‘On Friday 1st June, drivers on the M1 and A1 going north were astonished at the number of cars which passed them with the strains of Coldplay and Robbie Williams emanating from windows, open to the summer breeze. On further investigation, it would seem that this was a cavalcade of Social Singers from West Bridgford in Nottingham, making their way up to the North East to entertain the people of Whitley Bay and Newcastle over a packed weekend. Drivers listening to the melodic sounds from the cars commented on the passion and clarity of the singing and some even wondered whether Robbie himself was in the car! All those we spoke to were envious of the treat in store for the inhabitants of Whitley Bay and some even changed their route to join in. Many also commented that the singers appeared very disciplined and well-trained, so must be blessed with a talented director. We eagerly await news of the next appearance of this choir, which may be as soon as 2021.’
(Reported in the Yorkshire Trumpet, Friday 1st June 2018 by Algernon Thompson, Music and Traffic)
So we all arrived safely and as you will have seen from the frenetic activity on Facebook, we had ‘a reet canny good time’. We stayed at the relatively new Premier Inn, overlooking the sea, and much as we loved the B&Bs in Whitley Bay (well most of them), it was good to be together with a Beefeater next door! Great place and great staff.
On Friday evening, we strolled along the coast and over the Links to the Briar Dene restaurant, where we ate, chatted, laughed and – yes, you guessed it, sang! The meal was good, although those indulging in the sharing platter, looked enviously at the other plates and mentally logged where the nearest chip shop was.
Of course, the Prosecco girls were enjoying the evening, as usual and what about Teddy’s shirt? Star of the show – a wonderful combination of 70s chic and eastern style. Kind of mystical Cat Stevens! Simon was sporting an embryonic beard – much commented on (“Did you mean to grow a beard, or are you just lazy?”). Apparently Hardip likes it, but it had disappeared by Sunday morning!
It was great to welcome Fiona’s mum and dad to the meal and also, Peter, the vicar of St Peter’s and his partner. Having never heard WBSS in full post-prandial singing mode before, I think Peter was rather overwhelmed – but in a good way – and clearly went away thinking that Saturday evening was going to be OK!
Saturday dawned rather overcast, but still warm and after a good breakfast, we all set off in our own ways to travel to the Sage in Newcastle. So many new experiences. Some had never been to Newcastle before (what have you missed all these years?); some had never seen the Tyne; many had never used the Metro before and most had not visited the Sage. I think I can say with relative confidence that no-one had sung there before and Simon was slightly over-excited. It is an amazing building in terms of architecture and also acclaimed for its acoustics. We sang in the Concourse with a glorious view over the bridges of the Tyne. The staff at the Sage were really helpful and welcoming and gave us a practice room for our warm up. And as you can see from the sign, they had been accurate with our average age!
The warm up was an experience in itself as Simon attempted to use sign language to relay the words to us, so that no-one needed the music. I have never seen such bizarre interpretations of the words of Tears in Heaven and on occasion, my brain was so busy figuring out what the word was, that I forgot to sing. However, I think we all did pretty well with the words, especially since we didn’t sing ‘Never weather beaten sail’ at this event.
After a bit of a technical hitch in the first part, we sang to an audience mainly of friends and family, but also a fair number of visitors having coffee and lunch. The air circulation in the Concourse seemed to result in drawing in warm air so we were rather hot and needing plenty of water. I would like to say that we raised the roof, but the roof was very high and it was rather like singing in a cavernous cathedral. Quite challenging for us and also for Joan, but what an experience! Also challenging for Joan, was the fact that Simon kept changing the programme! But Joan coped magnificently with everything as usual. The Bling Singers, despite being 2 members down, did a great job and they added a new song to the repertoire ‘Follow the Heron’ which was beautiful.
The audience was very appreciative and even a Norwegian speaker in the café seemed very happy with our rendering of Har du Fyr. So now, you can all tell your family, friends and people in the street that you sang at the Sage. I think WBSS publicity should now say ‘recently appeared at the Sage Gateshead’. We left on a high to enjoy some free time in Newcastle or the Coast before gathering again at St Peters in Monkseaton for our evening concert.
Some of us had been at St Peter’s three years’ ago for Fiona and Jason’s 10th wedding anniversary celebration, so we knew that we would be welcomed warmly. It was a pretty full house including Simon’s two new besties and some family members. Penny’s twin sister caused a few double takes and my niece was also there to listen to me sing for the first time – other than raucous family parties. She was well impressed!
