We caught up with director of the award-winning Town Hall Gospel Choir, Colin Anderson as the talented singers celebrate 10 years
There’s nothing like being engulfed by the joyful wall of sound from a top gospel choir to lift the spirits. This year, Birmingham’s own Town Hall Gospel Choir celebrates its tenth birthday, and inspiring director Colin Anderson has been at the helm since its inception in 2008. He’s steered the group of talented voices through the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year competition triumphantly.
It all started with the reopening of Town Hall in 2007 after its £35million renovation which culminated in a week of celebrations including a big concert featuring the likes of Ruby Turner, Soweto Kinch and Town Hall Associate Artists Black Voices. A choir of 90 singers was recruited from the city’s gospel communities to participate in the celebrations to perform a reimagined soulful gospel version of Handel’s Messiah.
DATE WITH BBC
The choir was initially auditioned and trained by Town Hall Associates Black Voices director, Ken Burton. Colin was one of those 90 voices and he remembers: “It was a great extravaganza. We redid it in 2008 which was recorded for BBC Radio 3.” The choir was such a success that it was felt it absolutely deserved to be continued. A recruitment drive for a permanent gospel choir at the Town Hall attracted an amazing level of interest. Colin was installed as choir director and it’s been going strong ever since originally rehearsing at the old Conservatoire. He says: “I was blessed. I sang as part of the original choir, applied for the position and got it.”
The choir is essentially a non-professional community choir who describe themselves as a ‘family of individuals from all walks of life who have come together in one accord, and with one unifying passion. Singing.’ The community element is lovely but make no mistake, the audition process and subsequent rehearsals aren’t easy. Colin likes each auditionee to sit in on a couple of sessions, so they can see just what’s required. With over two hours of rehearsing on a Tuesday and three hours on a Sunday, it’s quite a commitment.
CHOIR OF THE YEAR
Colin lives in London, but spends two or three days in Birmingham every week. He says: “The breadth of musicianship and standard is really high. We don’t actually sing a lot of standard gospel. What I love doing is taking what gospel groups do and turning into choir.”
Entering the first ever BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year in 2013 was exhilarating and the group really had no idea how they would fair. Hosted by David Grant, the competition was broadcast from Town Hall which made being involved and ultimately winning, even sweeter. In the final the 30-strong choir beat five church and community choirs from across the UK to take the title.
Colin’s background is classical choral but for the last 20 years he has focused on gospel style and technique. He says: “I love the energy and the gospel message. It’s uplifting.” He’s keen to point out that despite gospel’s roots, singers of any faith are welcome to audition. The choir takes traditional hymns and gives them a gospel twist. Versatility is one of the group’s strengths and they’re as happy performing acapella as with a big band or full orchestra.
The choir has performed overseas as far afield as France and Portugal. Closer to home some of their stand-out projects include Equinox: Cultures in Harmony, a celebration of the Olympic spirit of achievement, endeavour and friendship which was performed alongside 400 choral and percussion performers reflecting the cultural diversity of Birmingham. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence, the singers joined Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Urban Soul Orchestra and lead vocalist of Aswad, Brinsley Forde, to perform an orchestral interpretation of Bob Marley and The Wailers’ iconic album Catch a Fire. And when Grand Central opened, the choir was asked to join Ruby Turner for a performance in the vast space to celebrate its launch. Christmas is a busy time and Colin and the choir are working towards many performances over the festive period – too many to mention here – but if you get a chance to listen to them live, you’ll be all the more uplifted for it.