Monthly Archives: January 2016
For the second year running, The Liverpool String Quartet featuring Matt Lammin and Friends performed two special sold-out collaborative Christmas concerts. This year, we held the concerts at Birkenhead High School Academy (on Sunday 20th December) and The Liverpool Nordic Church (on Monday 21st December). Both concerts were a massive success and concluded with a standing ovation at The Nordic Church!
The choir in rehearsal:
The string quartet filled the first half with an eclectic seasonal mix of material including ‘Jingle Bell Madness’ and a ‘Christmas Medley’, both arranged by Chris N Hobson. They finished the first half with a full narrated version of the Snowman; this is a special version of ‘The Snowman Suite’ for string quartet, arranged by the composer himself, Howard Blake. He attended The Nordic Church concert and was very complimentary of both the quartet and the choir. Rob Chalmers did a fabulous job narrating the twenty-minute piece on both nights. We finished the concert with a special rendition of Walking In The Air, performed in honour of Howard Blake.
Listen to Walking In The Air HERE.
Nick Byrne (cellist in The Liverpool String Quartet), Howard Blake (composer of The Snowman) and Rob Chalmers (narrator of The Snowman & guitarist):
Following mulled wine, mince pies and fun and frolics with Santa himself (a special thank you to Adam Watts for booking him and to his elves, Tim Roberts & Christine Roberts!), all the performers took to the stage for the second half.
Santa’s Caravan Grotto:
Santa & his elves:
Our set list at both concerts was as follows –
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
In The Bleak Midwinter (led by Zia Larty-Healy and Charlotte Grisenthwaite)
Real Love (led by Tim Lennon)
Do You Hear What I Hear
Silver Bells (led by Jess Hynes)
Fairytale Of New York (led by Amy Chalmers & Rob Chalmers)
Carol Of The Bells/Somewhere In My Memory
Walking In The Air (Encore Reprise)
I must give a special mention to Tim Lennon and Jess Hynes who were our two youngest singers and who both performed solos, leading ‘Real Love’ and ‘Silver Bells’ respectively. These songs proved real, emotional highlights of the concerts. There were further solos embedded within the songs which also provided further special moments during the two performances – Yvonne Sharples, Jo Steel, Zia Larty-Healy, Charlotte Grisenthwaite, Vicky Burr, Claire Cooper-Shone, Faye Mulheirn and Jan Ross. Fairytale of New York, led by Rob and Amy Chalmers was another rousing success and offered something very different to the rest of the setlist!
(You can view a live video of Real Love at the bottom of this post).
I would like to say a very big thank you to all the singers and players for contributing to such magical events. Arranging for vocals and strings is one of the things I enjoy most of all; Christmas is also one of my favourite times, so when I get to put those ingredients together, it gives me such a buzz! Both the quartet and the singers are absolutely top quality and it both concerts were really special and unique. A huge thanks in particular must go to Dani Sanxis for agreeing to collaborate again and for liaising so readily with me throughout.
I brought the singers together from different parts of my life and there was a real diverse array of people involved. Some of the singers I know from Sense of Sound and others are vocal students of mine and ex-students; add to that family members, my girlfriend (who is also a member of Sense of Sound!) and my boss at school (and good friend!) and it was the perfect collection of amazing singers and people!
The full list of performers is below –
The Liverpool String Quartet
Sarah Brandwood-Spencer (Violin I)
Sarah Hill (Violin II)
Dani Sanxis (Viola)
Nick Byrne (Cello)
Matt Lammin & Friends Singers
Amy Chalmers (Plus piano & violin)
Rob Chalmers (Plus guitar & The Snowman Narration)
On Friday 11th December, Sense of Sound Singers performed a full concert of our greatest arrangements over the years alongside a collection of Christmas songs. It took place at The Capstone Theatre.
I have been a member of Sense of Sound Singers for exactly ten years! I remember how daunting the audition process was; it was the first time I had been amongst such a large number of high quality contemporary singers, improvising and singing with such soul and passion. I guess the majority of my experiences prior to then had been around more formal performers and I never really felt like I fitted in.
