At primary school we had a wicked headteacher, Mr Benzie, who used to get us all singing hymns in assembly. This one time, a girl sitting at the back of the hall was letting out the most almighty bellow, seemingly unaware of the racket she was making. Bums shifted on the floor as kids turned around sniggering, and when the tune ended, Mr Benzie called her out.
But he wasn’t an arse. He said he wanted everyone else in the room to sing as loudly and enthusiastically as her. With that, the rest of the kids raised the volume and the smiles, and happily howled away.
The older we get, and the longer we go without singing, the more we’re inclined to shy away from it in public; unless, of course, you’ve sunk ten and it’s karaoke night at The Dog and Partridge. But I’ll be bobbed if you tell me you don’t have a cheeky tinkle on the cords when the shower’s streaming and you’ve got yer sponge wedged under your pit. And I bet you any amount of quids that it feels pretty good.
I clocked the Nottingham Voice Collective online and decided to head along for a workshop. When I got there, I nervously blurted out that I couldn’t hold a note, but the group was so welcoming that all worries soon faded. We were split into four sections: altos and sopranos (higher voices), as well as tenors and baritones (lower voices).
We had a right laugh with Abi learning different parts of songs, eventually chiming together to create a harmony. Those cheeky looks when we caught each other’s eyes said it all; we were flying.
“Everybody's in the same boat, no one's judging anybody,” says Abi. “Once you've gone past the initial scary bit of opening your mouth and letting a sound out, you just sing. There’s loads of support.”
After moving to Nottingham three years ago, Abi started running singing workshops: “I’ve worked in fish and chips shops, petrol stations, clothes shops and a bakery,” she says. “Now, I’m playing live, teaching performance, and singing. I went to church when I was young; I didn't have a clue what was going on, but I loved the music and started playing the keyboard at five. I'm more qualified in playing the violin than anything else, but singing has always been my favourite.”
Earlier this year, Abi and her choirs were invited – by Pitch Perfect’s musical director Deke Sharon – to perform at the David Geffen Hall in New York City for the Total Vocal concert: “It was so nerve wracking and exciting; there was around 275 singers on stage, and it was live streamed across the world,” says Abi.
The workshop, packed with blues, jazz, pop and rock music, was topped off with our rendition of Rag‘n’Bone Man’s Human. That, and the good feels, have been echoing through my bonce, and my lungs, for weeks.
Nottingham Voice Collective meet again at College Street Centre on Saturday 21 July, 1pm - 4pm. Tickets are £20.