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.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Purple Angel Singers Tour - 2017 : Part Three

Newton Abbot Methodist Church and back home!
Okay, hands up those of you who slept okay! No, me neither. Ruth and I woke up several times and I think I had been performing Fat Bottomed Girls throughout the night to huge audiences the world over. In fact I think at some point I was even doing encores of Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are the Champions! Then I woke up and at least remembered that the real performance the day before had actually gone rather well, as had the whole gig for us Purple Angels. At around three o’clock, I put the kettle on and made us both a brew and we listened to our complete set from the Community Radio broadcast. Blimey, didn’t we sound good? There were a few bits where we went a tad flat, but hey it was pretty darn good overall. I know Caroline cringes at the thought of her attempts at doing the compere bit sometimes and while this time she did make a bizarre welcome to ‘Lords, Ladies’, other than that, she really sounded impressively slick and professional in her intros. Nice one MD!
One note to self: The radio recording emphasised as clear as day, that ‘yours truly’ needs serious work on his diction. The ‘lancy twang’ works okay with FBG, but I really need to work on eradicating the ‘Fred Dibner’ from the rest of my singing.
After a few hours sleep me and Ruth got up for breakers. And what a breakfast it was. Excellent in every way. I had the works: Sausage, two eggs, two rashers of bacon, mushrooms, two hash browns, fried bread, a grilled tomato and beans. And lots of toast, orange juice and coffee. Sigh!
After that little feast we had to bid farewell to The Palace Hotel and head for Newton Abbot Methodist Church where we were to join in the usual Sunday service and sing a couple of additional songs. This was a really nice thing to be involved in with a really welcoming congregation. The vicar was a farmer who really looked like a farmer and proceeded to tell us all just how thick sheep are! He was quite funny and engaging - the kind of vicar I can relate to! As well as join in with the congregational hymns, the choir was to sing two songs: I Will Sing with the Spirit and Make Me a Channel of your Peace. During a brief rehearsal, I completely forgot the men’s verse, so I wrote ‘despair’, ‘darkness’ and ‘sadness’ on my hand. Consequently, when it came to it, I remembered the whole verse without having to look at my hand. You see, it works!
Following the service we were invited to stay for lunch and what a fabulous spread there was! Food, glorious food and loads of it! Good old Granville gave on behalf of the choir a vote of thanks for the hospitality and Chris Hill was then primed to get to the far end of the hall to play the piano as we sang May It Be from pretty where we were sitting. Not quite a ‘flashmob’ but not far off!
That proved to be the final performance of the tour as we returned to our vehicles for the long trip back to Loughborough. And that was that, the end of a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.
Special mentions must be given to the following:-
Ruth and Caroline for organising the whole darn thing.
Chris Hill for his usual faultless accompaniment.
Charlie King and Granville Mercy for their van driving.
Amy Sharpe for having the guts to join us on stage to sing with the choir for WRAD! Bravo!!!
Penni Vincent for her hospitality and astonishing catering of the masses at her abode in Blakeney.
The congregations at Viney Hill and Newton Abbot the audience at WRAD who all seemed to enjoy themselves and made the whole trip worthwhile.
So until next time. See y’all next year?
Cheers, Alyn.
Me, Anna-Ruth and Ruth in pre-performance 'selfie'!

Motorway service break!
Chris Hill and MD Caroline in prep!

Carol & Sid and Gilly and Chris.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Purple Angel Singers Tour, 2017: Part Two

The World Rocks Against Dementia 2017

Those tour members who stayed at Penni’s house in Blakeney, rose to a hearty breakfast courtesy of the lovely Kimberley. After that we packed up and made our way to rendezvous with the rest at their guest houses before embarking on the trip to Hannah’s at Seale Hayne.

