Festive Spirits


Christmas is all about singing for me, either performing, or in the audience.  This year was no exception, starting with a superb workshop of traditional folk carols with Lester Simpson on the 1st December. We learnt Adam Lay ybounden (15th Century),  Dunstan Lullaby (very simple, very effective) and a couple of variants of While Shepherds watched, one of which, Shepherds Rejoice was absolutely glorious. Lester is a fearless teacher – here is this group of thirty people most of whom have not sung together before, and he has us in four parts (despite only having 2 basses), with echoes and offset rhythms, and we just rose to the challenge. We hope to make these workshops an annual event (Christmas wise) and perhaps fit in one or two more during the year. If you are interested in attending contact me and I will make sure you are told when the next one is.

Shepherds Rejoice sung at Lester Simpson’s Workshop

The following day we were in the audience for the Trade Winds concert at St Johns in Catford, which we made by the skin of teeth, going straight there from the launch of Stations at the Brunel Museum. We knew many of the songs and joined in happily.

Then there was the Raise the Roof Christmas Concert at the Horniman. The final one under the direction of Melanie Harrold, which made it rather emotional.  We sang a lot of the same songs as Trade Winds, but RtR has always made a raucous, joyous, racket, so the style was a little different even though the same arrangements.

During the rehearsal I started feeling really tired and had to sit on the floor; and by Monday (rehearsal for Vivaldi Gloria at Blackheath Halls) was feeling decidedly below par.

Wednesday rehearsing for carol singing with Summer All Year Long, couldn’t hold a tune or remember a part.

Thursday, dress rehearsal for Gloria, too ill to go.

Friday, performance, got through the Gloria (and it was rather fine) and went home in the interval to nurse my temperature. Not a happy bunny, week-long singing all thrown into a mess by a cold.

Saturday, Carol singing with SAYL at Hills & Parkes – Me A, M and P all with colds or worse, T with a broken rib, not our finest hour, minute audience. Further carol singing at Brockley Christmas Market (in the rain), ditto, though joined by L, and S turned up to help shake the collecting tin.  I don’t think Shelter did very well out of our efforts this year.

So, I had really got to the point where I didn’t think festive spirit was going to stir at all, and we had tickets for Michael Morpurgo’s On Angel’s Wings, in Salisbury Cathedral for the Saturday that all the trains were up the creek due to flooding.  The reason for this overland trek was that the story was being interpreted by Michael himself, with Juliet Stevenson, and Coope Boyes & Simpson (joined by Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes) singing carols including the ones we had learnt with Lester, and we really wanted to hear him sing them as they should be sung..

If we get to Waterloo and its even a bit dodgy we are coming straight home we promised each other, coughing fitfully.

And the train was half empty and left on time.

And the Cathedral had an actual donkey and sheep tucked away in the cloisters, to keep the queue amused.

And we got reasonable seats.

And  (once they got all the microphones working) it was lovely – a charming story beautifully told, first class music and one of the best buildings in the country. Festive spirit woke up with a bang.

Quentin Blake’s beautiful illustrations were projected onto a huge screen, there were (rather sinister) angels suspended from the columns, and CB&S and friends sang magnificently.  In particular Shepherds Rejoice, the song Lester had taught us, there was a moment (goodwill to men, and peace and endless love… it didn’t happen like that when we sang it – one day we will be able to match the accoustic glory) when so much was going on it didn’t seem possible it was only six voices, it was worth the journey just for that fleeting, golden moment.

Gearing up for Yule


I don’t care how many shopping days, what matters now is, how many singing days are there til the Solstice?

And how many reading days? My evenings are  split roughly equally between singing and promoting the books between now and Christmas.

Rehearsals every Monday for Vivaldi Gloria at Blackheath Halls Christmas Concert

Tuesdays at the Horniman Museum preparing for the end of term Raise the Roof concert (the last under the organic direction of Melanie Harrold)

Lester Simpson workshop on 1st December (folk carols, my favourite kind.)  All afternoon get tickets to join in here

Squeezing in Summer All Year Long rehearsals for our gig at Hills & Parkes in aid of Shelter on 15th December at 3:30, which might be followed by other places including Brockley Christmas Market.

Reading STATIONS at Canvas & Cream Wednesday 28th November 7pm

and Deptford Lounge Thursday 29th November at 7pm

The Official Launch at Brunel Museum on Sunday 2nd December 12:30-2:30

Hills & Parkes Wednesday 5th December at 6pm

and Brick Lane Bookshop Thursday 6th December at 7pm

So, no I don’t care how many shopping days it is, because I’m not going shopping! Friends and Family: your choice – you can have a copy of Stations or London Lies as your festive gift, or I could sing you a carol…?

