ConnectsMusic drops back in to hear more from Richard Loftus of Birminghams’ THSH catching up with Shereece Storrod and Carol Pemberton MBE of Black Voices UK – Europe’s finest female a cappella quintet, about what’s coming up soon, and their recent performance at Buckingham Palace.
For over three decades the ensemble has captivated global audiences with their music and performances in the black oral tradition – an early music form that is based on the ancient folklore and storytelling of Africa and the Caribbean which have impacted the development of classical and more recent music genres such as blues, jazz and pop.
From world tours to community engagement, Black Voices UK have an expansive career – tune in below to hear the wonders of this incredible group.
BTW If you’re out and about, can’t play audio or reading’s more you’re thing than videos, check our conversation transcription below
Hello, my name is Richard Loftus, and I am here today chatting to the founder of Europe’s finest female acapella quintet and the Artistic Director. Hello, Carol, Shereece. Hi! How are you both?
Very well, Black Voices are doing really well. And we’re doing very well.
I know you’re doing phenomenally because you’ve been performing at Symphony Hall this morning for a setting off the conference no less. So you’re performing the hits of Aretha Franklin, is that right?
That’s quite a feat at you know, nine o’clock in the morning. For singing Aretha!
Yeah, I bet. So tell me what were you performing this morning? What were the songs that people got a sneak preview of Rocksteady
which is quite lively. And even? Yeah, even at nine o’clock in the morning, people from the greater Birmingham and Solihull local enterprise partnerships, were just doing their little thing in their chair. So that was nice to see. And then we did a bit of a medley sisters are doing it for themselves. And let’s see the winter if you’re waiting. Oh, no, you’re waiting for me. Yeah.
You know that one has a close space in my heart. Of course, audiences have the opportunity to see you perform that next year, because this is part of your music off series, which is something Am I right in saying that that’s something you’ve been developing? sharees?
Yes. So I’ve been producing shows. And we’ve done Nina Simone, which has been going down a storm. And then we’ve been doing Aretha Franklin haven’t been able to get our teeth into Aretha yet because of COVID and lockdown. But really looking forward to doing it lots more in 2022. And yeah, can’t wait to share it with Birmingham Symphony Hall.
And these are iconic women. I mean, Nina Simone, for example, Carol is someone that you’ve actually performed with as black voices. What was that experience? Like?
Very humbling. I think there are some phenomenal musicians that we draw on. And Nina Simone is up there with the best of the best. I think people who really want to get into jazz. Nina is a great place to start. And what’s great about her music is it speaks to life, her life, but so many things within your own life resonate with, you know, the words and music that she created. So yeah, Nina was the first show that she Reese produced for black voices with a wider ensemble in band. And, yeah, we really pour our heart and soul into that because I think for a lot of us who were involved in the first time we really dug into Nina’s music and understood where it was coming from.
Now tell me, You performed before Nina Simone’s concerts now, who makes that phone call to you? Is Nina picking up the phone to you and saying hello, will you come on down? How does that work? And then what happens when you get there?
Well, we wish it was Nina who was picking up the phone? I’m pretty sure she has a say in whether it is or not us. But no. When she was alive, it was her agents and our agents that were speaking to see whether black voices was a good fit for her. And I think as a person who was a civil rights activist, he was very vocal in the civil rights movement in the States. And Little Black voices from Birmingham being part of the ANC voice during apartheid. I think there were some bits that resonated with both camps. And so yeah, we were always a great fit. So we opened for her across Europe, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, those kind of places. But more importantly, we opened for her here in Brighton. So yeah, we have very fond memories of opening the stage for an icon.
Incredible. And Shereece, tell me who else can we expect to hear as part of your music of series? We’ve got Nina. We’ve got Aretha who is next.
Have no idea. And so we’ve been talking about this a lot lately. Like who should the next person be? And I? I don’t know if we need another one right now. I feel like we’re still finding our feet with Nina and Aretha. And yeah, I might be a combination of people that we do next. I don’t know. Maybe we need to celebrate some men in music, because we’ve got two very iconic women. And there are some great men that you know Stevie Wonder. Quincy Jones has got an amazing catalogue of work.
