Sunshine, huge happy crowds, and the excitement of some of the world's top athletes racing past as we sang. There's no doubt that the London Marathon is always one of Capital Chorus's favourite gigs. On Sunday April 22nd we were invited once again to spur on the competitors and entertain spectators in the heart of Docklands with some of our best-loved songs, all performed in the Barbershop Style.
The day was almost as much of a marathon for the chorus as it was for the runners themselves. We gathered to warm-up at the roadside at 9am, then between 10am and 2pm we sang one set of songs per hour - five sets in total. With 14 songs in the full set, that amounted to well over 60 individual performances during the day. All that singing makes bottled water an absolute necessity for those involved, and a quick coffee grabbed between sets quickly becomes one of the delights of the day.
We'll probably never find out whether, as he flashed by, Mo Farah felt urged onwards by our spirited rendition of "Hello Mary Lou" but we did receive many cheery waves from those further back in the race as they pounded past the 18 mile marker. It was a privilege to be able to offer encouragement and a pleasure to exchange a quick word with some who came over to say hello.
The London Marathon was only the beginning of what will be an exciting and very demanding couple of months. Keep an eye out for our new "pop-up" quartets who'll be performing in some surprising places around West London as they spread the word about our latest Sing in Harmony Course, which begins on Monday June 4th at Kingsdown.
Over the next six weeks we'll also be preparing in earnest for the annual contest to be staged at the end of May by the British Association of Barbershop Singers. For the first time this year we'll be singing two songs which have been specially arranged for us by Sam Hubbard and our own musical director, Pippa Goodall, Last year the chorus achieved 11th position, our highest ever placing. With 36 choruses competing in Harrogate this year we'll be determined to do our best once again.
A big thank you to everyone who came to see Capital Chorus in concert on October 7th at St Michael and All Angels in Chiswick. It was wonderful to meet you, and to have the opportunity to perform for such an appreciative audience.
Through your generosity our bucket collection after the show raised over £340 for the chorus's adopted charity, Nordoff Robbins.
We would also like to thank Avalon and Sound Hypothesis, the two fabulous young quartets who appeared alongside us. You were amazing! After the show Avalon went on to win a bronze medal in the annual nationwide quartet competition held by the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. Heartiest congratulations from all of us.
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It was more than just monkey-business. Incorporating ape-like sounds and gestures into a barbershop contest song was a real departure for the chorus, but we were determined to do it convincingly and sing the song well. After all, this was our biggest event of the year, the annual contest organised by the British Association of Barbershop Singers. The song in question was a David Wright arrangement of Disney's Jungle Book classic, "I wanna be like you"
While our musical director Pippa Goodall drilled us on the notes, Tom Fitch, one of our tenors, stepped forward to provide us with a humorous visual interpretation of the action in the song. Tom's choreography made for demanding and sometimes hilarious rehearsals, and we were delighted with the reaction we received from the 2000 convention-goers when we finally performed the song at the Bournemouth International Convention Centre at the end of May. IWBLY, as we've affectionately come to know the song, was preceded on the contest stage by a ballad, Robert Rudd's beautiful arrangement of "It's You".
The two songs earned us our highest ever score from the judges, 68.2 per cent. The competition was hard-fought with 37 choruses taking part. Capital Chorus finished in 11th position, up four places on 2016. Next year we hope to do even better!.
Watch our BABS Convention performance HERE
One of the highlights of the Capital Chorus year involves being invited to sing for runners and spectators at the London Marathon. It's happened for the past three years and whatever the weather it's always a day of excitement and surprises.
Our preparations always begin with an early roadside warm-up at 9.15. This year we were placed in Docklands, beside the 18 mile marker, and our audience consisted of race-stewards and paramedics. It must have been odd for them to see 20 or more blue-shirted enthusiasts pop up on the pavement singing silly rounds and doing penguin jumps. But at least we were able to ease some of the pre-race tension and before long our warm-up had an appreciative audience of people decked out in official day-glo orange or yellow tabards.
It's amazing how the excitement builds. First to come barrelling through at a tremendous pace are the elite wheelchair athletes. They're followed by more paralympians, then the elite non-disabled women and men, the club runners and finally the thousands of regular folks who've put their all into raising money for myriad good causes. Some have also put considerable effort into their imaginative costumes. We saw bright yellow emojis, several bears and a crocodile run by and that's before we'd been to the pub!
It's a privilege to sing, to wave and cheer all the participants on towards the finish, and for the chorus it's a marathon performance in more than one sense. Our set list included ten of our most crowd-pleasing songs. This year we sang the entire set four times, with a break for take-away coffee between each performance, and the chance to shout some encouragement to the competitors. This year for the first time we started cheering on by name those who'd had their own names emblazoned on their shirts. Greg Nixon, one of our leads had recently run the Manchester Marathon and he told us that hearing spectators urge him on by name had given him a real lift - we hope we were able to do the same for others.
For us, the stand-out moment of the 2017 marathon came when a man who'd just run by suddenly stopped, turned around and came back to film one of our songs on his phone. It must have added at least a couple of minutes to his time, but we hope he'll enjoy replaying the video he captured of us providing a spirited rendition of "Drunken sailor".
The chorus would like to pay tribute to all those who put such amazing effort into running the London Marathon. It's one of the world's most spectacular sporting and community events and it was wonderful, as barbershoppers, to be included. We can barely wait for next year.
Watch some video of our day at the London Marathon here and here
Rarely have we appeared on such an unusual bill. The scene, the stairs of the reading room at the Wellcome Collection beside the busy Euston Road: The decor, medical models, skeletons, extensive tall bookshelves and a prototype x-ray machine.
