Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Choir’s rocking up to St Mary’s for charity show

SIXTY members of a Henley-based choir with a difference will be taking to the stage at

SIXTY members of a Henley-based choir with a difference will be taking to the stage at St Mary’s Church on Sunday afternoon.

Instead of the more usual hymns, the Hart Street church will resound with such monster rock and pop hits as Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, Erasure’s A Little Respect and Jess Glynne’s Hold My Hand.

Giving these classic tunes the choral treatment on the day will be the Henley branch of Rock Choir — the UK’s largest and most popular contemporary choir that now boasts more than 24,000 members in 320 locations around the country.

Starting at 4pm, the two-hour show is billed as “The Choir That Rocks Live” and is taking place in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

But as Henley Rock Choir leader Lucy Hewes explains, the event is also a chance for members to celebrate the end of their “summer term” by showing family, friends and members of the public what they can do.

“We are very excited to be performing at our local venue and to be supporting such a worthwhile charity as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust,” she said. “We are all so looking forward to performing for our local community — it certainly promises to be a memorable and momentous event for all involved.”

Lucy, 29, is also the leader of the Caversham, Tilehurst and Ascot branches of Rock Choir.

Rehearsals are held once a week, with the Henley choir meeting at Valley Road Primary School from 8pm to 9.30pm on Thursdays.

The Caversham choir rehearses on Tuesdays, Tilehurst on Wednesdays and Ascot on Mondays.

“It follows the school year,” says Lucy. “We run 10-week terms, which is slightly shorter than the school terms. We start in September, then we do performances over December, start again in January, do maybe Easter performances. We’ve got our performance on Sunday and then we’re off for the summer.

“It works out quite well for people who have got kids or want to go on holiday. It’s good to follow the school terms.”

Lucy’s own schedule can get pretty hectic. “This takes up quite a lot of my time because it’s 30 weeks a year, Monday to Thursday evenings. I’m running the choirs and then in the daytime I’m either dealing with different things with the members or organising performances, practising the upcoming songs to play in the sessions and things like that.

“I also work in the West End — I play keyboards on Jersey Boys quite often, as a deputy on that, and other musical theatre things. So it’s half Rock Choir, half musical theatre.”

Despite her West End connections, Lucy says Rock Choir lives up to its name in terms of the choice of material performed. It seems that show tunes are off-limits.

“No, it’s all contemporary,” she says. “It will range through the eras, but sort of contemporary. This term we’ve just finished learning We Built This City by Starship, so that’s Eighties, but there’s a lot of good songs from then.

“A more recent one we’ve done is Firework by Katy Perry. We’ve done Coldplay’s Viva la Vida. We did A Little Respect by Erasure — we actually did that last term, and at the end of last term we did a big flashmob in Reading, just outside the Oracle in Broad Street. There were about 150 people from across all the choirs that I run.

“I started off the song by pretending to be a busker and then gradually more and more people joined in with the singing until there were 150 of them entertaining the streets of Reading — and when the song finished everyone walked away as if nothing had happened. That was our kind of end-of-term spectacular.”

If that sounds like your idea of fun, the start of the new Rock Choir term is not too far off — with Sunday’s concert also offering the chance to find out more.

“We start back again on Thursday, September 22,” says Lucy, “so that will be a perfect time, really, if anyone in Henley’s interested in coming along. There’s no audition — you can literally just turn up and have a free taster and then decide if you want to join from there.”

Now in its sixth year, Henley Rock Choir has around 70 members of all ages and backgrounds.

“Men, women, a whole variety,” says Lucy. “And that’s really lovely because everyone is there with the same sort of aim and passion — they just all love singing, love music, and everyone gets on really well. We quite often do social events, so at the end of this term I organised a big party with a band, and people go to the pub after the sessions and stuff like that.”

A highlight of Lucy’s time with the choir came in August 2014, when they appeared at the Rewind festival on Temple Island Meadows.

“We opened the stage that was down by the river and it was brilliant. They were calling for an encore, so we had to just last-minute be like, ‘Okay, what? Do another song!’ because we hadn’t prepared for that.

“The encore we had was You’re the Voice by John Farnham — that’s a really good encore one! Rewind was such a great thing to do because quite often we do performances and friends and family come and watch but at that one I don’t think anyone really knew that we were going to be there — and to get that sort of reaction and an encore was brilliant.”

Tickets for Sunday’s concert are £12 in advance www.quaytickets.com or by calling 0843 208 0500.

Caversham Rock Choir will be in concert tomorrow (Saturday) at Reading Minster at 7.30pm.

For more information on Rock Choir, visit www.rockchoir.com

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