About 15 years ago I was asked to beef up the church choir for the Christmas period. This came about after the lady in charge of the choir had been in the pew ahead of me during a service and, having clearly heard me sing, told me after the service that I ‘had a good voice’. I took up the challenge with that small choir, and discovered that I rather enjoyed the process of singing with others. When I retired from full time work 2 or 3 years later, I took a course of singing lessons to improve my craft and confidence. After that I mentioned to few people that I would like to do more with singing, but just wasn’t sure what. One of my work colleagues asked me if I had ever considered singing Barbershop, to which I replied that it had crossed my mind, and that was certainly something I would explore. I did some googling, and located my nearest Barbershop chorus, Oxford Harmony. I was encouraged by their membership secretary to simply attend and see what I thought. I found the members so welcoming and friendly that I decided to join up. That was over 9 years ago, and I’m still enjoying the club and the singing.
When I was still working, I walked past a solicitors’ office every day, and for a time they had a ‘Learn to Sing’ poster up. I walked past it a few times, and eventually stopped and wrote down the phone number and called it. The guy I spoke to was really friendly, so I turned up on the start day of the programme, had my voice tested (bass) and so it began. I had sung in church choirs before, but I quickly came to love the sound, the repertoire, the challenge of learning and performing the songs and above all the really friendly nature of the guys, and the encouragement they gave me. Believe me, many choirs outside barbershop are not like that. I never looked back, and it all started from walking past that poster in the street.
I discovered barbershop at university. I’d previously had a 4 part female quartet at school that I arranged for, but somehow didn’t know about barbershop until a quartet from MUBC (Manchester University Barbershop Chorus) came into my first music lecture and sang to us. I loved it! My friends joined and performed at the Christmas concert and I was sold (they later became Tagline). In second year I started a female chorus to complement the male chorus, and in third year we joined to form MUBS (Manchester University Barbershop Singers). So glad that quartet came into our lecture!!
I have sung all my life, though without any formal training, mostly in the song section of a folk display group. A local barbershop group, King of Herts, set up a four-week taster course which sounded fun, so I tried it out. I really enjoyed it, but had no time left over from folk to make another major commitment. After retiring from my main employment, I went to work in Australia for a year. I came across the local barbershop group, Canberra Chordsmen, singing outside one of the museums, and after their show they invited me to sing a tag or two with them: challenging, but very rewarding. So I joined them for the rest of my stay, and got in touch with the group nearest my new home in North Wales, Friends in Harmony, with whom I am still singing five years later.
I was a 13 year-old who sang as a chorister. I was browsing YouTube, and by chance I stumbled upon a video of the quartet Acoustix singing “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over”. That was enough to catch me, hook, line, and sinker. I spent a large portion of my teenage years enjoying videos of barbershop (chiefly the top USA quartets and choruses) and other kinds of a cappella on YouTube. With the exception of a short-lived quartet formed at school, I didn’t do any barbershop singing with other human beings, even though I was a big fan — I didn’t know there was an outlet.
Fast forward five years, and I saw advertised that Vocal Spectrum were coming to the UK for a couple of shows in 2012. I snapped up the chance to go and see that in a heartbeat, and at the show I met a couple of people who mentioned FUSE, an upcoming workshop day that would bring together a youth barbershop chorus. When I attended that, I still didn’t know what BABS was. However, I met Pippa Goodall at the event. She explained to me what BABS was and told me I should come to “a convention”, whatever that was. I did (Bournemouth 2013), and I’ve been actively barbershopping ever since then.
John Grant sent me his reply directly, & I love it …!
John Grant – My journey into Barbershop (or Where did the time go)
I grew up with music and singing. My mum played piano, and we used to stand around singing and providing what harmony we could. I joined a church choir as a boy treble and tried a number of instruments in the school orchestra. I can get a sound out of most instruments but no music from any of them!
I sang in a number of choirs; school choir, college choir, male voice and Glee Club. I had always been interested in harmony and enjoyed popular harmony groups of the day including The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots.
I was playing rugby at a time when singing ribald ballads was popular but I always felt that the unison singing was missing something. One of the local rugby clubs organised a singing competition. They sent out the music to the ‘Whiffenpoof Song’ and we were allowed one song of own choice. We sang Sloop John B and won the competition. We thought that we were a fantastic group ready to take on the world. However the commitment to actually learn a real arrangement took its toll on some of the guys and we finished up with just 4 of us. Fortunately, 2 tenors and 2 basses so it gave us some flexibility.
