Abbey Road again! – 19 April 2014


AnnaGoAnna at Abbey Rd

I know many people would give their right arm (and probably a leg too) to be able to record at Abbey Road. So it’s an absolute honour to find our Rock Choir back in Abbey Road Studios for a second year.

Although that honour must surely go to our Rock Choir leader, James (Jim) Hawkins.  Jim’s work on Soundcloud.

Jim has worked tirelessly to make the arrangements, coordinate arrangements, calculate costs, chase payments, engage producers, engineers, photographers and, of course, book Abbey Road Studios etc.  In addition he’s worked one-2-one with the soloists to perfect each of their performances, run extra choir rehearsals and drilled us in ‘torture’ sessions so that our timing, pitch, intonation and musical accents were perfect. Thank you Jim for being ever patient and so generous of your energy, expertise, spirit and time.

As with last year’s recording session we concentrated on one main song. This year our Choir chose ‘Proud’. The soloist for Wimbledon Choir was Natalie who I think you’ll agree, pun intended, has done us ‘Proud’.



Our wonderful Rock Choir leader, Jim, is today running his first All-Singers Saturday Workshop.

Tickets have been on sale for a while although selling out speedily and are open to anyone to attend. As we arrived for registration this morning I was pleased to see that there was a healthy amount of Rock Choir people AND a good proportion of non-Rock Choir people. A range of ages and a plus for those of us in the Bass section, lots of men.

As you know from my previous posts I love singing. I’m quite sure I’m not good at it (don’t tell anyone) but I love being totally absorbed in music at rehearsals, learning how to harmonise, singing as a choir, performing locally as well as Wembley, O2 and Albert Hall… and of course recording at Abbey Road! I’ve said it before, the escape from reality for 1.5hrs every week whilst every cell concentrates on the music, interpretation, words, harmonies and sound is so energising.

Today’s workshop we are steering clear of Rock Choir’s ‘MagicFM’ playlist and learning some new songs. The first two from The Beatles – If I Fell and Because. The second pair from The Eagles – Peaceful Easy Feeling and Hotel California. A pleasant change and challenge to do something completely new to us.

I also loved having the music score. In Rock Choir we learn the voice parts by ear with only the lyrics to refer to. Reading music isn’t something that everyone can do and Jim took time to explain the differences between the notations on the score, what they meant and what they were called. I would like to think that this little insight into musical scores will give confidence to some of the singers to learn enough to read music.

It’s funny to think that when we used to jam mostly The Beatles songs with Howard Jones after school in Wycombe that I don’t recall either of The Beatles pieces.

The morning flew by with us learning all our parts for The Beatles songs. The arrangements have been slightly modified so that there were 3 parts – well done Jim for creating a new sound.

Exhausted already, we broke for lunch. Whilst we were out a five piece band arrived and set up their kit.

We were greeted after lunch with the sound of the band playing and warming up. Lovely to listen to. Then back to rehearsals. We returned to the two songs we’d learnt in the morning for some final tweaking. Then the Eagles pieces learnt.

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Mid-afternoon the band returned. What a treat to perform with a live band. We sang our way through our new repertoire, perfecting and redoing certain aspects with the band.

Considering we were there for only one day, learning 4 songs is quite an achievement. I wouldn’t say we were up to concert standard but we could, mostly, hold our own! Jim had also arranged for a recording to be made of each song. I’m hoping the sound engineer captured enough for a (very gifted) editor to piece together and produce some recordings that sound great. As soon as they’re available I shall add them into this post.

Our final joy of the day was an hour or so of an open sing-a-long with the band. Attendees were invited to sing solos with the band and perform to us. What incredible voices we have in the room.

I am truly hoping that Jim puts on more workshops. Clearly by the lack of a spare seat today they will sell out quickly so do follow Jim’s progress on his website, twitter @JamesHawkinsMus or on Facebook.

Bob Chilcott Workshop in Teddington

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know that I attended a Bob Chilcott workshop in Kingston last year… and loved it.


Clearly, one of the other attendees of the Kingston workshop, Anne, was also super excited about the event.  She was so excited she encouraged her church in Teddington to host Bob Chilcott for another workshop today. I was, again, very excited to receive an invitation to attend.  However was then disappointed that despite my eagerness to return my application and cheque, I was beaten by others to attend and I was put on the waiting list for tickets. However ‘Postive-Spin Wallace’ put it in her diary anyway and waited for a call to say that I’d been moved off the reserve bench and had a ticket… a few weeks ago the call came and today was the day of the Workshop.