Michael Jackson, like, I don’t know, like, I feel like maybe we need to do a little thing. mashup of men. Yeah. Maybe
a mash up of men feels like that’s what will be sprawled over the post. Yeah, um, and, of course, the music of series is just one of the things that black voices do at Symphony Hall. The other thing, of course, is your partnership with the music, leading on community spirit, which is an annual project, which finally celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. And this and this 2022 performance is got quite a lot going on, hasn’t it? Carol, there is brand new music that’s been commissioned by black voices and an incredibly exciting partnership. So what can you tell us?
Not a lot at the moment because we’re still sworn to secrecy over a lot of things. But I can hint at the fact that the Commonwealth Games are taking place in our city next year. So we’ve chosen the theme of anthems or anthemic songs. And I think that will give choirs quite a bit of scope, to choose music that resonates with everybody, audience and performer, and will encourage people to join in, we are commissioning people’s anthem, and we hope it will be really celebratory, joyful, full of love, full of hope, talking about moving forward together, because we really need that coming out of this pandemic.
What an incredible theme anthems Shereece. What makes a song anthemic – what makes it an anthem?
Oh, lots of different things, great lyrics, memorable lyrics, something that, you know, people will remember that, you know, easy. A great hook, that can be vocal, it can be instrumental. And yeah, just I think simplicity. I think the, some of the best anthems are really simple in their structure. So, yeah, you can have, you know, a little bit of intricacy here and there. But I think, you know, simple kind of stands the test of time, and you know, something that people remember for a long time to come.
Carol, Community spirit 10 year anniversary. Take us back 10 years ago, how did this project start?
I think we had started a relationship with Town Hall at the time. And it’s going back a long time, I think, because it was in 2007. I think 2006 2007. And Town Hall had approached us and said, You’re associate artists of the hall, we want to do something special and unique with black voices. Can you come up with any ideas. And at the same time, we were working with lots and lots of choirs up and down the country, but especially around the Midlands, and they were always saying, You guys performing Town Hall, Symphony Hall all these places? Why can’t you do something that, you know, brings us in with you? And so we sat down as a group and we were thinking, what’s the best way to marry both of these ideas? We always knew that the partnership was going to be through our outreach program. So we thought, Well, why don’t we open this offer? Open it to choirs, and let’s see if we can create an offer that’s attractive, that will want choirs to sign up site choirs will want to sign up to and yeah, we came up with the idea of community spirit. And it was really about choirs coming together. Different styles of choirs, so gospel jazz folk, you know, barbershop, male voice, whoever, and just learning from each other’s styles and sharing repertoire. So yeah, and we did the first one in town hall, back in 2007. We really didn’t expect anybody to turn up to be honest. But it was sold out in no time at all, because what we hadn’t figured is that each choir brings their own audience. They bring their own group of supporters. So if you’ve got 10 choirs involved, of course, those 10 choirs are bringing loads of people to the venue. So yeah, in no time at all. we outgrew the town hall, we moved the project to Symphony Hall. We’ve remained there ever since. And it’s been it’s been amazing. To be honest. I’ve learned so much over the years about the richness of choral music that’s in our city and talent that’s in our city. And I really think it gives Wasn’t there a community choirs an opportunity to perform on the biggest stage in Birmingham, perhaps in Europe, perhaps in the world? Because Symphony halls has such a great reputation worldwide.
I mean, you’ve touched on there, you’ve led us into an excellent segue into our next topic of conversation by talking about the brilliance of the city of Birmingham and all the focus that’s going to be on the city in the next year. Now, the pair of you with black voices were at a very special location only a month ago, celebrating the launch of the Queen’s Baton Relay. So tell me a little bit about what it’s like to go to Buckingham Palace. Sure, Reese.
Um, it’s surreal. There are lots and lots of security checks for obvious reasons. But yeah, it was just it was just like, wow. I think when we did the soundcheck, I was like, oh, because he couldn’t take your phone in. But it’s like, this is like the one moment that you really want your phone to take a selfie. So you can show everybody like I’m not lying. But yeah, it’s just an amazing feeling. And yeah, even though there was lots of security and all the rest of it, I think everybody was really friendly and really accommodating and really complimentary. You know, after our soundcheck, people were like waiting around, just to listen to us, which felt really good.