Oh, that reminds me! I forgot to tell you about a slightly odd occurrence on arrival at the guest house yesterday. Just as we parked up and began unloading baggage I sneezed and was rather shocked to find my tissue covered n blood. My poor nose proceeded to pour what seemed like pints of the red stuff at an alarming rate, way too long for my liking. "Pinch your nose and keep it pinched for ten minutes" was the consensus from the tour Doctors and it duly dried up after, well, about ten minutes. Weird!
Okay, moving swiftly on. You could say that Caroline Sharpe Singers are an eccentric bunch and just about anything can happen, especially on an away trip. Well, motorway journeys can be pretty tedious experiences at the best of times, so why not liven thing up a bit? Oh dear! I’m not sure who suggested doing a flash-mob type impromptu performance at Taunton Deane Services, but singers were surprisingly ‘up for it’ apart from Anna who was like soooooo embarrassed! Vic recorded the truly delightful performance of Almost Like Being In Love  on her phone and onto Facebook it went! The response of fellow restaurant users was varied – some enthusiastically watching while others showing complete indifference! One guy was particularly keen to know what prompted it and wished us well with our tour which was nice!

Today was the 'main event' and the purpose behind the whole trip, the World Rocks Against Dementia - WRAD 2017!
Now I’m not sure whether the satnav route to the WRAD venue was quite what it ought to be, with the last little stretch proving something of a challenge for Granville to negotiate. Thank the Lord we weren’t all in a 50 -odd seater coach!

Anyway we had arrived in good time, which is more than can be said of Norman H who was, how shall we say this ‘was delayed a bit’? With our set start time of 3.20 pm rapidly approaching, I started to run over Norman’s solo line for Do You hear the People Sing in my head – just in case. He wouldn’t let us down, would he?

Nah, course not. Shortly before 3 pm in he strolls. Phew! T’was a relief to have the full thirty quid in that tenor section! Strangely we had all been directed into a room away from everyone else so had no idea what the concert hall was like or what to expect when we got in there. Word came back from Chris Hill that everything would be obvious when we got there including which mic I could use for FBG. Well I hoped so. We were called forward by the somewhat over worked Kirsty-ann Johnstone who seemed to have run over to get us and it was ‘green for go’! After a speech from Mary Sherwood (4Dementiacarers) we were on! The whole event from beginning to end was to be live streamed on Hannah’s Community Radio station so there were a plethora of microphones set up on the stage, leaving not much room for manoeuvre. Definitely no chance of ‘Freddie’ going on a wander this time! The onstage sound man pointed out the microphone I was to use later and we were off with I Will Sing With The Spirit.

Thankfully, Fat Bottomed Girls was our third piece and I think I can say it went well. Alright, it went bloody fantastically! After an agonising 10 days of at times paralysing fear and anxiety, as soon as Chris Hill’s piano started all nerves pretty much disappeared. I got the audience clapping a fair bit and it was over in a flash. What I didn’t know until later was how much the radio presenters enjoyed it! In fact they were very complimentary about our whole set which was fabulous! I thought One seemed particularly good, but then we’ve won awards for that previously, dontcha know? For once, us tenors got Blue Moon almost right, which was something of a miracle. And well done to Norman with his solo. High five! 

I even made a decent stab at Tell Me It’s Not True, which I have struggled with up to then. And the grand finale of Ibuleve, sorry, I Believe was a suitably epic way to finish. We even took a proper bow as well, or did I imagine that? Before we were allowed off stage Ruth was presented with a certificate, recognising her as a Purple Angel Ambassador. Bravo!

Ruth's certificate, confirming her appointment
as an official Purple Angel Ambassador.

After that, the choir returned triumphantly to the 'Green Room'. I was feeling pretty euphoric and everyone else seemed quite chuffed too! For those of you who haven't heard it yet, here's a link to the live radio broadcast of the  show:-

Our bit can be found at about 86 minutes. It’s well worth a listen, especially for the presenter’s comments. Enjoy! A 20 minute video excerpt can also be found at top right of this blog
Ruth and I returned to the hall to meet the inspirational Norman MacNamara, better known as Norms!

