What an evening! With over a hundred singers on stage and a ‘sold out’ audience, we really raised the roof on Saturday. And for such a good cause – or 6 good causes, to be exact, as the concert raised funds for 6 separate charities – Autism East Midlands, Newark Orchard School, MHA, 4th West Bridgford Scouts, Alzheimer’s Society and All We Can. Victoria Johnson from Autism East Midlands was with us and received a cheque for … from the activities of the ECS Singers. It was great to have her there and to hear about the work that the charity is doing in our area, especially the Respite and Holiday Lets Service in Ravenshead. What a fantastic project. And we know that the proceeds from the concert will also support the other charities to engage in other amazing projects. Wonderful singing and charity is a match made in heaven!
This concert was all about collaboration. It was the first major concert which the two represented choirs – West Bridgford Social Singers and ECS Singers – had undertaken together. Both choirs had practised the Les Mis and Queen songs separately, but had had few opportunities to practise together in advance of the dress rehearsal on Thursday. So it was really satisfying to eventually join together in these well-known songs. The programme had been designed to encourage the audience to participate, if they chose to do so, and words were put on the screens. However, that did not turn the occasion into a karaoke night, as the harmonies from the choir could be clearly heard and added a richness to the audience singing. Speaking to people after the event, it was obvious that there was an appreciation of the choir’s harmonies as well as evident pleasure from being able to join in.
The programme had been mainly themed around Les Mis and Queen, and so we expected lots of people to want to participate. Who can resist ‘Bring Him Home’ or ‘We will Rock You’? From a show of hands at the start, it was clear that many in the audience had seen Les Mis (the musical version) – some more than others (has Simon really seen it 27 times? Word perfect or what?) and many were Queen fans and had seen Bohemian Rhapsody recently. So most of the audience were raring to have a go. And they did!
But not before the rigour and challenge of ‘The Warm Up’!! Here was a church full of people expecting to be entertained and to have a good time without too much effort, and Simon steps in with a mind-blowing warm up ‘My dog, he can do the can-can’. For those who are not familiar with this little ditty, it is sung, obviously, to the can-can music and requires you to combine the skill of tongue twisting with mental agility and memory. What? So you concentrate really hard and get it almost right – and then, just when you start to feel smug, what does Simon do? He splits you into three parts so you have to sing it as a round! Creased foreheads, closed eyes and clenched jaws abounded, as we all flung ourselves into the spirit of the thing. And what a result! Everyone feeling relaxed, vocally warmed up and in a state of hysterics or euphoria. And so ready to let the beautiful singing of ‘Fix You’ wash over them.
Both choirs had rehearsed long and hard for the concert and the result was impressive. WBSS led off with 3 of our favourites – Fix You (shivers down the spine!), Gospel Medley and finishing with ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’ with Robin in fine voice and the choir in full choreographic flow! And how about that glorious cackle from Sally – brought the house down. At this point, the first bit of ‘faffing’ (I’m from Yorkshire) occurred with ECS Singers descending from the gallery to join Social Singers on the stage. It all went beautifully – no tripping up or shoving – and we were ready to do a couple of joint songs.
Tim waved the flag in ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ and wore the sleeve of Robin’s jumper on his head. Not as strange as that sounds! Robin had creatively crafted a ‘bonnet rouge’ from a sleeve of an old jumper for our Les Mis workshop last year. He gave it to me afterwards, thus leaving a second sleeve ‘hanging around’!!
So he made a second one and rather than wear it himself on Saturday, he allowed Tim the honour. And I thought Tim looked suitably grateful and dapper in it!
‘Radio Gaga’ challenged us all to clap in the right place and get our ‘gagas’, ‘googoos’ and ‘blah blahs’ in the right order. Then it was time for Social Singers to retire to the gallery to allow ECS to perform their set.
First was‘White Winter Hymnal’, which is a complex and beautiful song. I was looking at my favourite source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and it is clear that there are conflicting opinions on the meaning. Fleet Foxes, themselves, and the musician who wrote the song, say that it is not intended to have any meaning but many people have talked about the theme of loss of innocence implicit in the words. For me, it is the music which matters and the repetitive chorus is bewitching. Fleet Foxes, in their video, accompany the song with body percussion and the ECS Singers did the same, not only with the ‘drum beats’ at the start and end but also with 4 singers doing the more complicated hand movements from the video. If you don’t know the song, watch the videos on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o10drRI3VQ0 and a beautiful animated version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrQRS40OKNE . It made a really impactful performance.
Then ‘Blue Mountain River’ with a lovely solo from Pippa and with Alison on the violin, followed by ‘The Fields of Athenry’ with solos from Darrell, Tim and Doug. This song refers to the desolation of the Great Irish Famine in the 19c, and probably the best-known version is that by The Dubliners.
Tea time! West Bridgford Methodist catering team are amazing. They coped with the hundreds of guests with incredible organisation and aplomb, so that everyone was fed and watered within the 25 minutes and ready for the second half.
The second half was always going to be a blast with a great selection of songs from Les Mis and Queen. We started with an emotional rendering of ‘Stars’ by the men of both choirs. It was superb and really set the scene for the drama of the Les Mis songs. Simon lightened the tone, by telling us how each song presaged the death of the character – really cheered us all up! But you can’t deny the emotion in the songs and we all enjoyed the volume of the voices in the church.
In contrast, the Queen songs encouraged us to relax, be cool and get hip! I know I did! Singing these songs with such a great audience and such great musicians was a joy for us in the choir. The highlight was always going to be ‘We will rock you’ and it was such a joyful ending to the Queen section. That thrilling rumble of voices singing ‘rock you’ at the start really gets your pulse racing. The words are actually not easy as ‘buddy’ grows from boy to young man to old man and each of the choruses is slightly different, so you have to be on your toes. But I think Brian and Freddie would have been proud of us.
We said our thank yous and our goodbyes and then as an encore – and a very fitting finale – we sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. For the second verse, the choir came down into the audience and sang with them, so we all ended the evening singing together and celebrating the importance of togetherness. Brilliant!