The singing Club of Chepstow, Usk and the Forest of Dean is bringing comunities together to sing. CARYS THOMAS finds out more.
THE singing club is no choir said its leader Karl Daymond, 49, an actor and operatic star whose career has spanned 20 years and has appeared with the Welsh National Opera and English National Opera.
The club is a place where people can enjoy singing and take part in the community. It started six years ago when Mr Daymond found himself one night with a few friends singing around a piano.
He said: “Years ago people used to go to church to sing hymns, down the pub or at assemblies. People don’t get the same opportunities these days to sing.
“There are many benefits to singing – mental health benefits as well as to build confidence. I think Gareth Malone’s choirs have really helped to get people singing again.
“Show such as the x-factor are all about winning and the judging. You are not allowed to be judged with us – there is no audition process. It’s all about taking part and the enjoyment of singing.”
The club has 180 members made up of four groups, which includes Usk, Duke’s Yard in Chepstow, Castle in Chepstow and Lydney.
The Usk Singing Club takes place on Tuesdays in Maryport Street, Duke’s Yard on Wednesdays and Chepstow Castle at the Beaufort Hotel on Thursdays.
They perform a variety of genres such as gospel, folk, pop, classic, opera and musicals. The club can be heard performing songs from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to Elbow’s One Day Like This and collections from the West Side Story.
The opera star said he has tried to take the fear away from members to perform operatic numbers.
He said: “I try and make it more accessible. I try to teach the club not to be frightened by it. It’s a shame that a lot of people are fearful of it.”
The club have performed at a number of venues and festivals across South Wales including the Millennium Centre, Chepstow Festival and Wye Valley Festival.
They ventured to France as part of commemoration of the D-Day landings with a trip to Chepstow’s twin town Cormeilles where 70 members sang.
Mr Draymond said: “It was very moving to visit the Normandy beaches and the cemeteries. Where we had an impromptu Bread of Heaven – it was very touching to see the roll of names of the soldiers who died.
The club sing in a range of languages fom performing Nessun Dorma in Italian through to Welsh with Sosban Fach.
Mr Daymond said: ““We are hoping to compete in the Eisteddfod in Abergavenny in 2016. It will be a huge undertaking, as we only have five or six Welsh speakers to help learn the songs.
“I’m learning myself at the moment, it will be worth the effort to perform in Welsh. It’s an important part of the culture.”
He added: “I’ve sung in various languages including Welsh as a soloist. It’s a pleasure to be able to share my experience in a way that helps get people to give singing go.
“We’ve sung and signed. We also do a little bit of movement at the moment but I am hoping to introduce more in the future.
“I like to get through as much as possible as practice sessions – we usually sing about eight or nine songs. I know some clubs and choirs stick to one song a week but I think a variety, a little bit of everything works better.
“The number one thing for me is fun. Every session is a laugh, there’s a social side to the club as well. We have cabaret nights and picnics.”
The Castle group is the largest of the four groups with 99 members. They meet on Thursdays at the Beaufort Hotel in Chepstow from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.
Hugo Nieuwenhuizen, 54, from Shirenewton member of Castle Singing Club, said: "I always wanted to sing and to explore that. I have never sung before, I discovered I could sing quite high notes. I didn't really know a lot about singing at all before I joined the club.”
The ceramic restorer joined the Castle group when it was first formed two and a half years ago.
He said: "It has been marvellous, Karl is really fantastic. Singing is from the guts and the insides it's really something we all open up and dare to sing. It’s a fantastic atmosphere when we all sing together.
“The social aspect is great. I’m originally from Holland and didn’t know that many people in Chepstow – now I walk down the street and say hello to so many people.
“Performing at the different venues for the Wye Valley Festival was really good, we started in Monmouth and performed at every town down the river. It’s a fantastic feeling to perform.”
Alison Bussey, 65, membership secretary for the Castle Singing Club, said: "I joined the club as I was fairly knew to the area having moved here with my husband. I used to be in a singing group before and I missed it - I joined just in time to perform in Monmouth for the Olympic Torch tour in March 2012.
"It has helped that I've been in a singing group before but anyone can have a go. Karl is so inspirational, he gets everyone joining in.”
The Castle group age ranges from people in their 30’s to 80’s.
Mrs Bussey said: "We expected a few people but the club has just expanded, that's why I volunteered to become membership secretary to keep track of the members."
"I enjoy performing at the many concerts we have been a part of. I think performing at Chepstow Castle would probably be my favourite as it has its own special atmosphere. Our performances are very lively -it's all about the performance.”
She added: "Karl has taught us to perform to the audience and concentrate on interacting with them. It is a wonderful group for people new to the area as well as for everyone here. “
Anne Rees, 71, of Mathern, joined the Castle group when her friend introduced her to the Singing Club in 2012.
She said: “Karl is so talented and does such a wonderful job with us. He is so patient; he says we all have unique voices.
“I joined the group after my husband was diagnosed with bowel cancer, he was going through radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the time. I used to go on a Thursday to the Singing Club it was one day a week where I went into a different world.
“It was wonderful, the first song was ‘Lean on me’ and that’s what I did with my friend at the club. They are the friendliest people – there are no divas here.”
The four groups come together to perform at concerts with their next performance at Chepstow Bandstand on August 31.
Mrs Rees said: “The whole club performed with a community brass brand at Chepstow Festival recently – it sounded fantastic. We rarely rehearse together with the four singing groups.
“It’s amazing that we can all rehearse separately and not miss a signal when we come together. That is all down to Karl.”
Sessions are £6 each. The Singing Club will be welcoming new members from September. For more information on joining visit www.singingclubber.co.uk or call/text 07968 950 221