Sunday, 22 April 2018

Sileby, Quorn and a wardrobe malfunction.

Well, you wait for a concert for what seems like an age and then two come along at once. The weekend of Friday 13th and Saturday 14th of April, meant concerts for both Caroline Sharpe Singers and the Loughborough Male Voice Choir.

First things first. Friday 13th (is that really a wise date on which to undertake a concert?) at Sileby Methodist Church, Caroline Sharpe Singers were to give a concert in aid of church funds and a good turn out of choir members assembled in readiness to give our all. Over the years, concert venues become something of a blur to me but even with my sieve-like memory, I recalled having been there before, singing a solo  of On the Street Where You Live, if I recall correctly. Actually, I could check that out by reading back through this blog - if I could be bothered!

On this fair night, our beloved MD did state, that all songs would be sung bereft of copies, with the exception of Greensleeves. The planned 'learning of the words' that I'd promised myself, never quite happened, so The Longest Time was again destined to be err, less than perfect? Perhaps we tenors could at least keep the unwanted key changes down to the minimum this time? I wouldn't bet my mortgage on it, if indeed I had one!

One thing about this concert that does need addressing and has already been highlighted by Caroline herself, is that of 'the art of filing'. Now, we're not talking about putting sheets of paper in tall, grey, three-drawer cabinets here, we are talking about filing on and off stage. Walking on stage and then walking off stage. It's not 'rocket science' is it (to use an over-used cliché)? CSS are not alone here. The LMVC have had their fair share of filing nightmares in the past, but under the determined supervision of Lyndon Gardner these days, such cock-ups seem to be a thing of the past. But the filing of CSS on Friday, I have to say, was utterly shambolic. So shambolic in fact, that during this Saturday's rehearsal, Caroline gave us all her 'Idiot's Guide to Filing' demonstration. Oh how I wish I had been fore-warned of this so that I could have had my I-phone ready to record it for posterity. The demo will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. Quite hilarious! Equally hilarious were her instant put-downs. "Caroline? Can I make a suggestion?" "No!" says Caroline.  I think we know who's boss eh, ladies and gentlemen?

On the night, I thought we sang pretty well on the whole. Even the dreaded Greensleeves went pretty well. And The Longest Time was going well too until the last verse, when I think all of us tenors had a brain-freeze and the whole thing nearly stalled. But hey, we finished well. And, I messed up the clapping in Jubilee. Again. This time I missed it altogether and rather than look even more of a prat by trying to jump in mid-way, I chose to give it a miss entirely and make it look like it was always meant to be that way. Oh dear!

As well as CSS, the concert also featured solo spots for Katie Muller and also her mother Yvonne Renouf. I wish I could give a glowing report but alas, I was horribly distracted by strange goings-on in the kitchen at the time, (about which I will not elaborate further) and pretty much missed their performances as I teetered on the brink of an emotional melt-down. The gals were I'm told, excellent though!

I did manage to listen to some of the flute group called Mistral Music that included some instruments that I had never seen before. I presume there were bass flutes and tenor flutes? I will shut up now as I know not what I am talking about. They made a very nice sound though. The group included the above mentioned and multi-talented, Yvonne Renouf, who seems to be in just about everything at the moment. Where does she find the time to do it all I wonder?

So the concert went pretty well and feedback from the audience suggests that they enjoyed it too, raising a good sum of money in the process.


I interrupt this blog for . . . . . .


"Have you heard about all the crime that's been going on in the multi-storey car park?

It's just wrong on so many levels!"

Brrrrrrummm, tiiisssccchhh!


Okay, now where was I?

Ah yes, about to write about last weekend's other gig on Saturday April 14th at Quorn Community Hall, that marked my momentous return to the Loughborough Male Voice Choir. Recent events in the Coward/Sharpe/Gray household have meant that I had to miss a significant number of pre-concert rehearsals with the LMVC, meaning I was horribly under-prepared for my 'comeback gig'. This was the last concert to feature pieces from last year's core music, so the choir knew all the songs pretty well. Now if I had had any sense I would've bailed out of this one and delayed my comeback until the first concert of the new core music. Silly me. So I somehow needed to bluff my way through a concert when not knowing some pieces at all well, and in one case, Morte Christe, not at all. More on that later.

