Barbershop singing is not just for the boys

Published on: 28 Jul 2017

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WHEN four pals decided to enter a singing contest, they expected to have a good laugh and a fun day out.

But to their astonishment, the barbershop singers found themselves qualifying for a highly sought after place in the national finals, which take place this autumn.

The ladies - who call themselves DayDream Quartet - came together from various a cappella groups, including ones in Coalpit Heath and Longwell Green, but had only been practising as a foursome since March.

As soon as they started singing as a quartet, they knew they had something special so decided they would set themselves a challenge.

The next thing they knew they had signed up for the preliminary round of the LABBS (Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers) national competition, which was recently held in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire.

But they were amazed to hear their names called out as finalists, especially as they were up against more more established quartets.

DayDream is made up of baritenor Mary Williams, 42, of Longwell Green, tenor Ali Jack, 61, of Coalpit Heath, bass Claire Bevan, 35, of Frampton Cotterell and lead Jane Crook-Taylor, 51, who recently moved to Wales from Bristol. They got together through their love of music, all regulars on the a cappella choir circuit, Ali, Jane and Mary performing with Planet 24 in Coalpit Heath and Claire and Ali with the Frampton Cotterell-based Fascinating Rhythm.

Mary said: "We formed as local singers who have met due to the friendships and connections with various Bristol local barbershop choruses. 

"We adore singing and when we sang together for fun the first time in March this year, we knew we had something special in our sound."

The ladies felt they needed to set themselves a goal so entered the competition just to get some experience.

Mary said: "We wanted to have something to aim for but only had 13 weeks before the competition. We were the only ones entering who hadn't been an established quartet for many years so we knew we had a lot of work to do."

They were lucky enough to enlist the help of an international coach for a few sessions which set them on the right road.

Mary said: "We were just happy to take part and put on some nice frocks! On the day, we were incredibly nervous but we were as prepared as we could be in the time allowed. 

"We performed two songs and after we came off stage our hearts were racing but people were coming up to us to say we had done a good job. We had to wait all day for the results as there were 28 quartets in total competing for a handful of places. When our name was called out hours later as a finalist, we couldn't believe it! We jumped in the air and whooped a lot!"

The ladies, who rehearse weekly in each other's front rooms, are now looking to up the ante in preparation for the national finals.

"It's a bit quiet at the moment because of holidays but we will really click into action in August," said Mary.

They have even purchased their outfits for the nationals, spotted in a department store sale by eagle-eyed Mary.

And although she's not giving too much away, Mary will admit they feature quite a lot of sequins.

"They're gorgeous. They just happened to have four of them in the right sizes so I took the risk and bought them. Luckily, when I showed them to the others, they loved them!"

Their dedication knows no bounds and in mid-August, the ladies will head - families and dogs in tow - to a 'harmony camp' in Staffordshire where they will give their vocal cords a good blast.

Mary, who is the assistant director of Cadbury Heath-based Black Sheep Harmony Ladies Chorus as well as running Longwell Green's Zest Tone Deaf Choir, admits music is in her blood.

"Barbershop isn't just old music, which a lot of people seem to think it is. 

"It's everything - right up to modern day music. One of the songs we perform for fun is California Dreaming and one of the competition songs was If Ever I Would Leave You from the musical Camelot.

"Because of the way barbershop is written, when you are all completely in tune, suddenly the sound will expand and you can get harmonics above and below the notes you are singing. 

It's a bit like an out of body experience. You have to really work as a team and you can make songs whatever you want them to be. It's what I love."

The ladies will now need to perfect six songs - two for the semi-finals, two if they get to the finals, and two more if they qualify for the Europeans, which all take place from October 26-29 at the Bournemouth International Centre.

Mary said: "We just have a ball together and there's always so much laughter. We have the start of an exciting journey ahead of us and we are aiming for excellence.

"We're a bunch of middle-aged women but we've already come a long way."

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