Ruth with the inspirational Norman MacNamara, aka 'Norms'.
Norms was the founder of the Purple Angel Dementia awareness campaign. Despite being diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 50, he has written books on the subject and can be found on YouTube presenting numerous campaign videos. And, he's a Bolton lad! He knew as soon as I started singing FBG that I was from Bolton as well! You see, you can take the lad out of Bolton, but you can't take the 'Bolton' out of the lad!

 The only thing I regret about the day was not having more time to enjoy some of the other artistes performing at WRAD, but at least there's the radio broadcast available to get a taste of what went on. As it was, we hopped back aboard the bus and headed for The Palace Hotel. At least some of us did. One person who shall remain anonymous (Michelle) tried to check in at the wrong hotel. LOL! The Palace Hotel was just fabulous. It was like stepping back in time to the 1970's! All it needed to make it complete would've been a drugs bust by Gene Hunt! Sorry, but if you never watched 'Life on Mars' you won't know what the hell I'm on about, but it was a uniquely atmospheric hotel that me and Ruth just loved.
Well, we were at the seaside which obviously means FISH 'n CHIPS! Well, the 'Award Winning' Hanbury's fish 'n chip restaurant, was full when we got there, so we had to make do with another 'Award Winning' fish 'n chip restaurant a mere stone's throw away. Rarely has fish & chips tasted so good. If Hanbury's was any better than this place it must've been something else! Bloomin' lovely!

And that was just about that! A fabulous day was had by all I think.

Stay tuned for Day Three and the breakfast. Oh, the BREAKFAST!!!!!
Cheers for now,

Monday, 20 March 2017

World Rocks Against Dementia and the Purple Angel Singers Tour - 2017

Well, it has been a while (again!) much to Norman’s disgust, but I can’t let this weekend’s events go unrecorded can I? Where on earth do I start to record all the events of an epic period in the history of the Caroline Sharpe Singers? I’m thinking of writing a separate post for each day of the tour,  rather than one huge deluge covering the lot.
So, let’s start with the build up and Day One. Welcome to….
The Purple Angel Singers Tour, 2017: Part One.
If you know anything about my wife Ruth and her sister Caroline, you’ll know that if they are going to do anything, they will do it properly. Nothing will be left to chance. Every last detail will be assessed and catered for. Following the phenomenal success of the 2016 Loughborough World Rocks Against Dementia (WRAD) event at Trinity Methodist Church, the opportunity to perform for the ‘main event’ was too good to turn down and plans had been slowly formulating ever since. A good number of choir members seemed to be up for the trip to Devon for WRAD, but we all thought we needed another ‘gig’ or two to make the long trip ‘darn sarf’ worthwhile and memorable. Well sort of half way-ish is the Forest of Dean and the home of a relative, Penni  Vincent who had been keen for some time to put together an event involving Caroline Sharpe Singers and thus the concert at Viney Hill evolved. But what about the day after WRAD? A simple email to The Avenue Church in Newton Abbot brought a quick and enthusiastic response, so there it was – The Tour!
Of course, not everyone from CSS was going to be able to come away for the tour proper and not wanting them to miss out or for our  ‘home crowd’ to miss our WRAD 2017 ‘set’ it was decided to do a coffee morning at Trinity Methodist Church on the Saturday before the tour on 11th March. Ruth again took the lead in setting this up with volunteers recruited to do the coffee, tea and heaven knows how many cakes arrived from all corners of Loughborough. Justine and Jennie from MAE Interventions agreed to come and set up a display outlining the work they do in dementia care, in addition to Ruth’s Purple Angel display. I nearly forgot the essential purple balloons which arrived right on cue. Ruth even sorted me out with a purple waistcoat and bowtie!
As ever, we hoped for a reasonable audience to make all the effort worthwhile. Did we get one? Well yes, you could say we did. Trinity was packed! So much tea and coffee was drunk that the 10 pints of milk we had initially, quickly disappeared and yours truly had to make an urgent trip around the corner for another 8 pints!
The concert went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. For last year’s WRAD concert it was supposedly ‘for one night only’ that Caroline Sharpe Singers were to become The Purple Angel Singers, but here we were again! This coffee morning was pretty much a dress rehearsal for the following week and at the very least enabled me to exorcise a few demons. I’m afraid I succumbed to the dreaded nerves in the week before this to a point where I didn’t think I had it in me to do Fat Bottomed Girls again. Doing the ‘Freddie thing' once more seemed beyond me at that point. Anyway, I won’t witter on about this now, but will return to the subject of pre-performance nerves and anxiety in a future blog. I learnt an awful lot over the last couple of weeks that will hopefully help me and maybe other similarly afflicted singers in the future.
This humble little coffee morning concert generated a packed audience and raised another phenomenal £500 plus for dementia charities. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you need to generate an audience and raise some cash for your favourite charity, you could do a lot worse than ask my wife for a few tips, though she may not thank me for saying that!
Any road, with that out of the way was it time for my wife to relax a bit? Nah, not a chance, not with the finer details of the tour to finalise! There were goodie bags to prepare (weren’t they just bloomin’ brilliant?)  with Anna-Ruth compiling the quiz complete with caption competitions and guess the composer photos. There were little sweetie bags with random confectionery. Someone even thought of WRAD Tour pencils with which to do the quiz!!!