Considering the above scenario, I was remarkably relaxed about it all and started to get prepared in good time. A brand new blazer was purchased online for a mere £35 from Pegasus Menswear so all I needed to do was affix my choir badge to said blazer with good ol' Wonderweb' (until I find the time to get it properly sewn on!). Job done. Now to get ready. Blazer - check! White shirt - check! LMVC tie - check! Black socks - check! Shiny black shoes - check! Grey trousers - oh, now where are my grey trousers? Ah, here they are. No they're not, they are Ruth's. So where are mine? Answer, nowhere to be found! Bugger! I must have chucked them at the same time that I chucked my old worn out LMVC jacket when I took my break from the choir!

Now what the hell do I do? Can I get away with black trousers? Not a chance. I know there are some 'Fifty Shades of Grey' amongst the ranks of the LMVC but not even I could convince anyone that mine were just very dark grey!?! Could my grey jeans work? Hell no!

Should I just not turn up and plead insanity? Well, after Chairman Higgins had made the point during last week's rehearsal that several members who had said they were definitely attending the previous Lambing service performance but didn't, I could hardly now do likewise. So, nothing else for it but to do a last minute panic trip to Tesco in the desperate hope that they had some grey trousers. I had precious little time to look and try on. Anyway, they did have some and in what I thought were my size, so I bought them, rushed into Tesco loos, changed into them and legged it. On my way back to the van I looked down and realised the grey trousers were a bit on the short side. In fact I think I looked rather like Peter Crouch (a 6' 7'' tall footballer for the uninitiated) who had struggled to find any trousers long enough to fit him. Sigh!

On arrival I texted Ruth this embarrassing news and she and her sister Julia asked if I was staying with the 'ankle swinger' look or wearing them on my hips, but thus risking the 'low slung gusset' look? I opted for the latter and think I got away with it. Just!

But what of the concert? Well, many of the songs I knew quite well, like With a Voice of Singing, When the Saints Go Marching in and Gwahoddiad, but others I knew less well, but as copies were allowed for most, they went okay. The problem though was Morte Christe. Most of the choir had been singing this a lot over the last couple of years during my absence, and by long standing members for many a moon. But for me it was completely new and was to be sung without copies. Now how does one sing a song that you don't know at all, without copies and not stick out like a sore thumb to the audience? Well, I knew the first couple of lines and by listening to the rest of the choir, I found I could almost guess the words as they were being sung. So I got through it in reasonably convincing fashion. At least, I think so.

Another notable thing from this concert was the huge difference in those 'Shanty Men'. There were a few new faces included in this group of chaps and gone were the arran sweaters. But this was without doubt the best performance by the Shanty Men that I have seen. Each song was sung without copies as Terry Jones proudly proclaimed. How the guys learnt all the words to one song in particular, I will never know. Very impressive chaps!

Then there was that renowned double act of Gerry Brennan and Michael Dukes performing some classic Flanders and Swann  routines which had the audience in stitches, especially the one about the Horn. Rather worryingly, Gerry seems to enjoy performing that one particularly!

So it was good to be back in the thick of things after my enforced break from the choir. There now follows a good five weeks or so to learn some songs properly and actually be ready for the next set of concerts. Now that would be good eh?

See y'all next time!

