Tony Cummings spoke to Humphrey Berney about the music of the UK's most unlikely boy band, BLAKE
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Humphrey: Exactly. I think sometimes it can be perceived as that, although people treat music in a different way and you're moving away from the original intention, it can bring people in. An audience that may investigate that world a bit more and start to find and love the core classical anyway. I think it's an important thing to have that variety.
Tony: I absolutely agree with you. You mentioned you can just about embrace a 'classical music group', what about another one I read: a 'boy band'?
Humphrey: That's pushing the limit! My hair starts to fall out and the wrinkles develop. I think the days of being a boy are far-gone. We do laugh about it. The 'band' element, whenever I hear of a band I always imagine a drummer, a guitarist. The classic rock format. But I suppose we are a band of brothers. But I think a 'vocal group' is probably more apt. Sadly, I'm not cool enough to wear a leather jacket and play a rock guitar. I wish I could.
Tony: At the same time, if you call yourselves a 'classical music group', people would expect to see you dressed up in dinner suits.
Humphrey: It is and it's interesting you say that because one of our biggest challenges has been how to communicate what we do. As you say, a classical vocal group, you imagine The King's Singers, or a very straight, classical harmony group. Then you imagine a band and you imagine a rock group. We do strangely sit in between those two. Sometimes it's been quite difficult to communicate to a new person on a page in a magazine exactly what we do. That's why it's best for people to either listen to our music or come and see us live and then it's very clear.
Tony: I know you are a Christian. Are the other members of the group believers?
Humphrey: We all come from a traditional Church of England background and I think there's definitely a spirituality in the group. Whether everyone has a strong faith is a different thing. We've all come from a very traditional English, Church of England background and church music and the buildings of the Church have always played a big part in our lives. Wherever we go in the UK we always drop into a beautiful church or go and look around a beautiful cathedral. Whether that's because we have a faith or whether it's just a love and appreciation of those amazing buildings and their placement in the heritage of the country and the music that was written for them and inspired by them. . . That is definitely there. We always try with our music, whether it's from a faith point of view or from a general emotive point of view, to move people and to touch them somehow with the power of the singing that we can do. It's quite a vague one, but music is a very spiritual experience and that's a very strong thing.
Tony: I was speaking to the leader of a cathedral choir the other day and he said that he felt there was an unnecessary labelling of what is aesthetic and what is spiritual. Within some areas of music, like cathedral choir music, there is a blurring there. You can't really define precisely how much is of a spiritual element and how much is purely a beauty for beauty's sake element.
Humphrey: Absolutely and I think that crosses over in every element. When you sit and listen to music you can have an amazingly powerful, emotive reaction. I think it's the same as somebody who doesn't have a faith and they can sit in a beautiful cathedral and can feel a great connection or a great emotional experience. It's very difficult to say what that is, but in some ways it doesn't really matter if it's a positive experience that brings people, through music or through faith, it brings them strength and community and enjoyment, then that really should be all that matters.
Tony: The tour with the RAF bands, what came first, the plans for the tour or the recording?
Humphrey: The RAF connection came about because we have been very fortunate to become good friends with Dame Vera Lynn over the years. We've sung for her, and met her on a number of occasions. We were invited to perform at her 100th birthday celebration at The Palladium in London. The live band orchestra that night were The Squadronaires, who are the smaller concentration of the central band of the RAF. They were absolutely fantastic and we learned a song, specifically for that performance, called "Hymne A L'amour", which is an old Edith Piaf song which Dame Vera had great success with herself, which Oli actually had found whilst trawling through the Internet and old LPs and things. So we performed it that night and we enjoyed it so much and enjoyed performing with The Squadronaires so much, we asked if they would consider being the band for the album. Very luckily for us they said yes. That led to collating the album set list and recording it all with the RAF up at RAF Northolt. So, it was a very fortuitous evening which has led on to a wonderful project.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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