The Singing Season


Not that the singing season ever went away, it’s a bit like football, the break gets shorter all the time; but we didn’t do Sing for Water this year because of A’s broken leg, so larynx and lungs feeling a bit under used.

So the good news is that Raise the Roof is back next week, and we’ve already started Summer All Year Long back into a regular schedule (although it may be disrupted by Arachne Press activities – or not, actually as some of the repertoire is London songs with the thought that we might have a musical interlude at some of the readings.) And we’ve signed up to sing the Vivaldi Gloria for the annual Christmas spectacular at Blackheath Halls, where rumour has it Wendy Dawn Thompson will be joining us as one of the soloists.  We love Wendy, she is great fun to sing with. I’ve already bumped into two people we sing with whilst doing the rounds of bookshops and venues for readings of London Lies, and anticipation is running high!

Plans are also afoot for another workshop with Lester Simpson of Coope, Boyes & Simpson for 1st December, and on a consumption front we are booked to go to the ‘Last Night of the Mini Proms’ where the lovely and talented Messrs Grant Doyle and Nick Sharratt with whom we have sung on numerous occassions, are singing (amongst other things) the Pearl Fishers Duet, which will be distinctly lush.

© Cherry Potts 2012

Lester in Brockley (and Croydon)


Light relief from nursing A (she wouldn’t agree I’m nursing, but that’s shorthand for everything I wouldn’t normally do, and am now doing at high speed and with one arm strapped up and the other coming out in sympathy) five happy hours, round the corner at St Hilda’s church hall, learning new songs with Lester Simpson of Coope Boyes & Simpson.  Quite a tonic.

I’m perched on the corner of the sick bed now, having played A my recordings, and promised to teach them to her while she womanfully pretended she wasn’t both disappointed and jealous.  But disaster – the laptop then decided to corrupt the files, and I’ve lost half of it.  I’m not coping with small reversals at the moment, and am in a raging fury now, and I’ve lost the recordings of the harmonies for Sweet Thames from Wednesday as well.  I hate it when technology conspires.

Yesterday was a joyous afternoon with thirty others, sun pouring into the rather lovely hall (great acoustic for which – obviously – I take full credit, as I made the booking). Songs from Chaucer to Cherokee; songs that use the word for freedom in dozens languages; and magnificent harmonies: quite lovely … and I was so pleased with myself for asking Lester …

Those who know me well will be able to tell what kind of temper I am in currently, others can imagine thunderous brow and foul-mouthed spitting.  I’ll get over it.  I  know in the great scheme of things it’s a minor irritant but camels and straws and all that.  Hell, I can’t even be bothered to employ my cliché screen.

Anyway. Thank you Lester for a brilliant afternoon, in which I quite lost myself.

Lester is performing at Croydon Folk Club on Monday evening.

© Cherry Potts 2012

Welcome Yule


The to do list is getting smaller.

Presents bought and wrapped. √
First batch of mince pies cooked and eaten.√
Cards written and posted or delivered.√
Christmas concert sung√
Carols sung and money raised for Crisis√
Someone else’s carol singing event attended.√
Family visits lined up.√
Christmas tree bought.√
Decorate tree√
Gather winter fuel.√

Still to do:

Shop for food, cook, attend poetry reading and possibly read… one more days at work…

So the Blackheath Halls Concert on Friday went better than we expected; we didn’t make too many mistakes in Navidad Nuestra, and The Lamb sounded very good. Despite not being well, Nick Sharratt sang beautifully.
The children’s choir were brilliant.
Raise the Roof were enthusiastically received and had the audience clapping along in no time… and Mel won the raffle!
A woman passing me in the corridor said that Navidad gave her tingles.  Just think what it could have been with another three rehearsals.

SAYL at our first pitch, Crofton Park Library

Saturday Summer all Year Long went carol singing in aid of Crisis, with me muttering as we headed off that I wasn’t in favour of us performing ever again too much hassle, just meant to be a bit of fun, etc. etc. Apart from completely losing the low harmonies in Wassail, we sounded very good; I think our voices blend well and we make a nice warm noise – we even had someone tweet positively about the Crofton Park Library gig. However, a learning process: while the Library has a lovely acoustic, it’s not a great venue. The nice men selling Christmas trees outside gave us a substantial amount of their float, but most people in the library were plugged into computers and waiting for us to go away; everyone contributed something though.

