Sing-Along-A-Gareth: time to join Gareth Malone

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He’s encouraged schoolchildren, the partners of military personnel and young offenders to sing. Now Gareth Malone, “the nation’s most loved choirmaster”, wants to get everyone exercising their vocal chords as he tours theatres with his new show Sing-Along-A-Gareth.

It’s an idea that grew out of lockdown when Gareth was concerned that people weren’t allowed to come together in large groups and sing. So he introduced The Great British Home Chorus on YouTube. An average of 20,000 amateur and professional singers joined in the daily sessions, prompting Gareth to go out on the road and get everyone singing again.

“I’ve been practising on my own in my garden shed for a really long time,” he told me, “and I can’t wait to hear the sound of lots of people singing all at once.”

One of the venues on the tour is Nottingham Playhouse. Gareth will encourage everyone to belt out some of the songs he did on The Great British Home Chorus including Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, Ben E King’s Stand By Me and Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ from the musical Oklahoma!

But joining in won’t be obligatory: “Not everyone wants to sing and I think there’ll be a few reluctant partners but that’s fine.”

“On all my recent series I’ve been songwriting and playing lots of different instruments. I love it. It’s really fun to be on stage.”

Gareth is more than a singer and choirmaster. In the first half of the show he’ll demonstrate other talents, playing bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, ukulele and piano.

“It’s funny really because I probably do more of that than I do actually running choirs. I think it’s one of those things about television that you get rubber-stamped as one particular thing.

“On all my recent series I’ve been songwriting and playing lots of different instruments. I love it. It’s really fun to be on stage.”

Gareth has assembled some impressive singers and musicians who will join him on the tour.

Sara Brimer Davey was in The Swingles – formerly known as the Swingle Singers – for about ten years and recently backed multi-award-winning singer Sam Smith. “She’s an absolutely awesome session singer – she’s incredible,” says Gareth.

Laurel Neighbour is a “great” singer and choir director who will help Gareth to lead the audience.

Richard Beadle was until a few months ago the musical director of the hip-hop show Hamilton in the West End and percussionist Molly Lopresti worked on the new Abba Voyage avatar show at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The second half of Gareth’s touring show will involve a local choir joining him on stage “and helping to raise the rafters”. In Nottingham it will be Totally Vocally and Gareth will come to the city the week before the Playhouse show to rehearse with them. And in every venue there will be a new, local song.

“We’re definitely going to write a song about Nottingham,” says Gareth. “I’m hoping it will go deeper than Robin Hood riding through the glen. I’m looking for people to come with suggestions of a line or two.

“I never have anything in my head when we walk into the room. Somebody suggests a tune, we harmonise it and within five or six minutes the entire room is singing some newly created masterpiece which is really fun because that’s not going to happen in any other venue. That makes it special.

“I’m on stage for the whole two hours, talking to the audience, playing, singing, leading. You come off stage and you know you’ve worked.

“It’s that funny thing with music: it might seem like you’re doing two hours in the evening, which is nice and easy. I think it was Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones who said his career was 15% playing the drums and the rest was waiting around in order to play the drums.

“Music is like that – there’s so much background stuff going on and mental preparation and you can’t do anything else that day.”

Gareth is in no doubt why so many people enjoy singing: “It’s got a magical quality to it. It’s healing, it’s fun, it bonds you together with people who are standing next to you, it’s just a great thing to be in a room full of people singing. There are proven mental and physical health benefits to it.”

Gareth Edmund Malone was born on 9 November 1975 in London. He was educated at Bournemouth School before studying drama at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

The Military Wives choir and Gareth Malone outside Number 10 Downing Street before a reception for forces personnel returning from operations in Libya (image: Crown Copyright)

He was in the university choir and composed music for theatre productions. After graduating he gave private tuition and then ran the London Symphony Orchestra’s youth and community choirs.

In 2005 he was approached by a production company to make a television series about singing in schools. The result was The Choir.

“Going into a school and doing a programme about getting kids singing doesn’t sound like the stuff that TV dreams are made of. But The Choir was life-changing and it’s given me amazing opportunities to go to places and have some really great experiences.”

Nearly four million viewers watched the first series of The Choir which won a BAFTA in 2007. Two years later the follow-up, Boys Don’t Sing, picked up a similar award.

“It was unbelievable to have got two in a row. It was a great start to a career in telly. I thought that’s what happened all the time – you made a series and then won a BAFTA!” jokes Gareth who is just as endearing off screen as he is on television.

After that Gareth formed a choir, Military Wives, to help the wives and girlfriends of servicemen deployed to Afghanistan to express themselves through song. In 2011 their single Wherever You Are entered the UK singles chart at number one. He cites that as one of his proudest achievements along with being at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and making a series with young offenders at Aylesbury prison.

In 2010 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London in recognition of his music education work in the capital. Two years later he picked up an MBE for services to music in the Queen’s birthday honours.

Being well known has led to Gareth, who is married with three children, guesting on television programmes including Celebrity Masterchef, Would I Lie To You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

“Those things come in now and again. I always finish them and I think I’m so glad that I’m a musician. I’m lucky to do what I do. That really is the thing that motivates me.”

“I’ve always got ambition; nothing specific, just want to do bigger and better.”

He also surprised viewers by appearing as Cactus on the reality show The Masked Dancer in September.

“That was a lot of fun. It was something I never thought I would do. I had a bit of free time and it seemed like it would be a laugh. But they work you really hard. I properly learned to dance. It was a really good experience.”

Sing-Along-A-Gareth runs until the middle of December, then Gareth will concentrate on some projects he began in lockdown.

“I’m doing lots of writing. I try not to do the same thing twice. There’s usually a choral element (in whatever I do) but I try not to repeat and find new avenues musically. I’ve always got ambition; nothing specific, just want to do bigger and better.”

Gareth Malone has a huge number of followers through his television programmes and no doubt Sing-Along-A-Gareth will be sweet music to them. Whatever he does in the future is almost certain to hit the right note.

  • Sing-Along-A-Gareth will be at Nottingham Playhouse on Thursday 10 November

* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine

 

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