to the new chants.
    I just have one thought about the existing chants – it would be great if we can get rid of the misogynistic “shag your women and drink your beer” chant. It makes me very uncomfortable to hear as a man, let alone how the large minority of women in the stadium must feel if my female friends are a yardstick. I would hope that such a progressive club can move on from these kind of anachronisms.

    Shawn Levy says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm 
    This is actually an ongoing conversation, albeit stalled for the last few seasons. I am hopeful that we will soon see an initiative along the lines you’re hoping for.

    Chris says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 3:52 pm 
    Good to hear! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Tim Eagan says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 5:12 pm 
    So, along those lines, my wife has a silent (or not so silent) protest over one of the lyrics and I’ve started joining her. When the chant goes “So who are we?” and the next line is “We are the boys..” That part drives her crazy. Those North Enders the chant speaks of are not, in fact, all boys. She has a point. So when the part comes, she changes it to “We are the boys – AND GIRLS!!” It’s kind of awesome. I would love to hear people add that, rather than changing the chant. Just thought I’d pass it along.

    Josh Lawrence says:
    Sunday, April 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm 
    I agree. My group is 50/50 men/women, give or take. What I do during this song is sing: “And when we do… You’ll know that noise… Came from the North End Portland Timbers Army GIRLS.” I don’t know that it will catch on, even though I am quite loud, but it evens things out for me. And no, it doesn’t rhyme as well, but who gives a fuck.
    Link  •  Reply

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software