I’m sure there are some reading this that don’t sing and perhaps think I’m a dullard to do so. Truly I was in your camp not that many years ago and used to wonder what Mum got out of the choirs she was a member of. I joined the Rock Choir for many reasons but one reason was so that for an hour and a half each week all I thought about, was singing. It truly lifted my spirits in doing so. I met a new group of enthusiastic people who laughed – a lot. People who appeared (at least for 1.5 hours) to be carefree and this rubbed off on me. ‘Carefree’ is a feeling that I lost when I was diagnosed with an unsure rare cancer. I hadn’t realised that I missed it nor that everything I did, thought or felt appears now to be planned, considered or reserved. So to be ‘carefree’ again has been a joy.

At Rock Choir we learn songs with only the lyric sheets. No music. We learn by ear and eventually without any lyric sheets too. At first I found it hard to not see and read the music but realise that this makes it ‘all inclusive’ and that noone is disadvantaged if they don’t read music. The music choices are contemporary – such as Adele, Beegees, Olly Murs, Amy Winehouse etc.

I signed up for the first Bob Chilcott workshop in Kingston as I wanted to challenge myself further. Learn to sing reading music. More choral and classical pieces and demanding a more precise method of singing with more vocal parts in the choir.

Today’s workshop once again challenged but was sooo enjoyable. During the day we learnt the following pieces:

Five days that changed the world (3 movements) – The Invention of Printing; The Abolition of Slavery; The First Powered Flight.  (Sung here at in Worcester for the first time in 2013 –
Chilcott Anthems – God so loved the World; Be Thou my Vision
Chilcott Requiem – Thou Knowest Lord.

The workshop attendees were once again a wonderful mixture of people from different choirs, choral societies and Rock Choir. It was lovely to have so many men singing in the bass and tenor sections. As always, I enjoyed speaking to lots of new people and discussing how we each worked with our choirs to learn new songs. Listening to people talk animatedly about their choirs. What they enjoyed about being part of a choir. I was also surprised to hear from a couple of people that they were envious of our singing without music as they felt that it was really difficult to then sing without the score. Whereas I said that I’d love to see the musical score and to be able to learn or re-learn the back catalogue of Rock Choir songs from the music score. There is probably a happy medium for us all!


Although we learnt so many pieces during the one day – OK perhaps there was a lot of finessing that was still required (!) – I was once again encouraged by Bob Chilcott’s teaching style. YouTube clip.  He has the ability to encourage everyone to sing. To hear where there can be improvements or tweaks required. He tells us why he wrote the piece that particular way, the inspiration behind it and who’s previously sung it. We are then able to understand further what we are singing and, I hope, interpret the emotion through our collective voices. There are lots of laughs throughout the day too.


At the end of our day’s Workshop we headed over to the Church to put on a short concert of the pieces we had learnt to anyone who had turned up…mostly family and friends. Here’s a YouTube clip of us performing one of the pieces.  I’m quite impressed!

If you’re encouraged to attend a workshop or perhaps to listen to Bob Chilcott in concert, keep an eye on his website for opportunities.

Singing at Wembley Stadium

I’m still pinching myself.  How mad is it that I started singing with the Rock Choir a year ago and since then have sung at the O2, recorded at Abbey Road and now sung at Wembley Stadium?  What a hoot!

5,000 Rock Choir members were seated in the front few rows at Wembley Stadium.  We were grouped according to our vocal parts.  Before the game started our Rock Choir leaders took their positions facing us and signalled to remove our outer layers, thereby revealing us all in Rock Choir t-shirts.

We opened the evening’s entertainment with our Rock Choir rendition of ‘You’re the Voice’.  Then everyone joined in to sing Saracen’s anthem ‘Do you hear the people sing’ (a tailored version of the song from Les Miserables.

Then to see the first half of the Heineken Cup rugby match between Saracens and Toulouse.

At half time we performed ‘Living on a Prayer’.  The Vamps were also performing in the half-time break… but I think I’m a little old!

The second half of the rugby game was much faster and exciting.  Sadly (for Saracens) they lost by just one point.

Rock Choir - Wembley - 181013

I understand from those people that were watching the game on Sky that we sounded fabulous!   Our Rock Choir ‘Ring of Choir’ worked!

Loved the experience.  So much fun.

Performing at the O2 with the Rock Choir

As you know I’m a member of the Rock Choir.  I’m still loving it.  I’m still enjoying our rehearsals every Wednesday where I escape from reality for a couple of hours and concentrate on learning the harmonies, the movements and the words.