Cheers, Alyn.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

WRAD 3 coffee morning dedicated to Peter Sharpe

It hardly seems twelve months since the Caroline Sharpe Singers transformed themselves into The Purple Angel Singers for World Rocks Against Dementia 2017 and set off for the south-west and that magical day in Seale Hayne. But it is and such was the success last year of both the Trinity coffee morning and WRAD event, we were always going to do something similar in 2018.
If there's one thing my wife Ruth is something of an expert at, it is generating an audience. While there was not to be a tour this year, it was decided to do another coffee morning at Trinity Methodist Church Centre, incorporating a concert (or 'open rehearsal' as Caroline was calling it!) by the Purple Angel Singers, second-hand bookstalls, display stands, bric-a-brac, 'Guess the name of the Teddy', etc, etc... Oh, and cake. Lots of cake!
This years WRAD was all the more poignant, as it followed the funeral of Ruth's dad, Peter Sharpe, on Thursday 22nd March who had sadly passed away on March 1st. As most of you will be aware, Peter had Alzheimer's and Ruth had been giving talks on his life story, 'ark at our Peter. With Peter having been such a well known man in Loughborough, coupled with dementia touching the lives of so many these days, this year's event on Saturday 24th March brought another bumper attendance. This whole event was dedicated to Peter Sharpe.
Prior to the start of our performance, I took the opportunity to eat some cake obviously and peruse the book stall, where I spotted a biography of my old Darcy Lever neighbour, Fred Dibner. I had to have that obviously! Ruth had commissioned someone called Alan Price to make some fantastic Purple Angel  stained glass hanging ornaments which were rather impressive (and sold out by the following day!).
We Purple Angels did our stuff, singing such gems as Sing with the spirit, Mack the Knife, Dry your tears Afrika and The Longest Time. Oh dear! We tenors started in the right key (I think) but proceeded to change to a different key for just about every verse, getting lower and lower each time to the point where we were virtually unaccompany-able by the last verse. It was truly hideous, but will be remembered for a long time! May it be, thankfully, was lovely, as was Tell me it's not true and Sing to me. However, Jubilee needs a bit more work, to put it kindly. Especially the clapping where we must have resembled a bunch of seals flapping our flippers. I don't know what the collective noun is for a group of seals, or indeed if it is flippers that they have, but you get my drift!
What the heck, much fun was had by all and huge sum of around eight hundred pounds was raised for a very good cause, to hopefully get an Admiral nurse for Leicestershire.
For anyone who would still like to contribute to this fabulous cause, you may do so by clicking here the 'Just Giving' page. Thanks!

Well, that just about wraps it up for now, but stay tuned for reviews of a weekend double-bill of gigs - a Caroline Sharpe singers concert at Sileby Methodist Church on Friday 13th rapidly followed by my first gig back with the LMVC.

Until next time!



Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year's resolution? Let's (re) join a choir!

Okay, so what the hell happened to 2017? I know it is supposed to be an age thing, that the older you get the quicker time seems to fly by, but blimey Charlie, the last twelve months seem to have galloped by at a rate of knots and as Norman Hockley reminds me all too regularly, there has been a distinct lack of blogs.
Too true Norman, alas. I won't make the mistake of pledging to post more, but fingers crossed for a more prolific 2018?
Now, I'm not generally the type of person to make lots of new year resolutions as invariably they are binned by January the second. But this time around, I did pledge to do one thing in particular and that is to rejoin the Loughborough Male Voice Choir! 'Hoorah' I hear you cry? Well, I must admit that it's not until you sing a traditional male voice choir piece after a long break that you realise just how you miss it. At the end of their 50th Anniversary Gala concert last October, past members in the audience were invited to join the choir 'onstage' to sing that male voice choir classic, Gwahoddiad. This particular piece just so happens to be my all time favourite and that 'Amen' finale particularly sends shivers down the spine every time, so I found it impossible to turn down. Perhaps it was Chris Hills' cunning plan to get some of us former members to reconsider? If it was, it certainly did the trick in my case.
It must be about two years now since I took a break from the LMVC for many reasons, but I've certainly not been idle singing-wise since then. I've been singing regularly with Caroline Sharpe Singers, dabbled with slightly ill-fated Per Sempre (soon to be resurrected - watch this space!) and even flirted briefly with the Christchurch Gilbert & Sullivan Society's production of The Sorcerer. But there's nowt like Gwahoddiad to make you realise what you have been missing.

And then there's Norman Hockley. Regularly chastising me for my lack of blog output, he has also been trying to persuade me to rejoin LMVC. Such a move has been there in the back of my mind for a while but you see, there's Norman's jokes to consider. Every Saturday morning I have the 'pleasure' if  that is indeed the word, of being the audience for Norman's weekly joke. Hilarious as they invariably are, can I really subject myself to more of the same on Thursday too?

What the hell, last Thursday I went along to their first rehearsal of 2018. Good timing as it turned out as the choir was to be starting to get to grips with their new 'core' set of pieces for this year - some brand new and some that were to be revived after being so long submerged in the back catalogue archive that only John Holt is likely to remember them!

I must say, it was nice to be back and to be welcomed back so warmly. Thanks chaps! There are quite a few new faces to get to know, as well as reacquaint myself with the others. And, there are a few new items of clothing required too. There appears to be LMVC sweatshirts and polo shirts to be had, as well as a new blazer to be purchased. I think I still have my LMVC badge somewhere, if I can only remember where I put it......? I'd better get my act together as there's a gig coming up fairly quickly!

