Following last year’s successful collaboration between The Liverpool String Quartet and Sense of Sound Singers, I brought together a group of singers to collaborate with the quartet again this year. It was a really exciting proposition to gather together a crew of excellent singers; I started with the ones in my immediate vicinity (my girlfriend, Dionne McHugh and my sister Amy Chalmers!) and then brought in others one-by-one.
A large majority of the singers were girls from my old choir from Wirral Grammar School for Girls, some who are at now the tale end of their time there (Caitlin Jackson, Anya Keating, Zia Larty-Healy, Katie Lochhead & Charlotte Williams) and some who finished there a while ago, many of whom have been to university and returned (Sophie Atherton, Faye Mulheirn, Jess Hawe, Ellen Owen, Chablis Peel & Jenny Watts). I completed the line-up with a couple of other singers I work with regularly (Jennifer Chamberlain & Izzy Owen) and Rob Chalmers on guitar.
Having brought together a fine crew, we set about preparing to set sail in mid-November. With only five rehearsals together, we brought our Christmas set together in readiness to collaborate with the mighty Liverpool String Quartet.
Presented by the generous genius violin-making Mike Phoenix and interspersed with poems from the Liverpool Poet, our first performance at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool was a real joy. The quartet started the concert off with the European premiere of Peter & The Wolf arranged for string quartet and narrator. This went down really well (from what I’ve heard! I was in the green room doing some last minute rehearsing!) Following a short interval, we headed to the stage with the quartet. The set was as follows –
Carol Of The Bells/Somewhere In My Memory (with solo from Charlotte Williams)
Fairytale Of New York (Amy & Rob Chalmers duet)
The Christmas Song (Len Higginson solo)
In The Bleak Midwinter (with solos from Zia Larty-Healy & Charlotte Grisenthwaite)
The Snowman Suite (featuring the choir on Walking In The Air)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Two days later on Sunday 14th December, we repeated the performance at a sell-out show in Mayer Hall, Bebington. Only this time, we were wearing Christmas jumpers. Oh and Santa Claus was in attendance…
Performing with the string quartet is always a magical and exciting adventure, especially at Christmas. Word on the street is that we will be collaborating with them again this time next year, so watch this space and look forward to another wonderland of Christmassy arrangements! Hopefully by then we will have a name…
Another year (where do they go?!) and another Christmas extravaganza at Liverpool Cathedral: the sixth annual Radio City Cash for Kids Christmas Concert. This year we featured ten choirs!!! They were The Bebington Bitter Men (directed by James Sills), Birkenhead High School Academy Choirs (Year 3/4 choir directed by Helen Tarver), Year 5/6 choir directed by myself and Vanessa Singh and the senior choir directed by Chris Watson, Jeanette Boyhan and myself), The Carol Belles (the Matt Lammin & Friends singers from The Bluecoat & Mayer Hall concerts), Creative Community Choir (a community choir directed by James Sills), Kaboodle Community Choir (directed by Chris Watson & Jeanette Boyhan), Sunlight Unplugged (Unilever workers choir directed by Jennifer John), Up For Arts (a Sense of Sound community choir directed by Saphena Aziz) and Wirral Grammar School for Boys’ Year 7 Choir (directed by Amy Chalmers).
Add to that the appearance of two boybands: MiC Lowry & The Valentine Three and we had a jam-packed diverse concert on our hands. The icing on the cake was having The Liverpool String Quartet return for the second year running; they collaborated with a number of the acts and added an extra slice of magic to the performances.
The cathedral was sold out and full to the brim; the enormous Christmas tree towered high next to the two raised stages. The staging was a real challenge logistically but with Dionne McHugh and Jess Hawe stage managing throughout and leading the change overs, it all ran like clockwork! There were three performance areas and at least two choirs in place throughout. During congregational carols, at least two choirs had to exit the stage and be replaced by other choirs. Quite a task, but thankfully it all flowed like a dream!
The Bebington Bitter Men opened the concert unannounced and off-programme, singing a verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen from the bridge high up at the back of the cathedral. The group comprises the male contingent of Creative Community Choir. Later on in the concert they did a pop up performance from the middle of the cathedral, before completing their set on the stage, segueing into Whip Jamboree. The group were led by James Sills of The Spooky Men’s Chorale.
Following the Bitter Men’s performance on the bridge, Birkenhead High School Academy’s Year 3-4 choir launched into the upbeat ‘Cowboy Carol’ before completing their performance with the moving ‘Midnight Snow’. Midnight Snow started with beautiful solos from Debra Abraham, Ava Richards, Richelle Burnley, Grace Charles, Neve King and Jaime Murray. The Liverpool String Quartet accompanied this, really adding to the beauty of the piece. The Year 3-4 choir was directed by Helen Tarver.