Performing in this revue of material brought back lots of memories: ‘Gabriel’ by Lamb reminded me of our live performance on Last Choir Standing in 2008, ‘Both Sides Now’ reminded me of the A Capella festival we performed at The Black-E in Liverpool and performing ‘Mas Que Nada’ took me back to 2009 when we supported and backed Russell Watson on his 19-date national tour. The experiences I have shared with this incredible bunch of people will always stay with me.
The concert went really well and our hard work over the previous few months paid off. This was the longest concert we’ve ever done where we have performed purely in our own right, so it was a real challenge for us all. We definitely rose to the occasion and it was amazing to be given a standing ovation! A massive thank you to our esteemed leader Perri Alleyne-Hughes for her tireless work and her fantastic arrangements. Also, a special mention must go to the excellent Curtis Watts who featured on ‘Streets on Fire’.
The set list from the concert is below –
Think About Me
Swallowed By the Sea
My Favourite Things (featuring Brian Hanlon on lead vocals)
Streets On Fire (with special guest Curtis Watts on lead vocals)
Interval (15 mins)
Mas Que Nada
Stargazing: Maia & Calaeno (featuring Saphena Aziz on lead vocals)
Carol of the Bells
In The Bleak Midwinter
Let It Snow
Both Sides Now (featuring Joanne Steel on lead vocals)
Always There – encore
Arranged and facilitated by Berian at Genre Music, Izzy Owen, Dionne McHugh, Amy Chalmers (with special guest Ben Turner replacing Amy for the last gig) and I set out on a nine-date Christmas Carol tour during December. The tour took in the North West Trading Company’s stunning venues in Manchester, Alderley Edge, Liverpool, Leeds, Chester, Newcastle and Glasgow.
Armed with jokes such as ‘Why does Rudolph suffer from an irritable skin condition that causes red flaky patches? BECAUSE HE SUFFERS FROM XMAS!’ we knew the tour would be a great success!
The ‘Carols by Candlelight’ offer something a little bit different to what you get in ordinary bar/restaurants and we encourage customers to join in with us and sing along. Lyric booklets are handed out and we encourage people to participate by offering a bottle of prosecco to the group who join in most enthusiastically and consistently!
All the gigs were great, but a special mention to the two groups who came for the third year running to The Botanist in Alderley Edge. The customised jingle bell head bands were particularly impressive and I am now the very proud owner of one of those headbands!
At the events, we mixed traditional carols such as ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ and ‘We Three Kings’ with upbeat classics such as ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rocking Around The Christmas Tree’. We had great fun travelling around the north of the country singing carols! If you missed us this year, hopefully we will return to the same venues next year, so make a note in your diary!
A special thank you to our soundman Jack, who as Amy put it, was also a sound man.
Full list of our December carols by candlelight tour dates –
3rd The Botanist, Leeds
13th The Oast House, Manchester
15th The Botanist, Alderley Edge
16th The Botanist, Manchester
17th The Botanist, Chester
20th Smugglers Cove, Liverpool
22nd The Botanist, Newcastle
23rd The Trading House, Glasgow
24th The Botanist, Alderley Edge
Away In A Manger
Deck The Hall With Boughs Of Holly
Ding Dong Merrily On High
Frosty The Snowman
Good King Wenceslas
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
In The Bleak Midwinter
Joy to the World
Let It Snow!
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Once In Royal David’s City
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
The First Nowell
The Holly & The Ivy
We Three Kings Of Orient Are
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks By Night
And once again, the Radio City Cash For Kids Christmas Concert is over for another year. In its seventh year, this sell-out event at the Anglican Cathedral was another resounding success. Packed to the brim with electric and eclectic performances from captivating choirs and guest artists, the audience were not disappointed.
The event, held on Monday 14th December 2015, was hosted by Radio City’s excellent Simon Greening for the fourth year running. Not only is he a talented presenter, but he is also very supportive of the event and its participants and I am very grateful for his involvement every year.
The first performance of the night came from Egremont Primary School’s ‘Crazy Quavers’ choir accompanied by Hoylake Hands & Voices. There could have been no better way to open the concert! The girls and boys in Egremont’s choir are drawn from years 4, 5 and 6 at the school, which is based in Wallasey on the Wirral, and the choir is run by the inspiring Vicky Burr from Sense of Sound Singers. Hoylake Hands & Voices are also based in Wirral and they are a sign-along choir who perform using Makaton sign language. They were established two years ago by Jon Spindler. The two choirs performed a moving rendition of ‘Once Upon A December’ from Anastasia accompanied by the Liverpool String Quartet and then ‘What Christmas Means To Me’ by Stevie Wonder backed by Rob Chalmers and Izzy Owen on guitar. The enthusiasm and dance moves from the children’s choir alongside the vibrant sign language from the adult sign-along choir proved an excellent mix. It was a moving collaboration to kick-start the concert.