Today was a special day.  We, collective Rock Choirs, performed at the O2 Arena in London.  How mad is that?  A few months ago I didn’t sing in public and now I’ve recorded at Abbey Road, sung at Royal Festival Hall and now the O2 together with smaller local gigs.

I believe there were approximately 7,000 Rock Choir members in the O2.  We were separated into our harmony parts around the arena and together with our choir leaders who were on stage sang our way through an 18 song repertoire.

What a truly amazing experience.

Rock Choir 02 July 2013 (click on thumbnail to see picture collage in full-size)

Here’s a link to some of the videos on YouTube created from the event:

The Rock Gods AKA the Rock Choir Men

And a performance of Starmaker by the Choir Leaders

Rock Choir – Royal Festival Hall

Wow today our Rock Choir performed at the Royal Festival Hall in front of a huge audience.  We had been invited to participate in the Voice-Lab Chorus Festival and were positioned on stage in the Clore Ballroom.  To say I was a touch nervous would be an understatement but what a buzz.

Here’s a little clip that one of the audience took and uploaded to YouTube – fortunately I’m mostly obscured by a pillar!





Recording at Abbey Road

At the beginning of this year I wrote a list of things I’d like to do. It wasn’t so much as a New Year’s Resolution list but more of a Three is a Magic Number.  On that list was that I’d like to record 3 tracks.  Ha what a giggle.. how was I intending to do that?

So when our Rock Choir Leader, Jim, asked us if we’d be interesting in recording at Abbey Road I thought I was dreaming.  Really?  That’s sort of what fabulous recording artistes do… not me.

Jim leads 5 choirs with over 500 members between them.  His idea was that the more people were interested then the cheaper it became.  You can imagine we jumped at the chance and Abbey Road recording studios, a production team and Jim’s expertise were all booked for this weekend.  Each choir had different time slots, we were booked in for Saturday afternoon.

The Wimbledon Rock Choirs descended upon the famous London Recording studios Abbey Road to record their own version of True Colours under the direction of their choirmaster Jim.

(Click on thumbnails to see pictures in full-screen)

What an incredible opportunity.  We first walked over the very famous pedestrian crossing.  Then lined up for photos in front of the studio before being taken into Studio 1 to be briefed and leave our bags.  Studio 1 is full of fabulous memorabilia.

Abbey Rd 2 April 2013

Abbey Road 1 April 2013

Then we filed in, in silence and awe, into Studio 2.  Put our headphone on and started recording.  First we recorded True Colours.  Then we recorded Here Comes the Sun.

You can listen to our recording of True Colours here – Abbey Road True Colours Wimbledon Rock Choir

Such an honour to have been in Abbey Road.  So amazed that we/I recorded two tracks in such a place.  Incredible.

Singing workshop – Rock Choir with Bob Chilcott

An incredible opportunity for us to learn from the Choral Master, Bob Chilcott.  Some Rock Choir members have worked hard to put together a workshop today with Bob Chilcott “A contemporary hero of British choral music.”

There were about 100 people eager to learn.  About half of these were from Rock Choir and the rest from different choral societies.  Oh yes I heard a sniffy comment from someone about how it would be way too difficult for Rock Choir members to do something so complicated.  Oh how we proved them wrong by the end of the day.

It was an intense day and really inspirational to work with such a master and at such a high level.

We rehearsed and sang the following:

The Lily & and the Rose.  I’ve found a YouTube recording of Bob Chilcott with another choir:

Requiem – VI. Thou Knowest, Lord.  Again I’ve found a YouTube recording of Bob Chilcott with another choir:

We also learnt another song “Queen of the May”.

At the close of the workshop, Bob asked the Rock Choir to sing to him so he could understand more about the Rock Choir.  We sang True Colours to him.

Following the workshop we received an email with a message from Bob Chilcott – Wow!

“Thank you so much for your kind email. And thanks too for organising such a great workshop on Saturday. It was just one of the great ones for me, full of good energy and most importantly, nice people! I went away quite inspired – it’s days like that that truly give me the motivation to do what I do, and quite frankly that is also the reason for doing it! So thank so very much for all your hard work and your positivity and great spirit. It was also such a pleasure to meet Jim – clearly a very inspiring musician of tremendous integrity. I shall never forget your choir singing True Colours. For everyone there that was a moving and unforgettable memory of the day.  Bob. “