We Sing the Songs with Barry Manilow...
Updated: Apr 27
...but we never got to meet him. It didn't really matter. How often will I get the chance to be a backing singer for the last of America's greatest showmen, singers, composers, arrangers? It was a miracle that I got to do this in the first place.
Several years ago, I joined a new choir launched at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall - the aptly-named Bridgewater Hall Singers. Simply Singing is an organisation that launches choirs all over the place and we were their latest. Community choirs bring people together of all ages, sizes, cultures, denominations and singing experience. For some, it's a realisation of their dreams, an item on their bucket list, the chance to do something they thought they couldn't do; it's healthy, it's the greatest fun and it's a chance to meet people and work together as a team.
We rehearse in the Bridgewater Hall and usually sing some of the songs we've learnt at the end of summer and at Christmas at the Hall. Some singers have done a flash mob on Manchester's Central Library, so well received they were invited back; some have performed in a new community opera called 'Get Weaving' at the Hall. Manilow could only feature 27 of us plus the lovely Alice and Louise, our choir mistresses and one of their professional friends to help us along. 'I am delighted to confirm that you have a place in the choir for the Barry Manilow concert' read the email in March.
We were to sing three numbers for the finale of Barry's show at the MEN Arena on 15 June - 'I Write the Songs', 'Copacabana' and 'It's a Miracle tag'. It was to be part of his farewell world tour. We rehearsed relentlessly in our three groups, high, medium and low at choir rehearsals with Louise and Alice and at home with audio downloads and a video demonstrating the moves.
Came the day and we had our final rehearsal at the Hall and met up at 4pm at the MEN Arena. Here we are, outside the Box Office, where we met some of Barry's famous Fannilows from America, who were following him round his gigs. Expensive hobby. I'm fourth left on the front row.
The choreographer wanted us in size order, divided into two lines of 15 each, little ones on the end. This meant that, not only would I teeter on the brink again but next to someone from a different group, so we could both end up singing one another's voices. We soon changed it all back and settled down to rehearsing our songs with the extra 'oohs' and 'aahs' and pauses in new places that weren't easy to assimilate at that late stage. Then came the moves, up to the right, down to the left, 'baby it's you...' point at Barry and arms up in the air for 'hoo'; 'clap' between numbers, don't look at Barry, nobody's interested in your singing, stare straight ahead and smile.' Great!
Until 9.50pm we were in lockdown, rehearsing over and over until suddenly, it all clicked into place. We were given red gowns to wear, led out to the backstage area, climbed up both sides of a staircase in the gloom until we met in the middle and balanced on a narrow platform with a 20ft drop into the void behind and a massive orchestra below us at the front with the drums blocking my view.
A small figure further down in a white jacket was singing 'I Write the Songs' as we joined him on cue. The sight of an auditorium that seats 21,500 people with hundreds of green glowsticks waving back and forth and an audience that drowned us out was surreal and awe-inspiring. I will never forget it. In a second, it was all over, we were herded out into the night. And we never did get to meet Barry Manilow or see his show.