As always, the winter season was a very hectic musical time!
Just before the full Christmas craziness kicked off, Sense of Sound Singers and a number of The Luminelles performed a six-minute medley of contemporary pop songs at the Holland & Barrett annual conference.
Christmas kicked in extra early this year, with our first seasonal performance being on 25th November in the concert room at St George’s Hall with The Luminelles and Over The Water. We launched straight into our Christmas material to help raise money for North West Cancer Research at their annual Christmas concert.
After working with the staff choir at St John’s Hospice for their 2017 Light Up A Life event, I was asked back again this year for their service in early December. This time I took two Luminelles along with me to help me lead the singers. Lauren Heywood and Esther Humphries helped lead the rehearsal and then went on to conduct one carol each.
Our next festive commitment was at Eaton Hall. For the second year running, The Luminelles graced this awe-inspiring venue in aid of Autism Together. Rick Myers kindly asked us back for their annual Christmas Carol Concert and we performed two sets of songs from our Christmas repertoire. It was another lovely event.
The Luminelles received a kind invitation from Birkenhead School to perform at their Family Christmas Concert on 15th December and we performed alongside the Wirral Community Wind Band and their infant choir. We intend to collaborate on further projects in the future.
Our next choir date was the Anglican Cathedral, which is thoroughly covered in another post! There was still no time to rest following this because the very next day we were at Thornton Manor for Clatterbridge Cancer Charity’s Christmas event. The setting was spectacular and the room’s acoustic really suited Over The Water and The Luminelles. We performed two sets of material from our Christmas repertoire and we also had the privilege of backing Kathryn Rudge on Somewhere In My Memory. Kathryn is a fabulous critically-acclaimed opera singer from Liverpool and we loved collaborating with her. (More photos to follow in the new year)
Two days later, The Luminelles visited Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and performed their full set of material in the waiting room. This was their final performance of the year.
Over The Water followed up with their final performance of year at Ullet Road Unitarian Church’s Christmas Carol service on Sunday 23rd December.
Meanwhile, throughout December, The Carollers performed at a number of venues across the North West. This year saw Molly Daniel cover Dionne’s maternity leave! So we had Molly, Amy, Izzy and myself for the majority of the gigs, with Ben Turner filling in for Amy on Christmas Eve. This year saw us perform at The Botanist in York, The Botanist in Didsbury, The Restaurant, Bar & Grill in Liverpool (this one was as an eight-piece with Lauren and Amy Heywood, Kelly Nsutebu, Jeanette Boyhan & Nina Cox), The Botanist in Chester, The Liverpool Yacht Club, The Titanic Hotel in Liverpool and The Botanist in Alderley Edge.
The tenth annual Radio City Cash for Kids Christmas Concert at the Anglican Cathedral, sponsored by Mersey Rail, took place in spectacular fashion on 18th December 2018. To celebrate the special anniversary, I decided that the theme would be choir collaboration! All twelve choirs collaborated with at least one other choir throughout the evening. We also re-visited material from previous years for nostalgic purposes!
The Bebington Bitter Men opened the concert with their lush rendition of Blue Christmas, led by the excellent David Hayward and directed by James Sills.
Birkenhead High School Academy’s Junior Choir then went on to perform Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, complete with dance moves! This performance was directed by Amy Chalmers and Vanessa Singh.
Next up was the Birkenhead High School Academy Senior Choir. They performed Santa Tell Me by Ariana Grande and their performance included fantastic solos by Emma Dutton and Ruby Mathieson.
The two BHSA choirs then collaborated with the Bebington Bitter Men on a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, based on the version by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters. This song also featured the Echo String Quartet and was conducted by Jeanette Boyhan.
One of the most important aspects of this annual concert is always the change over of acts during congregational carols! There were three performance spaces – two raised stages and one space in between on the floor. It is a logistical minefield to get the choirs off and heading in the right direction while other choirs simulatenously replace them! Luckily, I had two stage managers taking care of this aspect – Molly Daniel and Lauren Heywood. They made it all look effortless!
Meanwhile, Joanne led the congregational carols magnificently, backed by Ian Wells on the organ and the Echo String Quartet. They were conducted by Chris Watson and James Sills.
Kaboodle were next to perform, singing Bethlehem with the string quartet, directed by Chris Watson and Jeanette Boyhan. This was a piece that they did a few years previously, but this time they had added sleigh bells!
St Anselm’s went on to perform Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens. They also featured three singers from BHSA, as they been working together all term due to the Wilfred Owen Choir commission.
St Anselm’s and Caboodle then collaborated on Golden Slumbers, which was one of the main pieces performed by the Wilfred Owen choir in November.
