“It’s just like talking, except louder and longer and you move your voice up and down.”
Buddy the Elf (Elf, 2003)
When the mood takes me I sing in the car. I sing in the kitchen. I sing in the shower. Occasionally I sing in the office.
Usually I need some accompaniment - the radio, iTunes or something, but sometimes I find myself inexplicably warbling snippets from the bafflingly eclectic back catalogue in my head. If I could clear my memory of song lyrics I swear I could be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. I know all the words to Nelly the Elephant, Snoopy versus the Red Baron and Summer Nights for god’s sake. What possible use I will ever have for the entire lyric sheet of A Night at the Opera is a mystery. Mind you, stick Bohemian Rhapsody on at any point and I’ll give you some “thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening” that would raise Freddie Mercury from the grave.
My favourite songs to sing, in no particular order are:
Fill Your Heart (David Bowie)
A Town Called Malice (The Jam)
A Fairytale of New York (The Pogues), both parts
Burma Shave and I Never Talk to Strangers (Tom Waits), both parts
Rudie Can’t Fail (The Clash)
Witchcraft (Frank Sinatra)
Holiday in Cambodia (The Dead Kennedys)
At Last (Glenn Miller and the Modernaires)
Respect (Aretha Franklin), which used to give my wife the collywobbles until I became self conscious about it.
I don’t care how incongruous or unseemly it might be for a bald, bearded, middle aged man to be singing teen anthems or winsome love songs, if it feels good I’ll sing it.
When I was little I was made to sing. At school, in church, in local Eisteddfods, for which we practiced for what seemed like most of the year. I confess I mostly enjoyed it, there’s a rare energy in joining a congregation of voices even if it is just twenty or so eight year olds. You feel multiplied, carried away with the throng, it’s a feeling I’d happily repeat.
Once a year we also did our best to earn a bit of money from singing. The two weeks before Christmas saw us trundling around the village in groups of two or three singing a selection of badly remembered carols door to door. We marmalised Away in a Manger, made mincemeat of Good King Wenceslas and had them throwing money at us to leave them alone with our rendition of Silent Night.
I tried out for a male voice choir a couple of years ago. I was told I was a Baritone (news to me) and set a spot amongst some other burly fellows who showed me which parts to sing. It’s a lot more complicated than I imagined, but once we got under way, the surge of power made me feel invincible. It was marvellous and I went again the next week. Then they showed me their schedule of performances, and I realised this was a commitment for retired gentlemen and workshy millionaires. Maybe one day.
Until then I’ll have to content myself with joining with the nation in song every Wales rugby international matchday instead. Standing amongst a crowd of thousands all singing their hearts out is one of life’s more galvanising experiences.
It helps if you:
a) are Welsh;
b) are a rugby fan;
c) know all the words to our wonderful national anthem.
I have been fortunate to attend many international rugby matches in Cardiff since the late seventies. The rugby has been a rollercoaster of joy and despair. The weather has varied between monsoon and the deeply unpleasant. The blood/alcohol ratio has swung between the borderline paralytic and the stone cold sober. But one thing has always been the same, singing the national anthem along with the massed ranks of fellow supporters has never been less than a magnificent, electrifying, life affirming experience.
The words of our anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers) speak of the natural beauty of our country, of bravery, bards, singers and pride in our national identity. I particularly like that it doesn’t mention a god, a monarch, or conquering other nations, but expresses the simple, fervent hope that our old language will endure. It’s not asking for much, and when you hear it sung, you can’t imagine the world without it.
The rousing, full throated chorus Gwlad!, GWLAD!, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad brings goosebumps to my arms and raises the hair on the back of my neck like nothing else. It’s the best singing experience I’ve ever had.
Apart from one thing.
When our children were little I sang to them at bedtime.
I sang my limited repertoire of Welsh children’s songs Ar Lan y Môr, Dacw Mam yn Dwad and Lili Wen Fach in the same order for years. The gentle lilt of your voice in the ears of your small child is the sweetest gift you can give - to them, and to yourself.