In January 2020, just as there were concerns being raised about an emerging viral pandemic that would ultimately shred so many lives, we, The Tyrannochorus choir, were rehearsing hard for a couple of big concerts we had been planning for months. They were the “Love Concerts”. Songs about love and faith in humanity. Ultimately, we raised several thousand pounds for a couple of major charities with the pair of events.
Anyway, I was in my usual bass/baritone sometimes tenor slot for most of the songs we would sing but was accompanying on guitar on one tune and singing the lead solo on The Young ‘uns song Be the Man. I knew it pretty much off-by-heart, had all my inflections and emotions bedded down into it so I could sing it as best I could without choking up.
It’s a song of a young man who takes his own life following rejection by his family and leaving behind his widower to somehow come to turns with that death and the aftermath, and to somehow find a way to reconcile the family’s bigotry with the love he felt.
When it came to the first concert, I was mic’ed up, guitar was on, my two harmony fellows were alongside, we’d had plenty of chance to practice, it went well. I was tasked with coordinating and wiring up the PA for the second concert as well endeavouring to prep for the second run of Be the Man with a planned substitute harmony wingman.
I started the song solo, just me and guitar. We had no elevated staging and the front-row seats in the venue were very close. I could definitely see the whites of their eyes and they mine…I felt quite exposed. It’s a raw song. Started well, usual audience response at this point in a song, expectant, listening, attentive, not sure where the song is going, probably not recognising it…best not to overthink things while you perform. Focus on the notes and chords…
“Matthew Ogston is my name and you’ll not hear me mourn…I will never live in shame, I will not walk alone.
For though my love took his own life because of bigotry I’ll be the man, be the man”
Oh…raised eyebrow from the stoic old gent in the front row as he clocked that line. A man singing “my love took his own life”. Now, was it that reference that raised that eyebrow or the reference to suicide? I’ve no idea…I kept going.
“…because of bigotry I’ll be the man, be the man, be the man I was born to be I was born to be.”
No more raised eyebrow, but stoic man seemed to have switched off. Second verse, first harmony and piano enter.
“And my love, he was warm and kind, and my love, he was strong
And when his brown eyes first met mine, I knew he was the one”
Sturdy-looking woman three rows back scowls, was I bit pitchy there, did the guitar clash a little against the piano, was I a bit out of kilter with the choir…who are supposed to be following me…but have to take their beat from Siobhan our choir leader? Or, was it the words, those words? I don’t know. Did she know I was telling a story in the song, maybe she thought it was my song…
The show must go on. The song builds, classic modern folk, but with a rapturous choir belting it out and me throwing in a bit of the old northern twang to match the style of the original (the band hail from a town not 40 miles from where I grew up). I put my all into this second performance of the song, generous members of the choir told me it wasn’t too bad at all.
Stoic Man and Sturdy Woman seemed to be bouncing along with it on the choruses, maybe I’d misjudged their eyebrows and scowls, they weren’t confused nor bemused by the lyrics, they just didn’t know the song, but recognised they could tap their feet once we got to the rousing refrains.
I felt happier as we progressed through the bars. Singing and strumming with confidence, harmony wingmen belting it out as a trio with me. I even managed a controlled emotional crack in my voice as I sang the final line to the last strains of my fading guitar chord, there were some who thought maybe I was about to cry, but like I say I’d bedded down that emotion…mainly through endless solo rehearsals out on the fens walking the dog. I glanced across to Siobhan just to check I was still somehow leading behind her and it was all going to be okay…
“Be the man, be the man I was born to be, I..was…born……to be”
Long pause. Much applause…gratefully received.
We later learned from a choir member who spoke to an audience member from that second concert some weeks later, but before lockdown 1, that they’d thought the whole show was wonderful. Apparently, they added how lucky the choir is to be able to recruit professional singers for the solo parts…now…I think I did okay, but I just know they weren’t talking about me, they were talking about Patrick’s sublime rendition of Neil Diamond’s Walk on Water and the fabulous performance of our female soloist.
Rachel did a stupendous version of the Joni Mitchell song A case of you which had raised my eyebrows in a good way when we did the soundcheck and I was tweaking mic placement and EQ. There were no sturdy scowls or bemused eyebrows raised among the audience though when she sang that song…I know, I was there, and I could see the whites of their eyes.