Fresh from playing at some of the UK’s largest festivals including Latitude and Wilderness – George Eddy from Choir of the Year talks to international beat boxing champion, Shlomo, ahead of his appearance as guest artist at the Choir of The Year 2014 Category Finals on 19 October in the Royal Festival Hall.
So, you got a drum kit when you were 8 years old, was that your first instrument?
Yeah…my parents were sick of me banging on pots and pans…. I got a drum kit and started playing in the local youth orchestra and I was fascinated by music but I wasn’t allowed to practice my drums in the evenings so I started beat boxing at around that time without knowing that it was called beat boxing. Initially, I just used it as a way to practice, I didn’t realise that it could be performed at that stage.
How long were you a member of the local youth orchestra, and were you playing the drums or beat boxing?
I joined the orchestra when I was eight years old and left when I finished school at 18, so 10 years! I didn’t really show my beat boxing to an audience until after I left the orchestra. My friends heard me doing it and told me I was good. I was 18 when it all started kicking off after winning a competition called ‘King of The Jam’ where I won a pot of jam. It was proper good.
So you didn’t keep it as a trophy, you actually ate it?
Yeah I ate it, it was yummy
Well if there is nothing else to propel you into a career as an international world champion beat boxer, jam is a good way to start…
Exactly, after that I thought maybe I should take this further, so I started doing gigs and joined a band called ‘Foreign beggars’.Then I got a phone call from Björk one day. She wanted to do an all-vocal record for the Olympics, So I worked with her and that really kick-started my solo career.
I understand that you have recently started working with National Youth Choir?
Yes, they commissioned me to write a piece ‘She Lost My Crossed Heart’ for them earlier this year, which premiered in April at the Birmingham Town Hall. There were over two hundred of them performing and beat boxing together- It is both rhythmic and choral, you can watch it on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VicWFBPTlB4)
What impact do you think this has had on the choir?
The piece that I wrote is very personal to me, about the loss of a member of my family. The choir performed it well but I don’t think they were able to engage with it, to understand what it is about. So I told them that the worst thing from my perspective would be if they performed this piece without any feeling and the next time they performed it, everyone was in tears. It was so moving. For a choir like that, who are so well trained and traditionally disciplined, they just needed that permission to break free. As soon as they had that freedom, they just went with it. It was really amazing.
Now on to Choir of the Year. You’re going to be leading some audience participation at the Category Finals, what would you say to someone who has been in a choir for a long time and is nervous about using their voice in a different way?
I’d say that it is so much fun and really simple to do. What I’m aiming to do is get people to come together and create something that is bigger than they’d be able to do on their own. If they don’t enjoy it, then I’ll give them a hug.
How are you going to help people who have never done beat boxing before?
I work with the elderly and people from all different backgrounds. What is totally unifying about a voice is that everyone has one and it is totally built into your body and instinct. People in choirs already understand the concept of working together to create something really powerful. If you are never willing to do something that makes you feel daunted, you can’t consider yourself a creative person- people in choirs should be used to coming out of their comfort zone.
I gather you have collaborated with Greg Beardsell, who is going to be presenting at the Category Final, what have you done together?
I first met Greg on a project I was doing with National Youth Orchestra, on a piece commissioned by a composer called Anna Meredith. She wrote a piece called ‘Hands Free’, which has no instruments, it was all voice, body percussion and beat boxing. Anna asked me to help with the beat boxing and then Greg came and performed with me. He also performed with my vocal group The Lip Factory, on our tour last year. It was on the tour that we started talking about National Youth Choir which led to the connection with Choir of the Year.
Do you know what to expect from Choir of The Year?
It will be new to me; I haven’t been to a choral competition before. I worked with the Swingle Singers years ago, who are often involved in lots of international choral events, so I’ve been aware of this world of competitive choirs. With that said, I have never actually been to an event so I’m excited to see what it will be like.
Are you able to provide any words of wisdom for those competing?
I work with people across all different experience levels. When watching a choir, what matters to me most is the energy, conviction and passion of the performance. I’ve seen some amazing and technically accomplished singers, but if it lacks that soul and joy then it doesn’t engage the audience. I’m hoping that if the standards are varied, that passion prevails.
Just go out there with a smile and don’t let the competition get in the way of you seizing the moment. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to win.
What’s next, after Choir of the Year 2014?
I am working on a pilot for a new TV show. I am also starting a new solo electronic project with a number of shows coming up.
The Choir of the Year 2014 Category Finals take place at The Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 19 October.
Visit Shlomo’s website: http://www.shlo.co.uk/