This is a slight deviation from my usual postings. But I think it’s justified. Because on Friday I had the opportunity to sing with the international recording artist Damien Rice, at the London Palladium. Which is not the kind of invitation you turn down!
Anyone who knows me will be forgiven for re-reading that last sentence; it’s not a statement they probably ever expected to come from me. So I will explain. I was singing with the community choir London City Voices; and we joined Damien on stage for his finale – the exquisitely beautiful and powerful song Trusty and True. You probably haven’t heard of it yet, because it comes from his new album released literally just this week. But you will.
Forgive me for sounding clichéd but I can honestly say that it was one of those experiences that has you pinching yourself, even now two days afterwards. Every minute dedicated to that moment has been an absolute joy! From singing the song endlessly in the few days leading up to the event (and loving it more and more each time); to meeting him during rehearsal (what a lovely, totally grounded, warm-hearted guy); and then practising with him – as if that’s the most perfectly natural way to spend your Friday afternoon!
Then finally there was the excitement of us all creeping on stage and standing literally right behind him while he sang one of my all-time favourite songs, The Blower’s Daughter, live to an audience of over 2500 devoted fans. And as we silently stood there, our hearts pumping, we looked out on the crowd of devotees who had waited nearly a decade to hear him play live, and we revelled in the electricity; were deafened by the roar of their applause; and felt the growing butterflies in our stomachs. Because we knew that in minutes, now seconds, we too were going to open our mouths, and our hearts, and sing.
Finally, Damien asked the mikes to be switched off and started gently strumming his guitar. It was the start of what was, for this night at least, “our song”. The audience listened attentively and breathed in the delicacy of it, oblivious of the crescendo to come. The song slowly built and built in volume and intensity, until it was time for the secret to reveal itself. The male members of the choir softly started joining the chorus; we heard some quiet gasps from the audience. They had no clue what was going on, as we were standing in total darkness. As the intensity built up another notch it was finally the women’s turn and, as we joined in, simultaneously we were all illuminated. The response was something that is hard to express: the crowd whooped, cheered and clapped; the cameras began flashing in front of us in greater numbers, and the electricity seemingly increased tenfold.
And we sang. Oh how we sang! For this was our moment, and for a few precious chords the audience was ours as well as Damien’s. He was sharing the thrill, the excitement, the passion, the pride, the enormity of it with each one of us.
And did we let him down? Absolutely not. We did all we had been told to do. We were with him all the way, standing right behind him and giving it our all. We sang our hearts out. We did it for the crowd; we did it for Damien; we did it for Richard, our wonderful choir master; and we did it for ourselves. Because we may never get an opportunity like this again in our lifetimes, and we felt at that moment like the luckiest people on earth. The song’s intensity grew and grew and our voices grew louder and more intensely with it – until it reached that crashing, deafening, whooping climax that had the crowd on its feet! Then gently we brought them all back down again with our soft, gently humming to Damien’s final chords and words.
As the lights lifted and the applause finally faded, we trooped back to our dressing rooms; some of us in tears. Within minutes Damien was there too, for he had rushed to thank us. Because that’s the kind of person we had discovered him to be. And well, because thanks to that magical combination of a wonderful song that had just given birth; a beautiful singer; a fantastic and dedicated choir master; and a group of people determined to give it our all, we really were rather good! And he wanted to express his gratitude for that.
In return I’d like to thank Damien Rice and Richard Swan of London City Voices. You fulfilled many dreams that night; you gave me personally an experience that never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine occurring, and you created memories that will stay with us. Now our strides are that little bit springier; our heads that little bit higher and our smiles that little bit wider. We have sung at the London Palladium a song so beautiful that it’s destined to become the soundtrack to many people’s lives across this planet. And we sang it with Damien Rice. How can we possibly ever feel quite the same again?
I’ve included some behind the scenes pictures as we prepared for our performance. I think they convey how excited we were, and how beautiful we all looked (including Linda and Anne-Marie, featured, old friends and new). Because joy brings beauty. And besides, for that night at least, we were all stars – singing at the London Palladium!
You can hear the song here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=359335290&m=359414466
And hear us singing it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecaIZTTThdo&feature=youtu.be
Plus here’s a picture of Damien singing that I took with my i phone just before we stepped on stage, and one of me on stage during the rehearsal – just to remind myself that it really happened, and finally one of us all with Damien Rice – I’m the one standing to the right of him looking deliriously happy! (Photo courtesy of Mark Doyle, who has posted more pictures and clips on twitter: https://twitter.com/markcoyle65/media)