It looks like it is going to be a busy year of singing with CSS, LMVC, a potential Purple Angel charity gig in March and the Annual Pupils Concert on May 26th. I've even been threatened by Caroline with a Trinity Grade 6 singing exam at some point in 2018, just so that I don't get too bored. As if?

So may I say Happy New Year to one and all and look forward to many more singing blogs as we plod through 2018. As ever, spread the word re this ol' blog, both the above choirs and singing in general. Let me finish for now with a plug for the Loughborough Male Voice Choirs Annual 'Men - Learn to Sing Harmony' course, starting on Thursday 11th January 2018, to be held at Trinity Methodist Church Centre. Clich HERE for details! If you have, or know anyone else who has always fancied having a bash at singing but were too shy to try, then point them in our direction. Who knows, you could end up writing a blog about it all like this one!

See you next time!

Cheers, Alyn.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Caroline Sharpe Pupil Concert 2017

Well here we are again eh? It’s Pupil Concert time again. I’ll spare you the quips about it ‘not feeling like a year since the last Pupil Concert, cos it isn’t’, Caroline’s already done ‘em! But yes, a switch to a May date is a good move given the number of times pupils have to sing through colds/flu/chest infections and all manner of ills as the November winter kicks in.
What a shame then that Anna, Ruth and then me should be struck down with various random viruses in the weeks approaching this concert, in my case just two days before. It just goes to show you that in Britain, it doesn’t matter when you schedule something the British climate will conspire to mess you up.
But no matter, whatever happens, it’ll never surpass the now legendary (in my brain at least) phlegm laden rendition of Ich Grolle Nicht a few years ago! Ooh, that was schhhhh-peshhh-ull!
Okay, I’ll start this review with ME. What better thing to concentrate a blog about than me, me, me? Excuse the smug, arrogance, but it’s perfectly in order. You see, on this occasion, I was to sing a duet with my fellow Caroline Sharpe Singers’ tenor and partner in crime (?) Norman Hockley, where this particular trait would prove vital!
Me and Norm have built up a tremendous rapport in CSS over the last year or two. We’ve just kinda clicked I guess. We share the same daft sense of humour (to Caroline’s annoyance at times I’m sure) and help each other out when either of us are struggling. In fact, that goes for all the tenors, including Shaun, Sid, Norman 2 and Baaaaa-bra, sorry, Mark. We have our difficulties that all other choir members will recognise, but we get there – eventually.
Anyway, a while ago Caroline proposed a fabulous duet for me and the Normster called You’re Nothing Without Me, taken from the (to me at least) little known musical City of Angels. In this piece, Norman was to play a writer (Stine) while ‘yours truly’ would play the character (Stone) that he created. The scary thing about doing this piece was that it would require a bit of acting to make it mean anything and make it work at all.  Oh Lord. Act? You’re kidding me right?
No, she wasn’t. Okay, so given my much-documented performance terror, how the hell was I going to carry this off with any conviction? The answer was clear to me after the relative triumph of ‘Freddie at WRAD’ earlier this year. The key is just to know the damn song inside out until it is automatic. Repetition ad nauseum to the point where one is sick to death of the bloody song. Then, and only then will there be any chance at all of me being comfortable enough on stage to try and ‘act’ around it.
Another slight worry, was that Norman has a long history of ‘am-dram’ including the Quorndon Shakespeare Company, so lil’ ol’ me was going to have to shape up. Rehearsals went well, ish until I tried to act a bit. Then the words went completely out of my head. Multi-tasking you see! Can’t do it. When I sing, I sing and that’s it. No need to think what my body is doing or even looking like. Now however, I needed to look smug and arrogant and dismissive of my ‘creator’ side-kick, while also attempting to sing.
Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase. On the night, Norman did indeed supply the threatened Fedora, which miraculously fitted me perfectly. A quick lesson in how to put the hat on properly followed and we were sorted and ready to go. When the time came, Caroline thankfully introduced the song to give it its proper context and up we strolled, me as nonchalant as I could manage, given the butterflies doing cartwheels in my guts and leaned casually against the table and put on the Fedora as instructed.