Tweet Egremont Primary School @EgremontPrimary
Visit Hoylake Hands & Voices’ Facebook page HERE
Creative Community Choir immediately followed on the other stage, performing a lush version of ‘White Winter Hymnal’ accompanied by The Liverpool String Quartet followed by a spirited rendition of ‘Thina Simunye’ complete with a beautiful solo from Elly Hinchcliffe. Directed by James Sills, this was Creative’s fifth appearance at the event and they marked it by performing the same repertoire that they debuted in their first year at the event. The choir has grown massively since its inception in 2011 so their performance of the material was very different to five years ago!
Visit Creative’s website HERE.
Then followed the first congregational carol, ‘The First Nowell’. Roughly twenty minutes prior to the concert, I asked the stunning soprano Joanne Dennis to lead all of the congregational carols alongside Dan Bishop on organ and the Liverpool String Quartet (consisting of Sarah Hill and Amy Chalmers on violin, Dani Sanxis on viola and Hilary Browning on cello). Jo took it all in her stride and having her leading all the carols really gave them the spark they needed and the descants were magnificent!
The next choir to grace the stage was Sunlight Unplugged. Directed by Sense of Sound’s Jennifer John and conducted by Emily Jackson at the concert, this unauditioned choir is based at Unilever and they rehearse once a week during their lunch breaks. At the concert, they performed a rousing rendition ‘Gaudete’ followed by a beautiful version of John Rutter’s ‘Candlelight Carol’, both performed a cappella. When listening to them, it is hard to believe that they are purely an unauditioned amateur work-based choir.
Kaboodle Community Choir followed, singing ‘Bethlehem’ by Schönberg backed by The Liverpool String Quartet and the guitarists, followed by ‘O Holy Night’ accompanied by Dan Bishop on the organ. Both songs were immaculately sung, with real blend and dynamic variation, led by Chris Watson and Jeanette Boyhan.
Following another congregational carol, WWDN’s choir took to the stage to perform the tradition Christmas carol, ‘Carol of the Bells’ and the haunting ‘Sleep’ by Eric Whitacre. Led by Jen Ramage, this was WWDN’s debut performance at the event. What We Did Next are essentially a theatre group but the WWDN singers have become a successful local act in their own right. At the concert, they showed their technical skill in delivering two very intricate arrangements.
Tweet WWDN @whatwedidnext
Sense of Sound Singers, led by Perri Alleyne-Hughes, closed the first half with ‘The Coventry Carol’ and ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’. I was on stage singing, but both songs felt really poignant and I am reliably informed that they were both really effective and came across beautifully. It was a lovely way to end the first half.
Tweet Sense of Sound Singers @senseofsoundUK
The second half was opened by Birkenhead High School Academy. We had both our junior choir (years 4-6) and our senior choir (years 7-12) in attendance. Led by Amy Chalmers, the junior choir performed a lively performance of ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ from ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’. This is one of my favourite Christmas movies, not least because of the brilliant soundtrack and I’ve always wanted to incorporate material from it into the concert.
The senior choir followed on with ‘King’ by Years And Years, with a small group bravely singing the opening verse with real energy and style: these girls were Beth Beacall, Chloe Berry, Eleanor Brennan and Emily Sansom.
The two choirs then combined to perform a full, soulful version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’; this was based on the Mary J Blige and Jessie J version which was released a couple of years ago. The girls did an excellent job with it across both stages and the string quartet really added the sparkle it needed from the key change which took place midway through the piece.
Tweet Birkenhead High School Academy’s music department @BHSA_music
Mr Joe Slater then performed one of his own songs called ‘Live It Up’ from his recently released EP, ‘A Hard Night’s Graft’. This special version was accompanied by the Liverpool String Quartet and featured a guitar solo from Rob Chalmers. Joe then went on to perform ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, accompanied by Birkenhead High School Academy’s senior choir. This was a vibrant and exciting collaboration.