The occasion was a Friday night event called "Macho?" which was billed as an exploration of the complex science of masculinity. Along with the many serious gender-related topics under discussion there was a lot of fun.
We followed hard-on-the-heels of a very competitive nappy-changing contest (worry not - dummies were used and no real babies were harmed). Elsewhere in the building a group of Drag-Kings were hosting a "Bromance Cabaret" .
Capital Chorus was invited to sing as one example of a London male-voice choir, and we and Pippa, our female director received a tremendous response from an enthusiastic audience. We'd like to thank the Wellcome Collection for the opportunity to take part. You can watch a video of one of our songs here.
Capital Chorus has just returned, tired but enthused from a weekend of intensive coaching at a hotel in deepest Buckinghamshire. It was part of our preparation for the annual British Association of Barbershop Singers convention in May.
The weekend was certainly hard work, with two full days of expert tuition from one of the Barbershop World's most experienced directors and singers. Zac Booles is a gold-medalist with perhaps the UK's best-known quartet, The Great British Barbershop Boys, and he also directs Grand Central Chorus, one of the country's leading Barbershop ensembles. Needless to say Zac was ably assisted by our own MD Pippa Goodall.
But if you're worried we might have worked too hard then rest assured there was a pool, a bar and some exceptional company with whom to relax after the rigours of the day.
You can listen here to what went on during a very exciting weekend. We hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did.
We love this comedy song, originally sung by the a cappella group Straight No Chaser, so as it's already December the whole chorus gatecrashed Santa's workshop and got busy.
Under the direction of our chief elves Pippa (musical mayhem) and Greg (camera craft and technical wizardry) we recorded a video performance to wish all our friends, supporters and fellow barbershoppers a very Merry Christmas, and a 2017 filled with harmony, health and happiness. We hope it makes you smile.
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Nazir Khan discovered Capital Chorus in September 2016. Here he writes about his first few months singing Barbershop. (Naz is pictured centre with MD Pippa and fellow baritones Kuz, Tim and Rory)
Exciting. Dazzling. Powerful. Unifying. I wouldn’t have described Barbershop singing in any of these ways before joining Capital Chorus. To me Barbershop seemed a little fusty, a genre from a bygone era, not one to appear in my Spotify playlists. Despite this I had a real desire to sing and became more open to exploring unfamiliar styles like Broadway and Gospel. As my tastes and confidence grew I came across a colourful flyer for Capital Chorus’ Learn To Sing course. It looked like a fun way to spend a Monday evening but it soon became the outlet for singing I had been looking for.
Though I had no previous Barbershop experience, I was carried on a wave of enthusiasm from those in the Chorus and began enjoying the repertoire. It was a non-pressure environment with the benefit of safety in numbers, which meant the inevitable tongue trips and timing errors could be gradually overcome. As a baritone I started to learn how important it was to listen and blend with the other parts, and to regard the sound we created as a dynamic force which could have an emotional impact. I liked the idea that I could learn a polecat and use it as a bridge to connect us with people from other Choruses. I began to see I had underestimated Barbershop. To find that harmonic sweet spot, a lot of work is involved. In fact I still find myself having to dig deep to match the vigour fellow Chorus members bring to songs such as Ebb Tide or The Ballad of Springhill.
To feel up to par I would listen to my Baritone part repeatedly through my headphones on long walks, drilling sections with the Chorus or taking part in rotating quartets. As i don’t read music, I had moments of feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, but this was eased by having supportive fellow Baris and a patient Musical Director to turn to for guidance. That’s part of the camaraderie of Barbershop - no one wants you to give up and you’ll still be asked to join a quartet at break time to sing a tag or two. So when it came to auditioning to become a fully fledged member of the Chorus, I was ready to take that step.
Now that I’ve been part of the Chorus for nine months, I feel I can finally call myself a Barbershopper. Every Monday I find myself surrounded by talented people with a deep love of music and a wicked sense of fun. What started off as a hobby has evolved into membership of BABS and a memorable performance at this year's Convention in Harrogate. As I soon found out, no two performances are the same and we’ll only make it through together as a chorus, bringing an audience along with us on an emotional journey. So in the end really quite exciting, dazzling, powerful and unifying.
You see it every day on the news - uncertain future, political turmoil, and the members of Capital Chorus are feeling it as much as everyone else. Like most groups of friends we had some lively discussions during the EU referendum, but we're fortunate to share a love of music and harmony, and it's helped us to keep in mind that, as the late MP Jo Cox said, there really is far more to unite us than divide us.
It was while practising for a recent gig in Waterloo that some of our chorus members realised that the words of one song in our repertoire, called Nevertheless, seemed especially poignant in the current climate. Westminster was but a short walk from the performance venue so we decided to record the song opposite the Houses of Parliament and dedicate it to the 73 London MPs who, with their colleagues from all parties, are trying to map out a route to a better future for us all. After all, it's a tough job, and perhaps they could do with our support. You can watch the video below.
We're delighted that several MPs responded with thanks after viewing the song. Some said it brought a smile to their faces and one even asked to be added to our mailing list for concerts. Needless to say, we'll be very happy to oblige.
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It's a busy time for the chorus at the moment - among our most recent performances was one for listeners to BBC Radio London 94.9.
These days the average radio studio is far too small to accommodate the entire chorus, but our quartet "Slipstream" were able to squeeze in beside Saturday breakfast show hosts JoAnne Good and Simon Lederman to talk about our activities and provide a couple of songs.
You can listen to our intrepid radio stars Paul Gordon (bass), Simon Laight (tenor). Patrick Key (lead) and Aidan Brand (baritone), along with our musical director Pippa Goodall here.