Following another congregational carol, Sunlight Unplugged were now ready to perform. Jennifer John had prepared the choir one the previous months, but had flown out the country prior to the country so Amy Chalmers took the reigns. They had chosen to perform the intensely challenging Bohemian Rhapsody and they pulled it off with great success!
Bids ton Avenue Primary School Choir performed the most contemporary piece of the evening, which was Puppies Are Forever by Sia. Their infectious and catchy performance included fantastic dance moves!
Bidston Avenue and Sunlight Unplugged went on to collaborate together on Silent Night to bring the first half to a close. The collaborations throughout the evening proved to be a real highlight. Seeing very diverse choirs working together was a really special sight and sound!
The second half began with a performance of That’s Christmas To Me by Egremont Primary School’s ‘Crazy Quavers’! Led by Vicky Burr, this was their fourth appearance at the concert and they have come so far in that time! Their performance included excellent solos by Julia Gorczyca and Saffron Lawrie.
Accompanying herself at the piano, Anna Corcoran was the first guest artist of the night and she brought everyone to tears with her heartfelt and moving version of Joni Mitchell’s River.
Over The Water and The Luminelles were next up and they performed a Home Alone Medley featuring Somewhere In My Memory and Carol of The Bells.
Over The Water, The Luminelles and Egremont’s ‘Crazy Quavers’ then collaborated on last year’s finale piece, Santa’s Coming For Us by Sia, led by Robyn Hart. This proved to be another strong collaboration of completely contrasting choirs!
Creative Community Choir were next up, singing Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’. This was a piece they have sang in the past and it suits the acoustics of the cathedral perfectly.
The final choir to grace the stage was Platonic from Wirral Grammar School for Girls. Led expertly by Joanne Dennis, they achieved such perfection singing O Holy Night. Their blend and their tone were fantastic! They were re-visiting this piece that they first performed on their debut at the concert two years ago. It was lovely to have Wirral Grammar School for Girls represented as they were one of the original contributors to the concert, performing in the very first events back in 2009-2012.
Creative Community Choir then joined Platonic on White Winter Hymnal by the Fleet Foxes. James Sill first brought this piece to the cathedral in the very first year and the two choirs sang it beautifully together this year.
We were so privileged to then be graced by MiC Lowry, singing This Christmas by Donny Hathaway followed by Silent Night. They have been with us for four of the past five years and we are so lucky that they are so supportive of the event. They sounded better than ever with their smooth, intricate harmonies and awesome lead vocals.
Following MiC Lowry’s performance, the Echo String Quartet played their arrangement of Fairytale of New York while all the choirs got into position ready for the finale pieces. This year, I went with Blinded By Your Grace by Stormzy followed by Walking In The Air. Blinded By Your Grace featured Grace Osuhor on lead vocals and Kelly Shimeya performing the rap backed by a number of girls and boys from Egremont and Bidston Avenue. Walking In The Air has been one of the finale pieces since 2012 and this year marked the last time that we will finish the concert with it.
Particular thanks to the following amazing people –
All of the choir directors – James Sills, Chris Watson, Joanne Dennis, Vicky Burr, Amy Chalmers, Jeanette Boyhan, Jennifer John, Vanessa Singh.
The musicians – Ian Wells (organ), Rob Chalmers (guitar), Pat Lammin (piano), Andy Gill (piano), The Echo String Quartet: Lara Simpson (violin), Beth Watson (violin), Helen Measures (viola) and Vicky Mutch (cello)
The tech team – Dave Corns and Rachael Jean Harris
The cathedral team – Lucy Rafferty & Riannah Brown
The CFK team – Carole, Katie, Bretta and Anthea and Alasdair for his fantastic highlights video
The host – Simon Greening
When I took the concert on in its debut year in 2009, I couldn’t have imagined doing a full decade of them! It is just so worthwhile though – for the charity itself and for all the singers involved. I have enjoyed every second of running the concerts over the years and I’ve had the privilege of working with so many amazing singers, musicians and behind the scenes people!
Chris Watson and I were commissioned to create and direct a choir of boys to perform at a number of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. The choir based itself at St Anselm’s College but it consisted of boys from a number of schools including Wirral Grammar School for Boys and Woodchurch High School. The boys involved were the same age as many of the soldiers who went away to fight during the First World War and many of them never came back.
The performances also featured three girls from Birkenhead High School Academy.
The Wilfred Owen Choir performances included singing in the congregation at Christ Church, Oxton on BBC Songs of Praise, opening the whole Wilfred Owen Commemoration at the Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead, and closing the main concert back at Christ Church. The choir’s setlist at the concert included two war medleys, Golden Slumbers by the Beatles and Open Arms by Elbow. They did themselves proud and carried off a moving performance.
We then went on to perform at Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight for the opening ceremony of the Borough of Culture 2019 programme.
Click HERE to go to the official website to read about the project.