We started singing around some local pubs and people started calling us a barbershop quartet even though we had no real concept of what that was at the time. One of the guys heard Charlie Chester on the radio talking about a barbershop competition to be held in Newcastle and although we tried, we found it difficult to find any more information about the event – no Internet or web in those days.
During the next year I got a new job and relocated to Derbyshire but still met up with my singing buddies occasionally.
The following year, again on Charlie Chester, we heard of another barbershop competition to be held in Brighton. This time we were in luck. One of the guys had a girlfriend who lived in Brighton and she was tasked with finding out some more details. She came back to us and told us that it was happening at the Butlin’s Ocean Hotel.
A call to the hotel put me in touch with George Beer. I rang George and said that we would like to come along to their gathering. This was on a Thursday and the convention started on the Friday. George told me that everything had been booked up for months and that there were no available rooms. Thwarted again! I said to George that if he should have a late cancellation, could he give me a ring. He asked me what club I belonged to; having no idea that barbershop choruses existed or were formed into clubs, I told him “Gosford All Blacks Rugby Club”. He then explained the club structure of barbershop in the UK even though there were only about 6 choruses in that time. This was 1975.
George rang me back later on the Thursday saying that there was indeed a cancellation but only one person would be able to go. The cost was £12.00 for the weekend including food and accommodation. I made a unilateral decision that it should be me that attended, the other 3 were going to come to Brighton and stay with the aforementioned girlfriend and we arranged to meet up.
As I entered the Ocean Hotel the next day, 4 women arrived at virtually the same time. All dressed the same and wearing tiaras. They were asked if they would sing a song and they opened up with ‘Oh Susannah’. My knees literally buckled at the sound and that was it. I was a barbershopper. The quartet was The Brons Tones and they just blew me away (http://www.barbershophistory.c…..ons-tones/)
I had a fabulous, harmonious weekend. I sang ‘My Wild Irish Rose’ and ‘Down our Way’ amongst other polecats. The quartet competition was won by the Fivebridge Four and Crawley Chordsman won the chorus competition.
Whilst in Brighton, I made contact with Phil Bricknell and Mick Barnacle from the Nottingham Gateway club. Their rehearsal hall was only about 20 miles from where I lived and they said that I would be welcome to come to a rehearsal. I did just that and having sung on the risers for an hour or so, 3 guys approached me an asked if I would be interested in auditioning to be the baritone in their quartet. I auditioned there and then and that was it, my first rehearsal and already I’m in my first quartet.
At the first quartet rehearsal, they said that they were all part of the judging programme and decided that I must join. The one category they were missing was ‘Balance and Blend’ so it was decided that I should join that category at the seminar to be held on the next weekend. My quartet members were David Charlton also known as Chollo (tenor) who was in the Arrangement category, Les Wakefield (lead) judged Harmony Accuracy and John Baker (bass) was part of the Contest Administration group.
So there we are, 3 weeks after my first chorus rehearsal, I’m in a quartet and part of the judging programme. I think it was meant to be.
Des Ryan sent me his his contribution directly …
In response to your request in HEX, my first experience of Barbershop was listening to the Buffalo Bills in The Music Man. The sound they made just blew me away and I never forgot it. A few years later the Round Table club I was in were challenged to enter a Barbershop competition with other round table clubs. I volunteered to be one of the quartet. We knew an experienced barbershopper and he coached us for a few weeks, during which we learned Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Commence The Dancing. We won the competition but to be fair the other quartets, good singers as the were, didn’t know anything about Barbershop singing and the Judge being a barbershopper, it was really a “walk-over”.
The quartet coach then started a local barbershop club, which I immediately joined, then re-joined 20 years later when I retired from working overseas.
I am currently with The Taunton club.
Des went on to tell me that that first quartet coach was Cliff Watson and the club was The Shyboys from Bridgwater, Somerset (competed at Convention C1980.)
Thanks Des. Some great memories & observations here … The Buffalo Bills in the Music Man … Wow! That’s what you call a recruitment tool …!!