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Ben 7th July 2014

Regular followers will have noticed that things have slowed down a little for The Songmen over the past few months. Away from the group, we have each been living life and following other projects, some work-based and others more personal. 

Guy for instance is looking to be the next Kevin McCloud as he renovates his new house in Tewkesbury; Chris is on his way to becoming a film critic in his new home cinema (something I get to benefit from as well!); Rob has a new friend in the form of Charlie, the cat, following the sad passing of the much loved ‘The Baron’; Jon is...er...doing the accounts; and Catherine and I are expecting our first child together - due in December - and all is very well there!

Of course, in the shopping list of activity, one person is conspicuous by his absence. As a professional singer in much demand around London and the UK, Nick has decided to make this his main focus and leave The Songmen. It has been a great pleasure having Nick in The Songmen. His good humour and personability, alongside his musical and engaging singing, have allowed us to continue to flourish as a group over the last two and a half years and for that we thank him and wish him all the very best in his future endeavours. Nick’s last appearance with The Songmen will be on Thursday 10th July, when we sing at the Egerton Music Festival in Kent.

The good news, Songfans, is that Nick’s replacement is to be a familiar Songface. We are pleased to welcome back into the fold former Songman, Ben Cooper. Ben is now based in Winchester and is a lay clerk in Winchester Cathedral, as well as teaching piano and singing across Hampshire. As someone who is already very experienced in our style of singing, we can think of no better replacement and are delighted that he has accepted our invitation back into the group.

So there you go - strong as ever and hoping to see you soon!

Ben

 

Chris 21 May 2014

Just a short blog from me this month. For those of you with a love of a cappella music, whether or not you made it down to Kings Place, London in January to either hear us or any of the other internationally wonderful groups at the major London A Cappella Festival, you will want to know the official LACF album is now out and available from Acappellazone. On the album you will find The Swingles, The Real Group, Slixs, The House Jacks and Vive, but of course I would say the real stars are, of course, The Songmen performing our very own Ben Sawyer’s “Silence and Sound”!

We have been having a chat with The Swingles, Kevin, who engineered the brilliant recording of us and the other performance at the Festival, to see if we might be able to sneak a few tracks from our live performance on to our website in the next few weeks or so. If you were there to hear us and have a particular favourite you would like to hear again, be it some Weelkes, Rutter, Poulenc or one of the jazz standards, let us know on Facebook.

Next concert for us is in just a couple of weeks, when we will be in Rickmansworth at the Three Rivers Music Society on Friday 13th June performing our excellent Faith, Folk and Frivolity programme. We hope to see many faces there, old and new!

C x

 

Jon 24 April 2014

It seems like an age since my last blog, in fact given the recent lack of blogs you would be forgiven for thinking that the Songmen have dropped off the face of the planet …

But you needn’t worry, I can assure you that we are all fully present and correct, although I expect you are wondering what we’ve all been up to?

Well, we’ve all been away on holiday, stuck to our healthy New Year resolutions for a while and probably eaten far too many Easter eggs than is good for us (ok that one might be just me…), but we’ve also been quite busy on some exciting new stuff …

There is the new selection of programmes for this season (check them out here), full of classic pieces from all genres, with a little something for everyone we hope. If we have missed off your favourite then drop us a line and we’ll see if we can work it into a future concert.

We’re also in the process of selecting music for next season (I believe Rob can be regularly seen scouring the Cambridge archives for that next musical gem) and if the pieces which have already made the short list are anything to go by then it should be pretty special …

Our next studio album is starting to take shape - it’s wonderful to hear a concept evolve into a complete work and I can’t wait to hear the tracks after our good friends in the US have added their magic!

Finally. I’m in the final throws of completing the Songmen accounts - ok, so maybe that one is less high up the excitement scale for most but I enjoy it!

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the generally awesome experience of performing with the boys :)

Anyway, that’s enough for now - I must get back to my T accounts …

Take care

Jon x

 

Chris 8th February 2014

Last month we had the delight of singing at the London A Cappella Festival (as mentioned in previous blogs ad nauseam). I think we did a great job <cough>, though that is not the point of today's ramble...

One of the unique aspects of the Festival (at least in my experience in the UK) is that one can have great confidence that the entire audience there are music lovers, singers, choral trainers and studio technicians, meaning every aspect of every performance during the Festival naturally gets scrutinised and picked up on.

How you look on stage, not just when singing, but between pieces, when you are introducing, when you move etc. is something I think about a lot. After our LACF performance I spoke to members of the audience and it was reassuring to hear complimentary words about how comfortable our group looks on stage (top tip - if a performer looks comfortable, then your audience is more likely to feel comfortable too).