And this isn’t the first time that you’ve been to Buckingham Palace, Carol. Is it as exciting every time that you go? Does it feel different? Or do you just you know, he’s just used to it now you kind of like yeah, we do this all the time.
I would never say that. We’re used to it. We’re not that important. But yes, it’s been very different every time I mean, we’ve been to you know, picnic on the lawn, the palace we’ve been to, well, I my MBE was given to me by Prince William at Buckingham Palace. But this time was very different and hugely special for black voices. Because it was like Birmingham took over Buckingham Palace, the whole focus was on our city. So to be part of the Queen’s Baton Relay alongside, you know, the CBSO KC baleia poet laureate, and lots of schoolkids, you know, from schools around Birmingham, who stood for a very long time during that whole ceremony. It was just great. The whole focus was on Birmingham and we were just proud to be a part of that in front of you know, the dignitaries of our country you know, just everywhere you look there was somebody that you you think wow, okay, I must be important, you know, to be chosen to sing in front of somebody like that so yeah, and then to have you know, Keir Starmer tell us you were absolutely fantastic. You know, when he didn’t have to say anything we just felt Wow, okay. Job done.
Isolate. I mean, you’ve mentioned Keir Starmer there. Sharif, tell me some of the other selfies that you missed out on. We Starmer who else did we miss?
Wow. Um, actually, I don’t know a lot of the the other dignitaries that were there because they were representing the of the Commonwealth countries but our local council letter Perry Barr cancelar. Mahmood, he was present and he actually grabbed us for a selfie. Bizarre. He was like, girls Quick, quick get in. That was quite nice. But a lot of the athletes that were there actually, Kadeena Cox, who’s on I’m a celebrity at the moment. So she’s actually sat right in front of me, which was like, I wish I could just have a little photo moment right now. But yeah, no phones.
What’s amazing about what you spoken about and actually what seems to be a through line with black voices is just the incredible community of people that you create a nurture around you. I’ve had the absolute privilege of being part of that, particularly during lockdown where we moved community spirit online. What is it about music? Carol? Do you think that brings people together in that way?
Oh, it’s just the greatest therapy. I think. I think anybody through your life you can mark important moments in your life through bits of music that you played at that time. And I think singing has a particular singing with other people. Just makes that so much more I’m richer in terms of therapy. So I think us taking community spirit online was just the best thing for so many people, you know, who couldn’t meet in person, but even meeting online and even though we were singing to our cameras on our laptops and our phones and stuff, there was something very unifying about it and very uplifting. So, yeah, you can’t beat you can’t beat music. And you certainly can’t be thinking as far as I’m concerned.
And the community obviously, that was online for community spirit online, we come back together in person, but you also nurture a community at your home Grosvenor Road Studios where Sharif is now. So Sharif, I know. We’re going to be talking about GoPro studios again soon, which people can tune in for another time. But tell us what’s going on there this week.
Gosh, I was here until 10pm. Last night, so we had a recording studio one. We had a rehearsal in the studio too. And then we had our own rehearsal for that gig this morning at Symphony Hall. We’ve got rushed theatre company coming back next year for their new production that they’ll be doing, I think it’s Bob Marley and something else. We’ve had red earth collective in doing their stereo hype workshops, working with people with mental health conditions. So they’ve been in doing their workshops every Thursday. Then they launched their Bedlam Festival last weekend, and had a number of events around the city at Cherry reds at the Mac. And it’s just been insanely busy, but really, really good.
It’s incredible what black race has achieved, not just the music that you make, but what you achieve beyond that is nothing short of phenomenal is always a privilege to talk about it. If people have enjoyed listening to us chat about it, like I said, just then we’re gonna be chatting again in a few weeks time about everything that goes on at Grosvenor Road Studios and the incredible history of that location. But for now, we’re gonna wave goodbye and we look forward to seeing you soon.
Okay, take care. Bye
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