Libera Concert, St John's Church, 23 March 2007

ja h 01 Apr 2007

Libera Concert
St John's Church, Upper Norwood
23 March 2007

We arrived at St John's at about 6:35 pm to find there was already a group of about 20 people waiting at the doors which were due to open at 7:00pm. Fortunately it was a dry evening but there was a very cold wind and those at the back of the queue were quickly feeling the chill. By the time the doors opened the queue had grown to around 100 people with more arriving all the time.

We collected our tickets and fortunately a friend who had got in ahead of us managed to grab some seats in the second row so we had a good view of the performers.

At 7:30 Robert Prizeman stood up and welcomed everybody and because this concert was actually a dress rehearsal for the imminent tour of Korea and Japan, he explained that Libera were leaving the country (laughter) and explained that the boys would be making some announcements in Japanese and would also be explaining something of life in South London and he asked for our understanding if it was either incomprehensible or boring.

He also asked if we would mind demanding an encore at the end so the choir had some practice, but such a request was quite unnecessary and I think there would have been a riot had Libera not preformed an encore!

Darkness descended on the church but we could make out a lone white robed and hooded figure moving to the middle of the small raised platform. The unmistakable voice of Ed Day opened the concert with the evening hymn “Glory to thee my God this night”, sung to a tune written by Thomas Tallis. After the first verse the rest of the choir moved onto the platform and joined in the hymn.

The choir moved straight on to the second song “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, a new one for Libera.

Josh Madine then formally introduced Libera, gave some background information and advised us there were 18 boys in the group. Josh is proving to be a very good speaker, with that ever present broad smile on his face; I don't think he knows how not to smile. He introduced the next two songs, “Angelis” and “Lacrymosa”, the soloist in the latter being Ben Philipp. Ben is a relatively recent addition to Libera and has become a soloist very quickly. I think we will hear a lot more of him as he is a very accomplished performer.

Next came “Far Away” with Tom Cully as the soloist, supported by four other boys. This was a good performance by Tom but, inevitably, it is always hard to avoid making comparisons with Michael Horncastle's rendition which I fell in love with from the first moment I heard it. However, I always try and clear my mind of earlier versions of a song as this is the only way to do justice to the current singer and Tom performed it very well.

Ben Philipp spoke and again I was amazed at the confidence shown by these boys.

Tom Cully now sang what I can only regard as his own song, “Always with you”. I first heard this at the last Libera concert in October 2005 and I still love the song and Tom's voice.

I suppose it goes without saying that “Sanctus” would creep in somewhere, and indeed it did, but yet again there were slight differences to what we have heard before – how many permutations of Pachelbel's Canon are there? Tom and Ed again sang the solo parts of this song and they make a very good pair.

The penultimate song in the first half of the concert was “Ave Maria” from the Visions album, but this time it was sung very competently by Ed as the main soloist and supported by Tom.

The final song in this part of the concert was our old friend “Libera”, but before this Sam Leggett had a few words to say. We hear very little from Sam so it was great to have him doing this.

The treat with “Libera” had to be the soloist, Liam Connery. Again we have a singer with a wonderful voice who I am sure will enchant us for a long time to come. He looked nervous but that didn't seem to affect his performance and I think I will always remember that lovely mop of blond hair and those big round blue eyes that seem to look at you all the time.

The interval was a great opportunity to talk to people I know from St Philip's as well as make first real acquaintance with some members of Angel Voices Yahoo Group. I have already met several of those that attended the concert but it was nice to shake hands with some I have only known through their posts on AV or through private e-mails. Sadly, I didn't get to meet all the AV members who I knew to be there.

The second half of the concert started with Fiona Pears, standing alone in the middle of the stage, playing the introduction to “I vow to thee my country” on her violin while a group of eight boys stood just out of sight to the right of the stage. On a nod from Robert, they entered and formed a group on the left of the stage and began to sing. A trio of Tom, Ed and Mike Vereycken lead the singing.

The next song was another new one to me, “Hymn to beauty” and sung by the same group of eight boys.

It was now time again for some old favourites with “Do not stand at my grave and weep” sung by Tom and Ed. This was quickly followed by Ed Day singing “When a Knight Won His Spurs”.

Josh spoke again and described the next two songs which were more old favourites, “Adoramus” and “Mysterium”, with Tom yet again performing the solo part.

Ben Philipp was called upon once more to speak and he explained about the tradition of monks wearing robes not unlike those worn by Libera and demonstrated how it was possible to almost get lost in the hood when it was pulled up.

The next song was “Stay with me” previously only sung, to the best of my knowledge, by Joe Platt and Joe Sanders-Wilde but this time performed by Ed and Liam. I had trouble seeing who was singing the “ah's” that Joe SW sang in the original but someone has confirmed it was Liam.

It seemed as if this concert would go on for ever because there always seemed to be one more song, but I didn't hear anyone complaining. “Stay with me” was followed by “Salva Me” with Joe Snelling as the soloist. Joe is another relative newcomer who has rapidly become an accomplished soloist.

If the boys were feeling tired by this stage it certainly didn't show because they now launched into “Sempiterna”, this time with Tom and Sam Leggett as soloists.

Sam Leggett once more addressed the audience and thanked us for coming. He also explained that Ian Tilley and Robert had once been members of the choir and had lived in Norbury. He also said that some of the current members of the choir went to the very same schools that Robert and Ian had attended and introduced the final song “I Am the Day” where he and Josh sang as a duet, which I think worked very well.

Every song was rewarded with a good round of applause but after the final song there was no holding the audience back and I am sure that even without Robert's request they wouldn't have got away without an encore and they duly filed back onto the stage and sang “Ave Verum”. The audience were still not satisfied so they had to return again and sang “Libera” once more.

To they great pleasure of many of the audience after the lights went up the boys returned to the stage for photographs and I am sure we will see some of these in due course. The boys all looked very happy as did Robert.

This is my second St. John's concert and once again it was a very professionally produced event with superb lighting effects and choreography. The boys sang 21 different songs with no significant problems and I still think that is a remarkable achievement when coupled with the choreography as it would be very easy to get things wrong.

Although I didn't see him, Ben Crawley was there as a stage manager, Ian Tilley and Sam Coates looked after the sound system while Robert and Steven Geraghty played the two keyboards. Steven also accompanied one song on his clarinet.

Of the people I spoke to who had never been to a Libera concert before, without exception they were in awe. Being a live concert it wasn't without the occasional “wobble” but that helps us realise that Libera are comprised of mere human beings and it takes more courage than I have to do what those boys did last night. I think the hardest part for them was performing in front of their parents and I am sure that contributed significantly to some of the nervousness that was apparent.

The members of the group were:

Callum Payne
Michael Horncastle
Conor O'Donnell
Sam Leggett
Alex Legget
Tom Cully
Josh Madine
Jakob Wood
Tiernan Branson
Ed Day
Zach Locket
Liam Connery
Mike Vereycken
Ben Philipp
Jonathan Barrington
Oliver Cole
Thomas Cole
Joe Snelling