The now much sought after 'Purple Angel Singers 2017 Tour bag!
So, as the glorious day approached we were all ready for the off. Well, almost. I think Caroline and Charlie could’ve done without the call from the minibus hire company saying that one of the vehicles was no longer available and we would need to have I think, two cars instead! WHAT??? That wasn’t acceptable, leaving Caroline and Charlie to source another. This they duly did, meaning they’d paid twice over for one vehicle and needed to demand a refund. Nowt is ever simple these days is it?
Anyway, the chaos was sorted and two minibuses, well, one minibus and one 9 seater car, arrived at the agreed rendezvous point, our abode in Loughborough for a 2 pm-ish departure. Our driveway became a car park for the weekend and we wondered what the neighbours thought about all these cars in the driveway and yet not a hint of noise emanating  from the house!?!
We were now ready for the off, with Charlie King driving the minibus and Granville Mercy recruited to drive the big car. The latter vehicle, transporting Sid and Carol, Me and Ruth, Chris and Gilly Deborah and driver Granville plus Theresa was to be dubbed ‘The Intellectual Bus’. I’m saying nuthin!
A few hours and comfort breaks later we arrived at Penni’s house  in Blakeney in the Forest of Dean. How Charlie and Granville got those vehicles up that hill and parked the damn things is utterly beyond me. Good job guys! How Penni managed the catering for our entire party was astonishing and what a spread it was! From there it was a short drive to Viney Hill Church for our first concert.
This was to be a concert in aid of The MS Society with the local choir’ 'Smart But Casual’ and was a really enjoyable, fun evening, with a singalong of Jerusalem to kick things off. On a personal note, when it came to performing Fat Bottomed Girls once again, I was as confident as I could be that I could crack it. Maybe I was too confident as I neglected to do my usual thing of writing the first line of each verse on my hand – just in case. Net result was that I had a complete blank re verse one. Couldn’t remember the first line to save my life so proceeded with the second verse in the hope that it would come to me eventually. It didn’t, and what was bizarre was that as I was singing, I was simultaneously thinking “I still can’t remember the first verse but I can’t now sing the third verse as that will completely mess up the end, so I’d better sing the second verse again". That I did, with gusto in the blind hope that maybe no-one would notice. I’m sure Caroline did but it didn’t show on her face. So I can only apologise unreservedly for the lack of ‘big fat fanny’ in that night’s rendition. A lesson learned - write a few of the words on your hand and you’ll never need ‘em. At least that’s the theory.
So a splendid concert all in all, to a modest but appreciative audience. Choir members were then deposited at their guest houses while a select few stayed at Penni’s abode in Blakeney.
So that was Day One over. Stay tuned for Day Two and the 'Main Event' and a ‘motorway flashmob’ shocker!!!

P.S. To whet your appetite for our WRAD performance, see the video  link on the right hand side of this blog!