Friends, a little singing and much laughter

Writing on the train
Writing on the train

I’m back today from a whirlwind tour of three of my closest friends from National Youth Choir of Great Britain (NYCGB) days to Manchester, Wokingham and London.

On Thursday I traveled down to Manchester to see my “gr8 m8” Danny Curtis. Dan’s parents very kindly took us out for dinner in the evening: Italian. (The food, not his parents.)

On Friday morning Danny went off to work while I stayed in to watch some DVDs and get some writing done (I’m trying to write another book, you know). In the general absence of suitable-height tables in his house, I found a tallboy (chest of drawers) that was just right to be used as a standing desk. I got about 1,500 words written, which I was pleased about.

On Friday afternoon we drove to Wokingham in Berkshire to stay with Mike and Rachel Jeremiah. How wonderful to see Mike again twice in the same year — I used to live across the road from Mike in 1995 on Camberwell Road, London.

Saturday saw us catch a train into London, amongst some very well-dressed boys and girls heading to Ascot. There we were met by the Revd Jonathan Coore and his youngest son (my godson) who took us to see the parish he is now rector of. This was followed by a drink in a café at the Oxo building on the Thames and a walk back to Waterloo to meet up with another NYCGB contact, Julian, for lunch. Then it was back to Wokingham for an excellent home-made curry beneath an electrical storm.

We left Wokingham at 08:45 this morning and “Emma” (my CoPilot GPS) guided us back to the M4, A404 (trunk road not found!), M40 and M6 to allow me to catch my train from Manchester Piccadilly at 14:16.

At the station I met a friend, Patrick, from Join Me Edinburgh days which was wonderfully random.

As I’d managed to get a really cheap 1st class ticket I rather enjoyed sitting in relative luxury (well, a seat to myself and as much leg-room as I could eat) and get some more writing done, as well as tuck into a new book about how our minds are organised.

All in all, a pretty good few days filled with friends, a little singing and much laughter.

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)
NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)

Last weekend I travelled down to Sheffield to meet up with about 40 other alumni of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain ()for a weekend of singing, reminiscing and a lot of laughter.

Last year we had our first get-together and concert in Spitalfields in London, and decided that this year we ought to meet in “the north”.

Friday

I arrived in Sheffield on Friday afternoon, after a five hours’ train journey south to reach the north; remarkably there was a direct, cross-country train from Cupar to Sheffield.

After buying a hat (to replace the one I accidentally left in my car in Cupar) and having been accosted by a couple of “chuggers” both on my way to and from Marks & Spencer, I made my way up the hill to Broomhill to check in at the Rutland Hotel on Glossop Road.

Rutland Weekend Wallpaper
Rutland Weekend wallpaper

The room was… interesting. A kind of modern, 70s retro with a photograph of a giant woman’s head on the wall behind the bed. Other friends staying there reported similar photographs in their rooms. I guess you can never really feel lonely in those rooms.

In the evening I met up with my friend Simon (aka Goose) and we took a walk over to the Ranmoor area of Sheffield to meet up with more friends (Mike and Rachel, Duncan, Simon W) at the Ranmoor Inn on Fulwood Road, and yet another friend (Sworrell) at the Ranmoor Tandoori a few doors down.

What fun and jolly japes we had. Although, the chicken dopiaza wasn’t nearly as good as from our local Indian restaurant (the signature onions were not cooked enough). I finally crawled into bed around 01:30.

Saturday

Rehearsals began shortly after noon, in St Mark’s church, Broomhill which was conveniently right next door to the hotel.

It was so good to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve not seen for 15 or 20 years. And yet we just picked up from where we left off, and soon the years disappeared and there we all were like teenagers again sitting in rehearsals… and misbehaving!

I sat on the back row (of course!) between my good friend Andy and a guy called Will who left the National Youth Training Choir last year. It was so good that we had alumni there from all eras of the choir, from when it started in 1983 right to last year.

Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal
Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal

There is something wonderful about creating music as a choir, creating something out of nothing using only our voices. There is something intimately personal about that because our voices are so unique to each of us, and in the choir we listen to one another and blend our voices together in music. And there is something magical about the sound that NYCGB makes.

We rehearsed for about four hours and I must have smiled and laughed through most of those 240 minutes. The small, informal concert that we put on at the end of the day (which I meant to record but erm… forgot that I needed to press record TWICE on the Zoom H2 digital recorder), even with so little rehearsal, still sounded better than every other choir that I’ve sung in… even when we busked elements of it (I’m looking at you, page 7 of “Butterfly”).

Our programme:

  1. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land—Elgar
  2. L’amour de Moi—arr. Swingle
  3. Wie Liegt die stadt—Mauersberger
  4. Sourwood Mountain—Rutter
  5. Three Shakespeare Songs—Vaughan Williams
  6. And So It Goes—Billy Joel arr. The King’s Singers
  7. Butterfly—Makaroff
  8. The Bluebird—CV Stanford
  9. Shenandoah—arr. Erb

Songs rehearsed but not performed

  • Hymn to St Cecilia—Britten
  • Evening Song—Kodaly

In the evening we piled back to the Rutland for dinner, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but at the end of the day it wasn’t about the food but the company. We inevitably retired to the bar for more chat, memories, and laughter and I finally found my bed sometime after 02:00.