Sunlight Unplugged immediately followed; led by Sense of Sound’s Jennifer John, every member of the group work in Unilever Research & Development, meeting once a week to rehearse in their lunch hour. The choir sang Do You Hear What I Hear which was led by their male contingent, followed by Gaudete. Their performance was really strong and I was amazed at their togetherness and commitment, especially considering the fact that they aren’t trained singers.
Kaboodle Community Choir was the next choir to take to the stage; they performed Gloucestershire Wassail and Three Jazz Carols. This was their third consecutive appearance at the event and they gave an assured and accomplished performance, conducted with vigour by Jeanette Boyhan and accompanied by Chris Watson on piano, Rob Chalmers on guitar and The Liverpool String Quartet. Chris Watson’s string arrangements were beautiful and the singers really responded to performing with the string quartet.
Immediately after Kaboodle, Wirral Grammar School for Boys performed on the other stage, again featuring The Liverpool String Quartet. Led by Amy Chalmers (who was also playing in the quartet all evening – except in this piece, then the quartet actually became a trio), the 15-strong group sang Do They Know It’s Christmas. This was the school’s second year performing at the concert, although with it being a Year 7 choir, all the boys who performed were different to the ones who featured last year.
Up For Arts were next up, performing for the first time at the annual event. The choir is a Sense of Sound community choir and they are led by Saphena Aziz. Most of the choir members are new to choral singing, with many having never sung before. They peformed Use Somebody by Kings Of Leon followed by a lovely rendition of I Saw Three Ships, which gradually built up with more and more and more layers being added throughout.
The Valentine Three closed the first half with an excellent performance of their own song, ‘It Went On’ (Hear it HERE!) with Sam performing from the piano. This was followed by a Christmas mash-up of Winter Wonderland and Santa Baby. Their performance was full of energy and they really showed how far they have developed since their first performance at the event three years ago.
Birkenhead High School Academy opened the second half, with towards 200 singers sprawled across the three performance spaces. The Year 5-6 choir started with their rendition of Silent Night, which they performed with real focus and life, accompanied by The Liverpool String Quartet. This was followed up by an energetic and committed performance of Merry Christmas Everyone by the senior choir. The set concluded with a stunning version of In Christ Alone, performed by all three school choirs.
Creative Community Choir was next up to peform. They have performed at five consecutive concerts (I think!) and they go from strength to strength. Led by the inspirational James Sills, when they first performed a number of years ago, they were a much smaller choir finding their feet, but even back then in their infancy they were able to move the audience with a lush performance of ‘White Winter Hymnal’. Anyway, I reminisce and I digress… This year they performed two very contrasting a cappella pieces – a flowing and soothing version of ‘Wade In The Water’ followed by a powerful and stirring performance of ‘Olay Laylo’, which was the only Finnish reindeer-herding song of the night!
The Carol Belles featuring The Liverpool String Quartet followed on from Creative. This appearance was hot on the heels of our two performances as Matt Lammin & Friends when we collaborated with The Liverpool String Quartet at the Bluecoat and Mayer Hall the previous weekend. We started with a medley of Carol Of The Bells & Somewhere In My Memory, which are both featured in one of my favourite Christmas films of all time, Home Alone. Charlotte Williams was flawless in her solo in this piece. The second piece we performed was an arrangement of In The Bleak Midwinter, with moving solos from Zia Larty-Healy and Charlotte Grisenthwaite.
MiC Lowry were next to appear and they started with their own version of This Christmas (arranged by Esco Williams) which showed off their intricate harmonies and vocal tones. They then went on to perform a collaborative piece with Sense of Sound Singers and The Liverpool String Quartet. The song they performed together was ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and the arrangement allowed each ensemble the opportunity to shine. This piece was a real highlight. It was also touching to see Ben from MiC Lowry performing alongside his mum, Yvonne, who is a member of Sense of Sound Singers.
Sense of Sound Singers then went on to perform John Rutter’s ‘Candlelight Carol’ followed by ‘Winter Clear’, which is an original piece written by Jennifer John & Juliet Russell. Their a cappella performance was really appreciated by the audience and concluded the individual act performances nicely. Sense of Sound Singers have played a role in this concert every single year since we started this event back in 2008 and their support is much appreciated.
While the choirs all then returned to the stages for the end of the concert, The Liverpool String Quartet performed selections from Peter & The Wolf. The concert then concluded with two spectacular finales – White Christmas and a reprise of last year’s finale, Walking In The Air. The rousing finish stirred the audience into a standing ovation for the second year running; a true reflection of the awesomeness of this event and a fitting tribute to the quality and passion of the performances.
The cathedral staff are always very accommodating and they did a fantastic job co-ordinating the logistics alongside Carole Clare and the Radio City Cash for Kids team. Dave Corns did a sterling job on the sound-desk especially considering the complexity of the job he had due to the volume of singers involved. We also had Dan Bishop back on the organ (he has played in every concert since the beginning!) and Rob Chalmers & Izzy Own on guitar. The event was hosted by Radio City’s Si Greening who did an excellent job tying the concert together.
