John Robb is a journalist, author, speaker, and frontman of The Membranes – and part of the BIMM family, as he explains:
“I was invited to do a series of lectures with Jake Shillingford at BIMM Manchester a couple of years ago. I spent a year doing them. Since then I’ve given one-off talks and tutorials at BIMM Dublin, Manchester and Brighton. One of the things I really like is hearing all the great musicians emerging from the colleges – lots of great stuff!”
In 2015 The Membranes released a new album, Dark Matter/Dark Energy, and their evolving sound included a choir. John explained:
“I spoke at Tallinn Music Week and saw there was a choir playing. I went to see them and was blown away. It was the Sireen choir, an Estonian choir. I asked if they wanted to collaborate for a gig in Tallinn and they agreed. Helen, the amazing woman who runs Tallinn Music Week, loved the idea and put on a sold-out gig with The Membranes and Sireen choir in October.”
What was the reaction?
“Mojo did a two-page review which led to a lot of interest in the UK and a 6Music session for Marc Riley. The album had been getting lots of great reviews and the choir sounded great with the new songs. We couldn’t bring the choir from Estonia so I did a Facebook shout-out to ask about UK choirs. Claire from BIMM got in touch…“
Enter BIMM Manchester Vocal Tutor Claire Pilling, who responded to John’s post with a suggestion:
“I thought, we’ve got talent by the bucket-load at BIMM Manchester! Many students have approached me about a choir so I pitched John the idea of a student choir and discussed how they could work on the new album tracks. I chose the most suitable singers by listening to tracks John sent from the Sireen choir. I knew I could create a similar chamber group sound, blending different voice types – light soprano, rich alto and dark contralto.”
Who makes up the choir and how were the sessions?
“Choir members are Kat Zaluska, Nekesha Sequeira, Elizabeth Weedy, Jess Lebon, Chloe Jones, Sarah Featherston, Nicola Tuffy, Lois Holmes, Jess Howarth, Melody Hunt, Pia Burrow and Stacy Southward. They’re all students on the BA Hons Professional Musicianship Degree. The combination worked perfectly, rehearsals went well, and the choir were hardworking, professional and enthusiastic!”
What’s next for The Membranes, and the choir?
John: “Reaction has been amazing! We have lots of festival offers, and a single out soon. We’re touring with Therapy?, then our own gigs across Europe. We release a remix album in June and we’re launching it at HOME Manchester with the choir. It will be a very special night.”
Claire: “I’ve been thanked endlessly by the girls and we have two gigs booked in for London Southbank and HOME in Manchester. We’re also organising recording with The Membranes this year, and there’s talk of festivals too!”
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