A Kind of Magic

Steve has been pursuing his other passion – Barbershop singing. He belongs to Cottontown Chorus, from Bolton, who have been National Chorus Champions seven times, most recently in 2018.

Last weekend they had to relinquish their crown at the annual convention of the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS).

As retiring champions they were barred from the competition but it was still a very busy weekend. On Friday evening they performed in a show. On Saturday they were up for breakfast at 6.15 to start rehearsing ready to open the chorus competition at 10. Then they were able to relax a little and listen to some of the other choruses, before being whisked off again at 3 to prepare for the closing ceremony at 6. From a field of 35 choruses the new champions were Hallmark of Harmony, from Sheffield.

In a normal year the ten songs they had sung would have been the end but this year was very different from usual. As with so many other organisations BABS (previously only for men) has been making moves to include women so there is now a Mixed Chorus competition. (LABBS, and Sweet Adelines Region 31 are long-established separate organisations for women.)

Cottontown Chorus joined forces with Amersham A Cappella to form a new chorus called A Kind of Magic. It wasn’t easy because usually, when two choruses meet, they sing in eight-part harmony but this had to be pure barbershop four-part harmony. Many people had to learn a part they don’t normally sing. It was made even more difficult as the two choruses are based 200 miles apart and only had one rehearsal until the day of the competition.

The preparation was a closely guarded secret. I was at the rehearsal day, in March, when it was obviously going to be good but still a long way from being a polished performance. A great deal of time, dedication, and effort, would be needed to pull it all together.

The next two months of rehearsals were done in the two halves. Thank goodness for social media. Facebook and YouTube were kept in business, with videos constantly going backwards and forwards.

The ladies were fortunate to get a token man at one of their rehearsals:

Ash was playing the part of twelve men:

On the day of the competition they started rehearsing at 8.30 ready to be on stage at 12.20, singing fifth in a line-up of ten. I was able to listen to all the performances and particularly liked Endeavour, who came second. I was also impressed by MUBS (a young chorus from Manchester University), who came fourth.

Most of the choruses were fairly small. A Kind of Magic had 107 and it took forever for them to get onto the risers but it was very slick and everyone knew exactly where they had to be to fit on. The size of the chorus made them very different from all the others but it was the atmosphere they created, not the size, that made them really impressive. After they had performed their two songs the audience erupted, almost everyone in the auditorium was on their feet, and it was obvious that we had just seen a gold medal performance.

It was definitely some kind of magic. You can judge for yourself:

At the end of the competition the two musical directors, Neil Firth and Helen Lappert, were presented with the trophy.

Later, behind the scenes, each member of the chorus was presented with a medal, as it would have taken far too long to give them out on stage.

Then they had to do it all again in the evening on the Champions Show along with two other songs in eight-part harmony, one of them being “A Kind of Magic”.

If you would like to view other convention weekend performances, of choruses and quartets, go to the On Demand Service pages. Cottontown Chorus are first and last on this page.

There are Barbershop choruses across the country and all welcome new members at any time.


  1. SavvyBass says:

    Brilliant story of the evolution of “A Kind of Magic” chorus and the background to the weekends winning performance.

  2. Dionne says:

    Thanks for the reflections. I sing with Amersham A Cappella. It was a special weekend and an honour to be part of A Kind of Magic.

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