As ever, the actual performance is a bit of a blur, but I did my best to look dismissive of my writer, to mock his jealousy of my character and by all accounts, pretty much pulled it off. There were a few minor mistakes from both of us I think – but it worked. And, whisper this very quietly, I really enjoyed it!
There. I’ve said it. I never thought it would happen to be honest. There were a few nerves there beforehand, but nothing like previous traumas, simply because I was confident I knew the song well enough to relax a bit and actually perform it rather than merely sing it. For once I’m really looking forward to seeing David Concannon’s recording of it. Shaun Oldale said to me after that he really felt my disdain for my creator, so that’s job done I guess? All that’s left to say on the matter is a ‘thank you’ to Caroline and Ruth for the belief, Chris Hill for his accompaniment and of course Norman, without whom I’m nothing and that’s the last time I will make that gag – ever!
Now I believe there were other singers involved last night!  Oh yes, as ever there was no shortage of intrepid individuals prepared to bare their souls and battle their nerves in front of a supportive Trinity audience. Everyone and I mean everyone did absolutely brilliantly last night. I could go through everyone but will pick out just a few for special mention. Firstly, little Charlotte Vaughan. Bless her, it all proved a little overwhelming initially, but with a little help from Maddie Dunstan, she got back up there and sang Castle on a Cloud from Les Mis. Bravo Charlotte! Well done, that’s the first one done and as I am only beginning to realise, it really does get a bit easier as the years go by!
And then there was Geoff Hickling. You’ll all know by now how Geoff was motivated to try singing after reading this humble blog. Well, just a couple of years later, his progression has been amazing. Your performance of Linden Lea last night Geoff, was note perfect. I meant what I said to you afterwards last night and you can be very proud of yourself!
Quite early on in the programme there was a new singing group called Per Sempre. Formed shortly before Christmas 2016, this little bunch of choristers comprising me, Ruth, Yvonne Renouf, Katie Muller, Wendy Burns, Sam Wood and Gerard Stevens are aiming to master some tricky and unaccompanied sacred music. Last night sadly we were going to have to get by without a genuine tenor as Sam couldn’t make it. Into the breech stepped that well known tenor of this parish, Caroline Sharpe? Having had the pleasure of listening to Caroline sing on many an occasion, having her at my side last night and hearing this oddly deep voice was just the most bizarre thing! I’m not sure she’ll let the recording of April is in my mistress’ face anywhere near Youtube, though it did seem to go surprisingly well by all accounts.
Now, as well as a duet last night we were treated to a mysterious trio just before the interval. Billed as an ‘Operatic Trio’ to be performed by Beverly Price, Liz Jenkinson and a certain Ruth Coward. I obviously knew that it was to be the well-known Three Little Maids from School from G&S’s Mikado. Well this was hilarious and despite a very minor hiccup, went down great with the audience. I think the gals had three rehearsals of that piece in total, so it was pretty impressive! Well done y’all!
Then there was Liz Jenkinson. Crikey! The only word I can use to adequately describe her rendition of Handel’s Iris Hence Away from Semele is Class. Everything about her performance from the verbal introduction through to the final note just oozed class. It was simply breathtaking and something that the rest of us can only use as inspiration.
I suppose I had better mention the Caroline Sharpe Singers’ contribution to proceedings too, where we kicked the night off with Tell Me it’s Not True from Blood Brothers and finished the evening off with Ashokan Farewell. The former went pretty well I think, the latter less so. Caroline’s morning after Facebook post summed it up perfectly. “Early audience feedback suggests that Ashokan Farewell sounds very effective. I think we’ll learn that one and sing it again sometime”. Ha-ha! Guilty as charged ma’am! I confess to being nowhere close with that one, but promise to address the matter in due course, honest Miss!
The second half commenced with CSS performing as the backing singers for Gail Morgan singing the old time classic, Don’t Dilly-dally. The great thing about these concerts is seeing the obvious improvement in singers each year and Gail is a very good example!
So a final name check to last night’s performers not mentioned thus far:
Hearty congrats to:
Jill Perry
Teresa Courtenay
Gillian Smith
Marian Carey
Paula Vaughan
Barry Johnson
Jane Giddings
Yvonne Renouf
Wendy Burns
Stuart Kirkland
Maddie Dunstan
Beverly Price
& Katie Muller
Bravo everyone and hope to see you next year, May probably!
Cheers, Alyn.