NYCGB plus alumni at the Royal Albert Hall

Panoramic photograph of the interior of the Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall—as people were arriving before the concert

This past weekend I’ve been in London with some old friends (some going back nearly 28 years!) to sing with the NYCGB alumni choir at the Royal Albert Hall.

This was the first official outing of the alumni choir — obviously made up of former members of the various National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. Around 110 people turned up, including one alumnus and his son who is now also an alumnus!

We were made to feel so welcome and were included immediately as part of the family. It felt like coming home!

A few of our friends turned up to sing with us...
A few of our friends turned up to sing with us…

In all there were around 800 people singing, from boys’ and girls’ choirs, Cambiata Voices (boys whose voices are changing), training choir, main choir, chamber choir, fellowship octet and, of course, us.

Alone, we sang Five Negro Spirituals from ‘A Child of Our Time’ by Michael Tippett (1905–1998) with solos provided by fellow alumnae Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Rachael Lloyd (mezzo-soprano), Paul Hopwood (tenor) and Roland Wood (baritone).

Having had about half a proper rehearsal of this five part piece I think we did not too bad, to be honest.

With the rest of the choir we sang two songs. The first was If I Ruled the World by Bricusse / Ornadel / Cullum, arranged Sam Coates. It’s the Sir Harry Secombe song arranged for choirs in a jazz style. Nice! What was really nice is that Sir Harry’s grandson was singing as he is also in NYCGB.

The final song of the evening was the gorgeous Lay a Garland by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (1795–1856).

And that was that. I bowed and left the stage, grinning from ear to ear. There is nothing in this world like singing with NYCGB. The sound is unique. The discipline is… well, okay, let’s not talk about our discipline. And the banter is heart-warming and side-splitting.

As many know, this year hasn’t been easy for me, but as I sat on the back row during the first half (and enjoyed my little snooze!) I realised that I was surrounded by friends whom I love and trust, and amongst whom I feel loved and supported. I phoned my mum this evening and thanked her for encouraging me to audition and supporting me through my time in NYC even though my dad had lost his job and money was really tight.

So, I want to say a massive thank you to NYCGB for including us as part of the family once again. And an equally enormous thank you to all the alumni who turned up and sang—seemingly they were turning alumni away on Thursday as we’d simply run out of space to seat everyone!

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).