|As usual Convention weekend began with the BABS Quartet Semi-Finals on Friday afternoon. This year Grand Central Chorus were represented by Mark Soave, our Bari section lead, who was singing with The Eclectic Quartet. Our MD, Zac Booles was singing baritone in The Locksmiths, who along with Finest Hour (Eddie, Nick and James Williams, and Jonny Pipe) were competing for an International qualifying score for BHS Convention in 2020. Unfortunately The Eclectic Quartet didn’t progress to the Finals (although they finished in an excellent 10th place) but both The Locksmiths and Finest Hour were there.
On Saturday, as we had an on-stage time of 3.17pm, most of the chorus were able to enjoy a leisurely start to contest day – apart from one of our baritones, John Armstrong, and one of our leads, Hector Jaumandreu, who were also competing earlier in the day with Tuxedo Junction with MK Acapella respectively. Later in the contest, we also had lead Martin Kelly, bass Wilf Pattison and baritone Chris Sherwin singing with Three Spires Harmony from Coventry.
Our chorus spent two hours from 11.30am doing vocal warmups and rehearsing the key parts of our new contest package, which consisted of ‘Taking a Chance on Love Medley’ followed by a ballad, ‘Please Don’t Say It’s Over’, which is a completely original song, with music by Richard Curtis and lyrics by Zac Booles. We then all travelled down together to the Convention Centre by coach to change into our new stage outfits, before completing a final brief rehearsal and then taking to the contest stage.
As has happened for the past few years, we were fortunate to be drawn in the second half of the chorus contest (which had attracted a total of 35 choruses from across the UK) and so the auditorium was reasonably full when we took to the stage. As usual, our performance seemed to be over so quickly, but the audience reaction was wonderful, with great support from our wives, partners, families and friends who had travelled to Bournemouth to watch us. Two of our chorus, Nigel Smith and Chris Sherwin, were singing with Grand Central Chorus for the first time at Convention.
We delivered a controlled and emotionally engaging performance, which reflected the significant development of the chorus over the past year under the guidance of our MD, Zac Booles, our coaches, Richard Curtis, Barry Clinton and Peter Tatham, plus section leaders Pete Walters , Frank Salter, Mark Soave and Mark Burnip - not forgetting the invaluable input this year from our guest coach Gary Plaag, who travelled from the USA on three separate occasions during our pre-Convention preparations to be with us.
The 2019 BABS Chorus contest results confirmed later that afternoon that we had finished in fifth place with (for us) a disappointing score of 78.7%. However, it was another great contest and many congratulations to all in Hallmark of Harmony who won gold with their highest ever score of 83.2%, and to Meantime Chorus from Greenwich who, in only their third BABS Chorus contest finished in silver medal position with a score of 80.4%. Congratulations also to Great Western Chorus who won the bronze medal with 80.4% just one point behind Meantime Chorus. The Royal Harmonics finished one place ahead of us in fourth place with a score of 79.7%. The continued increase in the overall standard of chorus performances at BABS Conventions was confirmed this year with 20 choruses scoring over 65%.
As at every Convention, at the end of the Chorus contest, and before the scores were announced, BABS presented long membership awards. This included GCC members Eddie, James and Nick Williams (25 year-awards) plus one of our three Honorary Lifetime members Phil Cuthbert (25 year-award), a 30-year award to Pete Morrell and a 40-year award to Peter Tatham! Congratulations to them all!
Another Grand Central Chorus Convention tradition is that we gather and sing a few repertoire songs just before the Saturday evening show. We did this again at Bournemouth delighting those who had gathered to hear us perform.
On Sunday, the Mixed Chorus Contest was held on Sunday afternoon, before the Quartet Finals. As in previous years, there was good Grand Central Chorus representation, both from several GCC members and their wives. Congratulations to Paul and Karen Searson, who together with Hector Jaumandreu, won Silver medals with Endeavour Chorus. EQ Rendezvous were also taking part, co-directed by Dick and Delyth Knight, and included Ralph and Sylvy Keenan, as well as our Assistant MD, Kevan Liebling. Finally, Heart of England Chorus included Dave and Sharon Eason, and Nigel and Cherry Smith. Great to have so many members and friends of our chorus involved.
The Quartet Finals produced yet another exciting contest of extremely high quality, and congratulations to all the 2019 medallists. Finest Hour and The Locksmiths, as previously mentioned, were looking to gain a qualifying score for the 2020 BHS International Quartet Contest in Los Angeles and, as the highest scoring quartet in the 2019 Quartet Finals, Finest Hour have been given the single automatic place that BABS can award.
As a further six quartets scored over 76%, (the top three in the BABS Quartet Contest, plus previous BABS Champions, Tagline, Emerald Guard and The Locksmiths) BABS will now ask BHS for invitations for these quartets - although it’s never absolutely certain until after the results of the various BHS District Competitions in Spring 2020. However, we can’t wait to watch continued progress of so many high scoring BABS Quartets on the International stage!
Finally, BABS inducted the 2008 Quartet Champions, Monkey Magic into the BABS Hall of Fame. This is such a well-deserved honour for these amazing singers and ambassadors for Barbershop. They have done so much over the past decade to raise the profile of UK Barbershop and inspired so many of the younger generation to start singing four-part harmony. The YouTube video of their iconic ‘Evolution of Song’ performance at the 2011 LABBS Convention (as the Great British Barbershop Boys) has been viewed almost 1.6 million times around the world!
So 2019 gave us another very enjoyable BABS Convention and our thanks to all those volunteers on the BABS Board and especially Alan Bithell and his entire Convention team, who spend so much time working hard to ensuring a successful and safe event. Within our own chorus, and in addition to our coaches mentioned earlier, there are many others whose help before and during the Convention ensured everyone in the chorus enjoyed a successful weekend:
Our MD, Zac Booles, for his continued inspiration, leadership and belief in the chorus; our in-house arranging team (Zac, Richard Curtis and Mark Burnip) whose skills continue to deliver us such unique arrangements and songs to perform; our Assistant MD Kevan Liebling for his usual detailed briefing document; Steve Rose and Peter Sayer for all their planning and organising our accommodation; Bill Traynor and Martin York for their care and transport of our risers to and from Bournemouth; Mike McWhinney and Paul Searson for their organisation of our new performance clothing and finally our Treasurer, George McKie, for ensuring all relevant payments relating to the Convention were made on time.
As usual, we are already setting our sights on next year’s 46th BABS Convention in Harrogate and working even harder over the coming 12 months to try and regain our place amongst the BABS Chorus medals!
Nelson Blackley PRO - Grand Central Chorus