Bay TV filmed the event and put out a one hour highlights package over the Christmas week. Punchline Ltd did a fabulous job filming and editing the event and it was a real bonus having them there.
Above all else, this concert raised lots of money and awareness for Radio City’s Cash for Kids charity. Cash for Kids is the official charity of Radio City and provides a helping hand to disabled and disadvantaged children in Liverpool and the surrounding areas.
Each year they hope to make thousands of pounds available for grants to children’s charities, individuals and many other causes throughout the Radio City transmission area. All the money is raised locally and spent locally and goes to children and young people under 18 throughout the region, with mental, physical or sensory disabilities, with behavioural or psychological disorders, living in poverty or situations of deprivation, suffering through distress, abuse or neglect.
The programme for the event is below. The concert was a sell-out – there were approximately 1600 people in the cathedral!
RADIO CITY CASH FOR KIDS CAROL CONCERT
ANGLICAN CATHEDRAL, 17TH DECEMBER 2014
Hosted by Simon Greening from Radio City 96.7
Welcome by The Very Reverend, Dr Pete Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool
Birkenhead High School Academy Year 3 & 4 Choir / Musical Director: Helen Tarver
Sunlight Unplugged / Musical Director: Jennifer John
DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?
Congregational Carol – Please Stand
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING
Bebington Bitter Men / Musical Director: James Sills
GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN
Kaboodle Community Choir / Musical Directors: Chris Watson & Jeanette Boyhan
THREE JAZZ CAROLS
Wirral Grammar School for Boys / Musical Director: Amy Chalmers
DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS
Congregational Carol – Please Stand
THE FIRST NOWELL
Up For Arts / Musical Director: Saphena Aziz
I SAW THREE SHIPS
The Valentine Three
IT WENT ON
Birkenhead High School Academy Choir / Musical Directors: Chris Watson, Jeanette Boyhan, Helen Tarver & Matt Lammin
Year 5 & 6: SILENT NIGHT
Senior School: MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE
Full Choir: IN CHRIST ALONE
Congregational Carol – Please stand
DING DONG MERRILY ON HIGH
Speaker: Carole Clare, from Radio City Cash For Kids
Creative Community Choir / Musical Director: James Sills
WADE IN THE WATER
The Carol Belles / Musical Director: Matt Lammin
featuring The Liverpool String Quartet
CAROL OF THE BELLS/SOMEWHERE IN MY MEMORY / Soloist: Charlotte Williams
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER / Soloists: Zia Larty-Healy & Charlotte Grisenthwaite
Congregational Carol – Please Stand
O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL
MiC Lowry, Sense of Sound Singers & The Liverpool String Quartet
HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS
Sense of Sound Singers / Directed by Jennifer John
(While the choirs move into finale positions):
The Liverpool String Quartet
PETER AND THE WOLF (Prokofiev)
Finale (All Choirs)
WALKING IN THE AIR
Musicians: Dan Bishop (www.danielbishop.co.uk): Organ, Rob Chalmers & Isabel Owen: Guitar, Chris Watson & Geoff Ireland: Piano
The Liverpool String Quartet: Simmy Singh, Amy Chalmers, Daniel Sanxis & Nick Byrne
Musical Director: Matt Lammin (www.mattlammin.com)
Stage Managers: Jessica Hawe & Dionne McHugh
Sound Technician: Dave Corns
Radio City Cash For Kids: Carole Clare
Cathedral event management: Lucy Rafferty & Eryl Parry
Further information about the tonight’s musical groups:
Bebington Bitter Men (www.jamessillsmusic.co.uk)
Birkenhead High School Academy Choirs (www.birkenheadhigh.gdst.net)
The Carol Belles (www.mattlammin.com)
Creative Community Choir (www.creativecommunitychoir.co.uk)
Kaboodle Community Choir (contact email@example.com if interested in joining this Birkenhead-based choir)
The Liverpool String Quartet (www.liverpoolstringquartet.com, Tweet @Liverpool_4tet)
MiC LOWRY (www.facebook.com/wearemiclowry, Tweet @WeAreMiCLowry) Akia Jones, Ben Sharples, Delleile Ankrah, Kaine Ofoeme, Michael Welch
Sense of Sound Singers (www.senseofsound.org, Tweet @senseofsoundUK)
Sunlight Unplugged (www.unilever.co.uk)
The Valentine Three (www.thevalentine3.com, Tweet @TheValentineX3)
Joel Valentine, Sam Valentine, Reuben Valentine
Up For Arts (www.senseofsound.org, Tweet @UpforArtschoir)
Wirral Grammar School for Boys Year 7 Choir (www.wirralgrammarboys.com)
Simon Greening (www.radiocity.co.uk/simon, Tweet @simongreening)
Please support the following:
Radio City Cash For Kids (www.radiocity.co.uk/charity, Tweet @cfkradiocity)
Liverpool Cathedral (www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk, Tweet @LivCathedral)