Watch Joe Slater perform ‘Live It Up’ HERE.
Tweet Joe @MrJoeSlater
Visit Joe’s soundcloud HERE.
The Bebington Bitter Men were next to perform, blasting out ‘John Hardy’ in their inimitable masculine manner. This was followed by a powerful performance from the boys from St Anselm’s singing ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, featuring great solos from Adam Johnson, Oliver Cunliffe, Ed Johnson and Joe Spence. The two choirs then joined for a special collaboration on ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’; the boys really responded to the grit and power from the Bitter Men. It was a really worthwhile collaboration and fantastic to see so many males singing together.
Tweet St Anselm’s @anselmscollege
Visit HERE for further information on the Bebington Bitter Men.
Sense of Sound Singers returned to the stage for a performance of ‘Gabriel’, which included a haunting solo from Jo Steel, and a jaunty a cappella version of ‘Let It Snow’.
MiC Lowry, returning for their fourth consecutive year, were next to perform. A last minute addition to the bill this year, the band are now signed and they were initially unsure if their schedule would allow them to be at the event. However, they are great supporters of the event and always hoped they would be able to perform again. True to their word, when they realised they could make it, they confirmed their appearance and certainly added something very special to the concert. They debuted their stunning version of ‘Silent Night’, with weaving harmonies and a huge range, followed by ‘The Christmas Song’, which again showcased their lush close harmonies, soul and togetherness.
Watch MiC Lowry’s performance HERE.
Tweet MiC Lowry @WeAreMicLowry
The Liverpool String Quartet performed ‘Jingle Bell Madness’ and a ‘Christmas Medley’ (both arranged by Chris N Hobson) while the choirs took their places for the finale. The string quartet were fantastic all evening.
Tweet The Liverpool String Quartet @Liverpool_4tet
Visit their website HERE.
This year, I chose ‘Somewhere In My Memory’ from Home Alone as the first finale piece, followed by the now traditional ‘Walking In The Air’ (for the third year running!). Every year, I always feel slight trepidation when it comes to the finale because we don’t actually rehearse together, so the first time we run the pieces is when all 400 plus performers combine at the end of the concert! However, as always, it was a stunning conclusion to the event. Having all the children and adults from all the different choirs singing and signing together across the performance spaces was a joy to hear and see. All the choir directors had brought the pieces together perfectly and it was a fitting end to a tremendous concert. Deservedly, the audience rose as a standing ovation for all the performers.
Watch Somewhere In My Memory HERE.
Watch Walking In The Air HERE.
A huge thanks must go to the sound team at the Anglican; as always, they did a smashing job and I am so in awe of how they manage the sound – so impressive in such a huge and complex building. This year, Dave Corns was joined by Michael Wylie on the sound desk and they were an excellent team. Big thanks also to Lucy and Gemma for all your help behind the scenes at the cathedral and Carole and co at Radio City Cash for Kids. Thanks so much to the amazing musicians – Rob Chalmers and Izzy Owen on guitar, Dan Bishop on organ, Pat Lammin, Amy Chalmers and Chris Watson on piano and of course the string quartet. Thank you to all the singers, choir directors and guest artists for all your great work. Finally, thanks very much to the three stage managers for making such a complex event run so smoothly: Dionne McHugh, Jess Hawe and my mum!
Tweet Radio City Cash for Kids @cfkradiocity
Visit their website HERE.
Tweet the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral @LivCathedral
Visit their website HERE.
Dionne and I went into the studio in November for a very special recording session with Sophie Austin. We recorded acoustic versions of ‘I Believe’ by Yolanda Adams, ‘Songbird’ by Fleetwood Mac and ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen.
The reason behind this recording was to use the songs as a backdrop for an inspiring video about the progress Mia Austin has made over the past year. Mia is an inspirational individual who has not allowed the fact that she has locked-in syndrome to prevent her from achieving and experiencing great things, such as her recent visit to Gambia. She has been having intense physio and personal training sessions to improve her condition against all odds. You can see the video HERE and visit Mia’s page HERE.
Sophie is someone I have worked with over a number of years and it was fantastic to help with this one-off project. She has a beautiful voice and I hope to work with her again soon.