More photos are on the NYCGB alumni site.

Sunday

Survivors' breakfast
Survivors’ breakfast

The following morning the survivors’ met for a hearty breakfast before returning to our own particular corners of the UK.

Goose kindly dropped me at Sheffield station where I caught the train to Edinburgh… and stood most of the way due to a lack of seats. Or rather, it had a lot of seats—it’s just there were other people sitting in them.

Many thanks

A huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and such a success. Thanks to Ben Parry and the staff at NYCGB HQ, particularly Emily. Thanks to Mike Jeremiah for his local knowledge and helping finalise the venue. And finally thanks to all the alumni who gave up a weekend to relive their youth.

Next year…

Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again next year. I propose back in London. Maybe we could even get the Royal Albert Hall. It would be fun to perform there again.

Beautiful piano playing by Rich Batsford

Rich Batsford—In the Moment (2014)
Rich Batsford—In the Moment (2014)

A friend of mine from National Youth Choir of Great Britain days, Rich Batsford, has released a new album called In the Moment, which is really quite beautiful.

The album consists of ten improvisational pieces on piano which are gentle, thoughtful and meditative. Exactly what I need on this emotional day of voting.

You can listen for free on Bandcamp before committing to paying for it. It’s only AUD $7.00 (approx GBP £3.90).

NYCGB Alumni concert in London (18 January 2014)

Next weekend I’m going to be singing in a concert in London. (I’m so excited!) It will be the first official meeting of the new National Youth Choirs of Great Britain alumni choir.

The idea is to re-engage with past members of the choir (of which there are well over 1,000), to catch up with one another, make music, and also hopefully raise some money to help existing choir members.

I’ll be tweeting throughout the weekend on @exncygb.

Where: Christ Church, Spitalfields, London
When: Saturday 18 January 2014 at 5.00 pm.

If you’re going to be in London or know someone who would enjoy this informal concert the please email them this flyer: Sing Joyfully—NYCGB Alumni flyer (PDF, 1.02 MB)

Or check out more information, including details of music being sung on the NYCGB concerts and events page.

Sing Joyfully—concert of National Youth Choir of Great Britain alumni, London, 18 January 2014
Sing Joyfully—concert of National Youth Choir of Great Britain alumni, London, 18 January 2014

My rubbish photos

myrubbishphotos

Back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s I had a succession of cameras. And with them a succession of rubbish photos. Now they are appearing on a dedicated blog near you!

Kodak Instamatic 76X

My first camera I got for one of my birthdays while I was at primary school (I think). It was a small Kodak Instamatic 76X that took 126 film cartridges and used disposable flash cubes.

The flash cube snapped into the top of the camera and as you would expect when you pressed the shutter button it also triggered the flash. As you then manually wound the film on to the next picture, by pulling on a lever with your thumb, it also turned the flash cube round to the next bulb.

Once all four bulbs had been used you had to replace the cube. No wonder our planet is in such a mess!

I don’t remember taking many photographs indoors with that camera.

Or outdoors, for that matter.

In fact, I had an unprocessed film from that camera sitting in a box for years until I had it developed. Disappointingly I can’t remember what was on it. Or where the resulting photographs are.

110 film cartridge

I also can’t remember what make my next camera was (probably another Kodak), but by that time I had advanced to one that took smaller 110 film cartridges and had a built-in, automatic flash that couldn’t be replaced. It also probably ate AA batteries.

I remember taking that one to Greece on a school trip.

Come to think of it, it might have been my Mum’s camera.

35mm

From there I graduated to a pair of Fujifilm automatic 35mm cameras. The first I bought in Singapore on the first National Youth Choir of Great Britain world tour in 1992.

The second I bought at the Argos in Victoria, London after my Singaporean bargain was stolen from a Youth Hostel in York, on another NYCGB course.

One of the things I loved most about those cameras was the automatic loading: drop the 35mm film into the back, close the door and press the button. Whirrrrr whirrrrr whirrrr click and it was loaded.

And lots of rubbish photos

It didn’t matter what kind of film you had, however, one thing remained constant and that was whenever you got close to the end of the film you began to get impatient. The camera could have sat around for months, unused, forgotten. But as soon as you used it for something, and noticed that you had only a few frames left you started to get impatient.

And that’s when I would start taking random photographs around the house. I’d kid myself that I was being arty, and experimental and that they would contribute some day to my overall artistic expression, and some day people would marvel at them.

Back in June 2008 I started a new blog: My Rubbish Photos so you — and people like you — could marvel at my artistic expression.

I’ve only just gotten around to updating it again.