The mulled Wine does its work

A more positive reception at Hills and Parkes, where we were fed mulled wine, and Emma joined in on Wassail.  One customer was thrilled and stayed right to the end of the set. We stopped on the way to sing to a housebound neighbour, much to the amusement of the people up the scaffolding a couple of doors down.

We were early at the Broca so had a cup of tea and waited to see if any audience were going to turn up, and when they didn’t, we went and sang outside the station instead (with their permission), which worked very well, people emptied their pockets and gave us handfuls of money.

final stop the station

I think with H&P’s mulled wine sales we’ll have raised a reasonable amount, but you can make it MORE by donating on our fundraising page. (Thank you).

we are now considering becoming the Overground Choir for a day next year, and travelling up and down the line singing on station forecourts.

What was that about not performing again?  The others talked me round in about a nanosecond, and we’re wondering about a set of shanties and other sea related songs at the National Maritime Museum at some point (if they’ll let us), perhaps in aid of RNLI.  Anyway, the new year will bring new songs with possibly a spring theme, we’ll see.

Voice Lab getting carried away

Sunday to Welcome Yule! Voicelab’s bash at the Southbank.  A most enjoyable collection of drinking songs and warnings (you don’t want to know what happens to people who plough on Christmas day).  These were carols after my own liking, steeped in ancient beliefs and passions, sung with gusto, accompanied by a bit of piano, fiddle and brass, and Morris dancing. The excellent Morris Offspring, a very young side wearing black and denim, with just a token sheaf of ribbons and no bells:  I don’t know whether Morris is getting better, but each time I see it I like it more. It seems to be less and less about men getting into their beer and then thrashing about with a staff or a hankie, and more and more about some magnificently  pagan ritual.  This was some seriously beautiful dancing, a real highlight of the season so far; so good I forgot to take any photos…!

© Cherry Potts 2011

music is taking over my life


Raise the Roof at the Horniman

Haven’t written anything here (or anywhere else much) for a while, and I blame that pesky singing lark. It has taken over.
We are rehearsing Ramirez’s Navidad Nuestra, carols and RTR stuff for Blackheath Halls on the 16th December, end of term concert for Raise the Roof at the Horniman Museum TODAY!!!! 2.30pm,
and a selection of more unusual carols with Summer All Year Long in aid of Crisis for 17th December,
3pm at Crofton Park Library, 4pm at Hills & Parkes Deli 49 Honor Oak Park and 5pm at The Broca Cafe Coulgate Street Brockley, right by the station.
It’s all huge fun, but time consuming, and there’s always room to be made for just one more extra rehearsal, or (Latin American) Spanish to be written out phonetically and big enough to be read (Score is unreadable), or posters to be designed, printed, distributed.
Would I have it any other way?
No.
But the garden is neglected, I was writing Christmas cards at 5am this morning, and Christmas shopping started yesterday – normally I’d have it all tied up by September!
That said I highly recommend Cockpit Arts in Deptford (and Holborn) for Christmas presents of a very classy kind. I won’t go into detail or everyone will get previews of what will be in their stockings on the 25th… but check out their website.
And when not rehearsing or performing I’m attending musical events.
Highlights recently Coope Boyes and Simpson at the Goose is out, Goose is out singaround at the Mag, two versions of Figaro… and yet to come Lewisham Choral Society at St Mary’s Ladywell on the 10th, and Nunhead Community Choir on the 11th
I had high hopes of getting to lots of the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which has some really exciting things on, but there’s so much on locally that I think I’ll be lucky to make it to even one, and then of course there’s the Welcome Yule at Southbank on the 18th, might try to squeeze that in.
And there’s been less successful outings, a disappointing Eugene Onegin at ENO, which was too static, under characterised, and had a very odd libretto although the sets were wonderful (I worry when the sets are what I’m praising – I also worry when people laugh at Onegin’s anguish when he realises what a disastrous mistake he’s made), I really think rough edges not withstanding our Blackheath production was vastly superior… followed by an APPALLING Castor and Pollux also at ENO, which by comparison made Onegin look like a shining light of dramatic excellence. I know I shouldn’t judge an opera by it’s dramatic punch, but I do, if I just wanted the music I could listen to a disc. Rameau’s music is exquisite and I can’t fault the orchestra nor the singers, particularly Allan Clayton as Castor, but the director showed very little respect for his singers, who were required to (I was going to say act, but really; no) behave like disturbed and sexualised toddlers. I winced for them I really did.

