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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Making music in Cumbria with Sing Owt

Having a bad day? Feeling stressed or miserable? Then you need a song in your heart. That’s what Dave Camlin believes. And that is the idea behind his singing group.

Andy Beeforth photo
Andy Beeforth

Four years ago the musician and songwriter set up an informal choir called Sing Owt to bring together anyone who enjoys singing – regardless of their talent or musical knowledge.

Rehearsals started again last night and are continuing every Monday evening, and he is encouraging more would-be singers to give it a try.

It is his firm belief that it will do them the world of good.

“People feel really uplifted after singing,” Dave maintains. “What they say most often is that they may have had a rotten week, they may have had all sorts of things going wrong, they may feel low in energy – but after singing their spirits are raised.

“They know that whatever happens they will feel better at the end of the sessions. There’s a real therapeutic benefit to it.”

Other Sing Owt singers agree. As alto Annie Wilson says: “It’s good for the soul and the body.”

And bass Andy Beeforth adds: “It’s a real stress-buster.”

Sing Owt rehearses between 7pm and 9pm each Monday evening at the Quaker Meeting House in Scotch Street in Whitehaven. It has about 20 members, of all ages and from all walks of life, with about a dozen turning up to each session.

But Sing Owt is no ordinary choir. Singers don’t have to audition and or even know how to read music. The only qualification for membership is a delight in singing with others.

“People don’t need to have previous experience and they don’t even need to think they can sing,” Dave says.

“It’s surprising how many people enjoy singing but don’t think of themselves as good enough. There are a lot of barriers.

“But over the years we’ve done a lot of live performances.”

And Sing Owt’s repertoire is wider than most choirs. It covers rock, pop, blues, gospel, folk songs, new compositions and even a little Gregorian chant.

In a typical night the choir could find themselves singing Canny Auld Cumberland and John Reay’s The Banks of Ellen alongside American Idiot by Green Day, Caravan of Love by the Housemartins and the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B.

But any form of music will do – as long as it gives the singers the satisfaction of hearing their voices blended together.

“There’s something really magical about harmony,” Dave explains “People feel really pleased with themselves when they hear a beautiful sound and know they have made it.

“There’s something about making music together that really unites people.”

That is one of the benefits Annie derives from it. The 54-year-old teacher from Whitehaven was once a keen Morris dancer and had always enjoyed the sense of teamwork and bonding that came from dancing.

“It was time to hang up my clogs, but I missed doing something in a group,” she recalls. “My husband and I were looking for something we could do together.”

At first Annie worried that her voice might not be good enough. She remembers: “The first time I went I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to carry on.

“But since then I’ve been on stage in Keswick and Kendal and I’ve sung on the shores of Derwentwater. Most of us have joined in the live performances.

“You can improve your voice by singing more and you grow in confidence. I think my voice has improved a lot since I started – though I don’t know whether Dave would say that!”

The two-hour sessions are always enjoyable but tiring by the end, and Annie believes it’s excellent exercise. “It feels like quite a good workout. It’s good for your health and well-being – for the soul and the body.”

Annie’s husband David Day joined with her. He had sung “only very occasionally”, he says, but had never been part of a choir before.

“I sang in chapel when I was young and I always enjoyed singing Christmas carols,” says David, 64. “I know I’ve got a loud voice.

“But I don’t read music. And I didn’t like the idea of singing one piece for three months, just for one performance.

“What I like is that we sing a whole range of music. We’ve done South African work songs, Hebridean songs and gospel – it’s great fun. Or Dave will bring along some Green Day or Snow Patrol.”

Like Annie, David has noticed an improvement. “I always had a good ear for a tune and could whistle it, but I could never remember the words before.

“I sing with more confidence now I know I can do it.”

For David, a particular pleasure comes from hearing music you already know and love being recreated by human voices – including your own.

“We were doing a Bob Marley number once and I was singing the bass guitar line,” he remembers. “There’s a song you’ve loved for ages – and then suddenly you find yourself a part of it.”

David works as a co-ordinator with Age UK so already knew about the physical and mental benefits of being part of a choir.

“We have a project about keeping active and getting out and meeting people. Sing Owt is very good for that. When you’ve been singing lustily for two hours your muscles have been well used. There’s that element of workout, from the inside out.”

Annie and David were among the founder members but Andy Beeforth joined this year when he moved to Whitehaven.

Andy, 42, wasn’t new to singing. “I was in a similar group where I used to live,” he says. “But it wasn’t as good or as friendly.

“There’s a wonderful mix of people, and Dave is fantastic. I don’t read music or play an instrument, but he makes it really easy to get involved.

“I’ve become a great advocate for Sing Owt.”

Andy has learnt a lot of new music since joining, particularly Cumbrian folks songs, but says that for him it is most of all a great way to relax.

“I find it a real stress-buster. It clears your head, you are using a different part of your brain, you lose yourself in music for a couple of hours and you have a laugh.

“I can’t remember an evening when we haven’t all been laughing at some point.”

The most recent recruits to Sing Owt is a newcomer to Cumbria. Fran Guittap is from Islington in north London but moved to Beckermet last year to work as a civil engineer at Sellafield.

“I was in a choir in London so when I came here I was looking for something in the local area,” explains Fran, 25.

“I felt at home straight away.”

Fran finds the Cumbrian folk songs in the repertoire particularly interesting.

“You get some really good harmonies with them” she says. “A lot of the traditional stuff is completely new to me.”

And so is the accent. “I have a few problems pronouncing the words in the Cumbrian dialect,” she admits.

But like all the other singers Fran wholeheartedly recommends it.

“I’m now trying to get people from work to go!”

Sing Owt rehearsals will take place from 7pm to 9pm every Monday evening until December 20.

Membership for the term costs £45, £36 for the over 50s and £13.50 for benefit recipients.

For more details contact Dave at dave@davecamlin.co.uk or phone 07841 235134.

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