If you can, take a look at this video. It’s Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World singing a song I am slightly obsessed with at the mo, live on the American version of The Voice. At about 2m 36s in, Christina feigns a classic mini-air grab with her hand. Combined with the head forever looking into the middle distance or off to the side, the effect she is going for is that of someone so enwrapped in the music that they do not notice the 3000 people in the audience or the 3 million viewers on TV. Much as I love the song, I find this totally off-putting – music performance is about bringing the listeners into your world, sharing the music and aspiring towards a joint experience between performer and audience.

In our group, we come from different musical background and have different approaches to the manner we present ourselves on stage. For me, my music journey started in churches with the odd soloist-in-a-concert job - for both of those, you do not tend to move around (much); you stand and sing and never, ever, do you make eye contact with the congregation or audience.  Since we started this thing of ours, I have had to re-evaluate my posture, stance and general relaxedness and the way I once stood in a cassock is not the way I stand in my fancy Songmen suit.

It would be brave for me to suggest the other member of the group have never sung a duff note, or fluffed the odd entry, but I continue to tolerate their wild imperfections as our audiences' response to our overall performances are the marker of success I value the most. Most groups (and choirs, and soloists) probably spend the majority of their time working on the dots, but that is not the end of the story. The right notes in the write order is an essential aspect of musicianship, but “performing” is something different.

Something more.



C x

 

Nick 22nd January 2014

Hello all Songfans/keen Blog enthusiasts.

There are many excellent things about having four older sisters.

The most newly discovered "excellent thing" is the joys of Unclehood. I first graduated to that position in May last year (those of you who were paying attention might well remember). Now my nephew, Danny, is 8 months old, and is about to gain a cousin, and me yet another nephew in a couple of weeks!

It'll be great to meet this new little one, and see him and Danny grow up side by side - their mothers are twins, so I'm sure the two boys will be very close.

Danny himself has grown such a ridiculous amount over the last 8 months (as they tend to do). He is ludicrously cute, every week he looks totally different and has learnt some new trick. He is already rather adept at playing (or rather hitting) the piano, and "singing" lovely long phrases - no doubt inspired by his mother (also a professional singer).

Another bonus of having four older sisters is that they can spend the next few years having children, and my mum won't pester me to have some for a while. Phew.

In more immediate news, the London A Cappella festival that Ben waxed lyrical about so extensively last week is looking to be a great occasion this Friday. There are literally a handful of seats left for our early evening 6:30 concert in Hall Two. Pop down if you're looking for a quick Songfix.

Better carry on learning some bad Uncle jokes.
Til next time,
Nick x

 

Ben 16th January 2014

Happy New Year, dear readers. I hope your festivities all went without too much upheaval and were enjoyed by all.

So, before I get going, you should be warned that this will be one of my more plug-tastic blogs. My previous one, whilst also wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and all that, bemoaned a poor start to England's Ashes campaign - who could've known how much poorer that was to become!

Anyway, on to the real business of my blog - London A Cappella Festival 2014.

Headlined by The Swingle Singers and featuring the cream of the a cappella world, we make our concert debut in this fantastically exciting and varied festival. I honestly cannot think of another festival which would include the beatboxing skills of Bellatrix alongside us singing La Guerre. The festival is packed with concerts and interest sessions. Our good friend and collaborator Danny Ozment is giving what looks to be an excellent session on DIY recording in the LACFextra programme. Finally, if you miss out on a ticket for an event, then there are performances in the King's Place foyer throughout the weekend.

Our concert is on Friday 24th January at 6.30pm in King's Place (personally, this is a fantastic time to go to a concert - you'll have the whole evening ahead of you!!) and the programme can be found here.

We hope to see you there!

Ben

 

Jon 8 January 2014

Happy New Year!

It’s hard to believe that we are already a week past New Year’s Day with only 51 more weeks until we get to the next one!

Many people I know have been busy making their New Year’s resolutions whether that be going to the Gym, eating healthily, or just spending more time with loved ones.

However, rather than jump straight into future planning with them I thought I would take a little time and reflect on the things that went right last year and the new experiences I had…

The highlights of 2013 for me include our performance at ACDA in Dallas, our first tour of China, singing at Ben and Catherine’s wedding, meeting my girlfriend Alison, and all of the other Songmen performances both far and near (including our Three Choirs concert which was about 100 feet from where I live, you don’t get much nearer than that).

Great memories from a great year, and I’m pleased to say that 2014 is already looking good as the next Songmen performance is at Kings Place on 24 January 2014 as part of the London A Cappella Festival.

So, what are my aims for this year you might ask? Well, other than performing with my five best friends I really just want to be as happy in 2014 as I was in 2013. Of course healthy eating, regular exercise, and spending as much time as possible with those I love were all part of what made 2013 great so maybe there is something to these resolutions after all …

Take care

Jon x

PS click here for tickets to our performance at the London A Cappella Festival

 

Nick 12th Dec 2013

Does anyone else out there publicly grumble about Christmas ("Bah-humbug" etc.) but in the confines of their own brain actually look forward to those once-a-year happenings?

