Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

The Power of the Crowd

Being part of a large gathering of people can be a powerful experience. Samira Ahmed explores the relationship between the individual and the crowd.

There are many different ways people come together: as an audience, a mob, or a congregation. Being an individual member of a large gathering can be an empowering and celebratory experience. It can also be an isolating one.

As she watches the group of people she's so often part of - the travelling throng at Waterloo station - Samira Ahmed explores the relationship between the individual and the crowd.

She considers the beauty of city hordes on their mass manoeuvres; the pleasure she takes in people watching; and the ways individuals can find a profound sense of camaraderie in a large group. And she looks at the riotous mobs as encountered by John Wesley in the eighteenth century and in 1940s Harlem, as witnessed by James Baldwin.

She speaks to Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews about the psychology of individuals when they gather together - from train commuters to the Kumbh Mela in India. And we hear from Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer David Lang about Crowd Out, his new piece for a community of one thousand voices.

Featuring music by Edith Piaf, Brownie McGhee and Thomas Tallis and with the words of George Szirtes, James Baldwin, Vesna Goldsworthy and Arnold Bennett.

Produced by Caroline Hughes.
A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 11 May 2014 23:30

Music Played

  • In a Station of the Metro (from ‘Selected Poems’) by Ezra Pound

    A haiku-like evocation of the city’s crowds

  • He Stands So Thin and Waits (from ‘The Angel of Salonika’) by Vesna Goldsworthy

    A tentative meeting of two people in bustling railway station

  • The Journals of Arnold Bennett Vol 1 1896-1910 by Arnold Bennett

    Observations on the joys of people-watching in Paris

  • The Journal of John Wesley 1743 by John Wesley

    Wesley’s confrontation with a riotous mob in Wednesbury

  • The Prelude (Book VII) by William Wordsworth

    The Romantic poet’s impressions of cosmopolitan life

  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

    A vivid account of the Harlem Riot of 1943

  • Preston North End (from ‘New and Collected Poems’) by George Szirtes

    A poem about belonging in a crowd, and to a nation. By permission of The Poetry Archive

  • Brownie McGhee

    Face in the Crowd

    • Brownie McGhee Sings the Blues.
    • Folkways Records.
  • Édith Piaf

    La Foule

    • The Best of Edith Piaf.
    • EMI.
  • Charles Wesley

    O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

    Performer: Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band.
    • Sing Lustily and With Good Courage.
    • Saydisc.
  • Pontarddulais Male Choir

    Diolch I’r Ior

    • Favourite Welsh Choirs.
    • EMI.
  • Parker


    Performer: Charlie Parker.
    • The Essential Charlie Parker.
    • Metro Doubles.
  • Thomas Tallis

    Spem in alium

    Performer: Peter Phillips & The Tallis Scholars.
    • The Tallis Scholars Sing Thomas Tallis.
    • Gimell Records.
  • Patrick Watson

    Quiet Crowd

    • Adventures In Your Own Backyard.
    • Domino.
  • Dobie Gray

    The "In" Crowd

    • Best of Dobie Gray.
    • Curb.