Grand Central Chorus at the 43rd BABS Annual Convention Bournemouth 26-29 May 2017

Once again Grand Central Chorus played a prominent part in the 43rd British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) Annual Convention, held this year in Bournemouth, and despite rather variable weather after an extremely hot and sunny Friday, the chorus enjoyed another very successful weekend!

It began on Friday with GCC representation in the Quartet Semi-Finals – both “4 On Demand” (with Nick Bryant singing Baritone) and “The Locksmiths” (including our Musical Director Zac Booles singing Baritone) having qualified from last November’s preliminary round. The 2016 BABS Quartet Champions “Finest Hour”, with GCC’s Eddie, Nick and James Williams and Phil Cuthbert, were competing for a score to qualify for the BHS International Contest in Orlando in July 2018. All three quartets progressed to the Quartet Finals held on the Sunday of Convention.

Saturday at Convention is of course Chorus Finals day and again it was a long contest, with 37 choruses from across the country taking part. Grand Central Chorus had been fortunate to have a good draw, singing towards the end of the contest when the auditorium always has a larger audience than earlier in the day. The late afternoon performance timing also allowed our chorus members to relax in the morning and then meet at 12.30pm to begin final preparations.

Our contest package this year continued the innovative approach first introduced by Zac and our Music team in 2015, with both songs working together and with the involvement of key characters, and so engaging the audience in an overall story in the way that the performance category judges and knowledgeable barbershop audiences now expect.

Our package this year consisted of arrangements of songs from “My Fair Lady” starting with a medley of “On the Street Where You Live and “I Could Have Danced All Night”….

….followed by a medley of “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “With a Little Bit of Luck”.

As in the past two years, the brilliant arrangements for this unique package came from our “in house” team of Zac, Richard Curtis and Mark Burnip. We are all very fortunate to have the benefit of their skills and as a chorus, the opportunity to perform wonderful new arrangements of well-known songs in contest.

Our two main “characters” this year were Mark Soave as “Freddy” in our ballad, who was then joined by Bill Barrie, as “Alfred Doolittle” in the uptune. Over the past few months Mark and Bill have both worked so hard, both physically and mentally, as the contest package has been rehearsed repeatedly, as well as working on developing their characters and costumes. Great job guys!

The overall view of Zac and our music and performance coaches was that we delivered the contest package as well as they had hoped, and so, although our third place was lower than our silver medal in 2016, and our score (80.2%) just below last year’s score, it was considered a successful outcome to the competition. It also confirmed just how much of a consistent, high quality chorus Grand Central has now become, having finished 3rd, 2nd and 3rd in the past three BABS contests.

On Saturday evening, in what is fast becoming an established Grand Central Chorus BABS Convention tradition, we performed a couple of songs in the foyer area of the Bournemouth International Centre at 8.30pm to a large and appreciative crowd of fellow barbershoppers. This is always a great way to end chorus contest day, irrespective of the result. The tag of our final song “Tomorrow” delivers decibel levels close to the highest recommended limits!

On Sunday, the Quartet finals took place in the afternoon and after another high-quality contest, “The Locksmiths” finished in 2nd place with a great score of 76.8% so continuing their journey towards to the top after their 3rd place finish in 2016.

“Finest Hour” successfully achieved a qualifying score (81.8 – the highest quartet score of the weekend) to secure their place in the BHS International Contest in Orlando in July 2018.

The current BABS Youth and IABS Quartet champions “4 On Demand” finished in 6th place with 72.1% to consolidate their place at the highest levels of UK Barbershop quartet singing. And at still such a young average age it’s not a question of if, but just when they will win BABS gold medals.

Finally, on Monday in the Mixed Chorus Competition, which was being held for only the second ever time, EQMC which is directed by one of our tenors Dick Knight, and includes two other GCC members, Paul Searson and Kevan Liebling, won the contest with a score of 72.4%.

This mixed chorus then made the wonderful gesture of donating their £500 prize money to the fund set up for the victims and injured affected by the terrorist atrocity in Manchester the week before.

Success at Convention is always the result of hard work put in by every singer in the chorus over many months, and  the leadership of our inspirational MD Zac Booles and his music and performance team. We must also mention our lead vocal coach Richard Curtis, and lead performance coach Peter Tatham, for their input, and our thanks go to the wonderful Jo Braham, who despite so many other singing and coaching commitments, again found time to be our guest coach and share her expertise as a multi-medal winning chorus director and singer.

Behind the scenes, many other members helped ensure it was a successful and enjoyable Convention weekend for everyone in the chorus and so also deserve our thanks.  In particular to Steve Rose, who organised and then managed all the accommodation arrangements for the chorus, George McKie, who coordinated and looked after all of the accommodation payments, and to Bill Traynor and Martin York, who arranged and transported our chorus risers to Bournemouth and back so that we could rehearse before the contest at our hotel. Thanks to all our wives, partners, friends and families, whose support and encouragement is so appreciated, and also to Annette Blackman, the wife of one of our lead section members, who, as she does every year, baked such a delicious selection of cakes for us to enjoy when we came off stage. Finally, thanks to our Chairman, Alan Goldsmith under whose leadership the Executive Committee operate so efficiently and in tandem with the Music team, so helping ensure that the musical plans and ambitions for the chorus are both financed, organised and delivered.

We are already planning for the late May Bank Holiday weekend in Harrogate where the 2018 BABS Convention will take place!

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