We loved it, didn’t we? We sang our socks off and I think everyone felt more confident. The church acoustics were great and Joan’s playing was wonderful. Didn’t we do a good job of ‘Fix You’? I know one should not blow one’s own trumpet, but I was buzzing and feeling that I had made a good contribution to a great sound. From the audience response, it seemed they felt the same.
Our programme was enhanced by Michael and Julie singing some beautiful classic numbers and we all got to sing ‘Moon River’, although we left the high notes to Julie (speaking for the altos, here!). Our very own Bling Singers were again in good voice with a lovely mix of soft, emotional and cheeky and including ‘Dance to your daddy’ as a tribute to the North East. Thankfully, they had retrieved their tiaras, which were sadly missing on Saturday lunchtime. Not that this affected their singing at the Sage, but I felt oddly proud when they donned the bling. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, ladies!
It was nice to chat and mingle at the interval and the church had provided refreshments including alcohol. I partook of a glass of red wine and was publicly rebuked by our leader! I know I’m a Methodist, but I haven’t taken the pledge and I’m sure the wine contributed to a relaxed second half. It might have improved my singing! Well there’s always hope! And most of us paid for our drinks!
We emerged from the Church even more exhilarated than the morning and I do believe that Peter, in his thanks, was genuine in his invitation to us to return! We retired to the Beefeater for more drinks and food and yes – no surprise – more singing! By this point of the weekend, some of our members were flagging but determined to carry on. Val had virtually lost her voice; Joan was struggling a little; and Lyn had a painful foot. So the evening singing was relatively short, but since our two new ‘fans’ were there, Simon was keen to reward them with a performance. I went to bed before ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ but I’m sure it was a fitting end to a wonderful day.
It may be hard to top singing at Sandringham, but I think Seaton Delaval Hall was just as magnificent. Because the weather was threatening to be rainy, we were directed to the Stables. Now ‘stables’ may conjure up something smelly and full of straw, but the stables at Seaton Delaval are amazing. They were built as part of the new hall in 1768 by Sir Francis Blake Delaval and consist of very grand stone stalls, each with the name of the horse carved above. Apparently, Delaval based them on a design by Robert Adam and he was so pleased with them, that he held dinner parties there! So singing in the stables is not so strange after all and the acoustics were good.
Simon was in a very strange mood; kind of manic euphoria. Questions were muttered about whether he had mushrooms for breakfast. I suspect he was just very relaxed – having sung at the Sage and given a good performance at St Peters, this Sunday trip to Seaton Delaval was the icing on the cake – whether we had an audience or not. And it did, indeed, look as if we might not have an audience, as it approached 12 noon and our meagre audience was increased by Val whose voice had not improved overnight. Then people started coming in – from the courtyard and from the café – drawn in by the music. We had a family with young children and a couple from Switzerland and then lots of others. Even after the first half, they stayed or returned until all the seats were full.
It wasn’t warm in the stables – as you can imagine – so most of us kept on jackets or jumpers. But Lizzie was resplendent in her red short sleeved polo shirt. When I asked her whether she was not a bit chilly, she replied, with typical charm, that she couldn’t wear her ‘woolie’ as it was pink and would clash with the red. Remarkable commitment to choir identity, Lizzie!
Whilst we were having a break, I was chatting to the couple from Switzerland, who come to England every year to visit a different region. They were telling me that Swiss people are great Midsomer Murder fans (I always liked the Swiss) and quite often come over for tours of the locations. There is a very popular book in Switzerland which lists all the locations for each episode and appears to be a kind of ‘bible’ for the fans. I was very quick to point out that we were also in ’Vera’ country and that I watched each episode of that with the constant comment ‘I’ve been there!’ Even my daughter, who went to Tynemouth every year with us from the age of 3 to 18 and who didn’t know there was anywhere else to go on holiday until her teens, joins me in location spotting. This delightful Swiss couple loved our music and joined in the songs. I loved talking to them and I felt I did a little to compensate for Simon’s ever-so-slightly weird audience engagement!
And, at last, we sang ‘Never weather beaten sail’. I had almost torn up my crib sheet, when Simon said we weren’t singing it, so I was really glad I had not – as were, several altos around me!
Wow, what a weekend! It really encapsulated the true essence of WBSS: community, companionship, good humour, commitment and a joy and pride in singing. Thank you to all who helped to organise the trip and especial thanks to Fiona and her parents for being so welcoming. Simon was brilliant (when not being weird), Joan was amazing and Elizabeth and the Bling Singers gave us beautiful melodies and a bit of a rest!
And I offer you this image as a representation of Simon conquering ‘Fix You’!