Maybe it's just me.

It's always a simple little annual tradition that's comforting enough to add an extra layer of warmth to your mis-shapen wooly jumper. For example, the faux-fatigue and don't-have-time-for-this-edness that is employed by all when trying to work out where the family gathering will be this time round. Or some unfunny word-changing in a particularly dreary carol - the same "joke" that is made every year, and only earns a polite "oh, haa..." at best. Or perhaps that telephone catch-up with your German Grandma who always gets the time difference wrong, and calls you at some ungodly hour in the morning.

Actually, that one probably is just me.

For my money, Tim Minchin sums up Christmas (and so many other things in life!) very well in this song...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCNvZqpa-7Q
In this chilly, gloomy, drizzly, illnessy, and mince-pie-stuffed time of year I think it is those little cockle-warming moments that provide sanity, jollity, and an ability to deal with such an unprecedented overload of carols.

As the frenzy builds over the next few weeks, I humbly recommend you take time to recognise these moments when they happen and think how dull Winter would be without them.

In terms of actual global happenings it's been an important week. I don't feel fully qualified to write about the importance of Nelson Mandela's life, though it has been fascinating to learn so much more detail about this phenomenal human being. From what I can glean he had such incredible levels of courage and conviction to always do the right thing - which, after he did it, seemed to be so blindingly obvious and almost simple in it's purity of rightness.

It also made me wonder what sort of other incredible people or events will we witness in our lifetimes?

Well until we find out have a lovely, cockle-warmed festive period!
Nx

 

Ben 5th December 2013

I'm writing this whilst catching up with last night's action in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide (that's cricket by the way). I'm quite keen on cricket, if you hadn't noticed, and am crossing everything that England can bounce back after a difficult first test. Flaring tempers and a heavy defeat were all brought into perspective with the departure of Jonathan Trott with a 'stress related illness'.

I will admit to having taken quite an interest in all this. As touring musicians, we all spend significant time away from home (though not as much as an England cricketer who can spend up to 280 nights a year away from home). Some of the podcasts I have listened to on my recent travels have highlighted depression in sport and there are obvious parallels to be made with us musos.

Last week for me was one such week. On Thursday I was privileged to join the choir of Winchester Cathedral to sing for the funeral of Sir John Tavener. With over 700 in attendance, this was a very moving occasion, all in the glow of Tavener's own music. Tavener converted to the Greek Orthodox Church in his thirties and the service itself was led in this tradition. As a composer myself, I found this insightful. Knowing a great deal of Tavener's music, it brought everything into a sharp focus for me. All the drones and chants which Tavener employed so effectively made more sense than ever before. It goes without saying that the choir sang a number of pieces by Tavener. A favourite of mine was a Nunc Dimittis which he composed for the National Youth Choir just a couple of years ago. His huge coffin was taken out to the sublime 'Dona nobis pacem' from Bach's B minor Mass. A very fitting close to a service I will never forget.

I got to return to Winchester on Saturday for a very different occasion - their Advent Carol Service. As a boy in Kingston Parish Church Choir, the Advent Carols was always a highlight of my singing year. I was extra lucky this year, as I sang in my second Advent service on Sunday evening on home ground in Tewkesbury in a very fine service indeed.

So as the next few busy weeks unfold, my plan is to enjoy my musical exploits, wherever they may be, but to look forward to my time at home with my family and make the most of every minute.

I don't have another blog this year, so have a safe and enjoyable few weeks, but most of all family centred Christmas!

Lots of love,
Ben

 

Jon 27 November 2013

Well, it's been quite a while since my last blog and during that period the nights have drawn in, Christmas lights have started to twinkle all over the country and the streets are scented with the musky spice of mulled wine and mince pies.

I love this time of year, the coolness of the air on a crisp morning, the joy of rediscovering jacket potatoes and the warmth of a fire as I huddle down on the sofa with a glass of my favourite single malt - things just don’t get any better than that.

However, I do accept that some people are not so keen on the cold dark evenings. Last weekend we performed to an audience in Upton upon Severn who recognise this, embrace the concept and as a result start their concerts at 3pm in the Winter.

Now, I was sceptical that it would have the same feel as an evening concert, but my initial trepidation was soon overcome as we were warmly received by the capacity audience. Soon after the sun had set over this riverside town our afternoon concert was finished and by early evening we were all tucked up safely at home, with me by the fire cradling the aforementioned single malt.

So, am I a convert to mid-afternoon concerts? Well, personally I still love evening concerts, but I can’t deny that the audience was great in Upton and it does make me wonder if this is something that might work in other places too and open up music to a new audience.

I guess, as we say in the Songmen, you should let the music(goers) decide.

Take care

Jon x

 

 

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