This Friday, four of Glasgow’s community choirs will team up with Live Music Now Scotland musicians for an open air evening of song. The concert marks the finale to a songwriting project called ‘Sing Me a New Song’, where a local choir has spent the past few weeks working with folk singing duo Robyn Stapleton and Claire Hastings and pianist Alistair Paterson.
“The project highlights the regeneration of the much loved Kelvingrove Bandstand in Kelvingrove Park,” explains Claire, who took part in songwriting sessions with Voicebeat, a world music community choir based in Glasgow’s West End.
“It was a hub of music and activity for the last century until it fell into disrepair in the 1990s,” says Claire, describing the much loved landmark which hosted concerts by Wet Wet Wet and Simple Minds in its 1980s heydey, as well as political rallies, country dancing sessions and ‘punk picnics’. Since reopening last year, there have been many concerts and events held there, including Belle & Sebastian as part of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.
“Our project was to write new songs based on the bandstand,” says Claire. “It has been going incredibly well considering the time-scale, and songwriting seems to be a hidden talent for many of the group! We now have several really good songs which we are working on, and can’t wait to perform them at the bandstand on the 24th July.”
Tony Irwin, chair of Voicebeat choir, says the project has been “terrific”, and has introduced the choir to the process of songwriting, something they didn’t previously know very much about.
“As a choir, we sing unaccompanied harmonies, and perform songs from Russia, Mexico, Africa, America, Wales . . . We don’t learn the whole language of course!” he hastens to add. “We just copy the sounds.”
For this project with Live Music Now Scotland, Voicebeat visited Kelvingrove Bandstand for inspiration, then brainstormed some ideas to decide what the songs would be about.
“We brainstormed as a group about what Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Bandstand meant to us,” says Shelly Jeffcott, a singer in the choir, who arrived in Glasgow from Melbourne, Australia in 2012 and joined Voicebeat soon after.
“We talked about the sorts of emotions they evoked in us and agreed that keeping music and dance alive in public places was an important heartbeat of our city. Once we had collected a number of key phrases and themes, we broke into small groups to create specific lyrics which we brought back to the wider group again. Now we are beginning, with the help of Robyn, Claire and Alistair, to create melodies to fit the mood to songs that we have created. So it's a pretty special process.”
For the one-off concert this weekend, Voicebeat will share the lineup with three of Glasgow’s other community choirs; The Parsonage, The Sirens of Titan Choir and The Glad Community Choir. The latter, based in the Southside’s Glad Café, will be performing songs by the offbeat Glasgow singer and humorist, Ivor Cutler.
“It's wonderful to see so much creativity and fantastic songwriting from people who have never before written songs,” says Robyn, a frequent performer with Live Music Now Scotland and last year’s winner of BBC Radio Scotland's Young Traditional Musician of the Year. Claire Hastings, Robyn’s songwriting partner on Sing Me a New Song was given the award this year.
“At Voicebeat, people of all ages and nationalities are brought together by a common love of singing. We've all been moved and inspired by Glasgow's culture and history and we are using our common experience of Glasgow, it's landmarks and it's people, to inspire new music.”
Photo credit: Andrew Lee