The storyline was rather throw away too, I didn’t much care which of the brothers died and I wasn’t moved by their dilemma, mainly because the production (and lack of it) detracted from the music in a depressingly consistent way. I can only assume the budget for scenery and costume had been blown on the other productions, This was naff, and I was not surprised that Roderick Williams (Pollux) was taken ill, the amount of compost and glitter they were probably breathing in, I hope no one sustained permanent damage… My dad was groaning in anguish and muttering imprecations through out. This would have been better as a concert performance, then we could have allowed Rameau to light our imaginations and conjured up Hell and Jupiter for ourselves, rather than having it channelled for us by Little Britain doing zombiesRus.

I found myself wisting after the productions of Handel (Xerxes, Ariodante) that ENO did many years ago, which were directed with wit and aplomb, and with a knowing nod to the audience; and still manage to move me; I still quote a tiny bit of recitative from Xerxes where Arsemenes is asked to woo his own beloved on behalf of his brother, the timing and phrasing of his ‘I’d rather die’ summed up his entire character.  That was great singing, great acting and great direction.  Handel had a hand in  it too, but Rameau is good enough to deserve that kind of attention.

Enough grumbling, got to go and SING!!

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Singing for Water


About a quarter of the choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a great day of singing.  My feet are feeling it, but we’ve had a superb  day out, doing what we love best, and raised some money for charity in the process.  Our sponsorship page will function for another three months, but no need to wait, donate now! Please!!

Around 800 people, representing over 50 choirs from all over the country, looking extremely glamorous in sky blue (sopranos) purple (altos) turquoise (tenors) and midnight (basses), provided a visual spectacle as well as a darn fine noise.  We had been asked to bring along silky-shiny-sparkly things to wave at the end, which I had thought a bit naff, but it looked wonderful, because there was so much of it.

another small portion of the choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal went smoothly apart from not having time to go through what Una May might ask us to do in Zema, but I had the impression it would change anyway, and I was right about that.  We had a whisper-through in the City Hall cafe while the children’s choir was on, and then it was different when we performed it anyway.

It was a very nasty crush waiting to go on, a hot, airless space and far too many people standing for too long.  At least one person keeled over, but fortunately they did so well in advance of the performance and I think made it out to sing.

It’s almost scary how good 800 people can sound belting out Mraval Zhamier, with what Stephen calls ‘pointless grandeur’.  We were  exhorted to ‘put your butt into it’ (Michael, Zema and My Mouth) ‘Sing from your barrel-likes’ (Stephen, Mraval) and also, to sing in tune (Roxane, most things)!

Equally we sounded great murmuring our way through Water Wrinkles, a song written by one of the choir members, Morag Carmichael.

It’s quite hard to get a feel for what you sound like when performing, but the feedback we got from audience and stall holders was very positive indeed.  Two separate stall holders, recognising from our turquoise clothes that we were in the choir, commented that they could hear the rehearsal and it had been exciting enough for them to have been anticipating the afternoon with enthusiasm, and how disappointed they were that they couldn’t hear the performance, as there was too much ambient noise in the afternoon … I think the wind direction may have changed too.

Another advantage (apart from being flattered by stall holders) of being dressed up, was that when we were wandering about between rehearsing and performing, people asked us if we were performing, and we were able to spread the word on WaterAid: we take our responsibilities seriously  – it isn’t just about having a good time.

Audience copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Sing for Water is in its tenth year. Over that time it has raised over half a million pounds tohelp WaterAid provide permanent sources of clean water to communities  who need it most.

The audience had a whale of a time, indeed, they may have enjoyed themselves almost as much as we did!  Stephen taught them (and us) a new song from scratch, and had us all doing actions to go with, and Una May got them joining in on Zema, again, complete with actions.

My favourite of the songs remains Let Love Rain Down, which gave us tenors a moment to lead and shine, but Ide Were and Zema came in close equal second, possibly because it was African songs that got me back into singing; I love the energy and the  vibrancy of the harmonies, and the challenge of the languages – no clicks this time, but I’ve got quite good at those.

Smaller subgroups were singing around the place before we performed, and we caught a group from Bangor (Wales) whose repertoire seemed to be mostly sea shanties, which meant we could join in on the choruses whilst sheltering from the (only) rain shower.

I’ve never made it to the Thames Festival before, I think it may become a permanent fixture in the calendar from now on.  There’s a friendly neighbourly atmosphere you don’t expect from central London, and I love the Thames.  We were too tired to stay for the fireworks, and with the hurricane and rain approaching it didn’t look a terribly attractive idea…  Maybe next year!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011