Southbank’s weekly hour of Sing Along joy

By Jess Carrascalao Heard

It was a Friday evening at Southbank.

Twilight had descended, and the weary, end-of-week traffic was rumbling and beeping its way home on the nearby Kings Way bridge, red tail lights blinking brightly against the deep blue sky.

But the hustle and bustle of busy commuter traffic was barely noticeable in the brightly lit Assembly Hall at Boyd Community Hub, where the Southbank Sing Along group was deciding which song to sing next.

They’d already belted out the mandatory Sinatra (every singalong starts with New York, New York), and then requests from the room had everyone singing Bublé, Patsy Cline and ABBA.

After finishing Dancing Queen – founding member Brian Rockett’s request – it was now Catherine Styles’s turn to choose.

From Dancing Queen to Queen the band, her choice was Somebody to Love, and when the group’s co-ordinator Amber Tan found the lyrics and put them up on the projector screen, Mr Rockett’s eyes widened.

There were a lot of words.

“Come on, Catie!” he called out in mock panic.

Ms Styles smiled mischievously. “Come on, Brian!” she replied. “Keep up!”

Fun, banter and good tunes are found at 6pm, every Friday at the Southbank Sing Along, which resumed singing sessions last month after a long hiatus due to COVID-19.

Formed in 2018 by Ms Tan, Mr Rockett, and another friend, Cathy, the group get together once a week to belt out their favourite tunes with no agenda except to sing for an hour and have a good time.

Are they a choir? No.

In fact, with no performances, no conductor and no sheet music, auditions or pressure, the group is, as Ms Tan puts it, “strictly not a choir”.

“There are no requirements, no auditions. Literally all you have to bring with you is your voice, and sense of fun. That’s all,” Ms Tan said.

She runs the group each week, with the help of members Shilpi Jain and Johnny Filippone, and for one hour, everyone in the room gets to pick a song they like.

Ms Tan then finds the lyrics either in their back catalogue or online, and puts them up on the projector screen, while playing song recordings on a speaker via Spotify.

No backing tracks here – it’s always the full recording.

“We really enjoy having the actual singers singing in the background, because then it just feels like you’re in this guy’s concert, or in this band’s show, or whatever,” Ms Tan said.

The only rule is that whoever chooses a song must know it themselves, so at least one person in the room can sing the whole thing.

That’s certainly the case on this particular Friday.

As Freddie Mercury’s voice fills the room with Somebody to Love, Ms Styles is keeping up with the wordy lyrics, which she had practiced at home during the week.

Everyone else is giving it a red-hot go off the projector screen, stumbling and mumbling, squinting at the lyrics and laughing along the way until finally the song got to the bit they all knew.

“Can anybody find meeeeeeeeeeeeeee somebody to looooove?”

“Nailed it!” Ms Tan laughed at the end of the song. “Leave the easy ones to the amateurs!”

Joy, laughter and acceptance is an integral part of each singalong, and the happiness that comes from it is Ms Tan’s favourite thing about the group.

“How happy we are when we sing, and how happy we are at the end of it all. Like, no matter how tough our week’s been, or how busy, or how crazy,” she said.

The group of Southbank locals is small but diverse, with people of different backgrounds, abilities and ages all attending.

For its members, the weekly singalong an important highlight, something Ms Tan never expected when the group first started meeting.

“I had just always thought it was a bit of a silly thing to come and sing,” she said.

The importance of the weekly singalong was highlighted to her when COVID restrictions started to ease, with group members getting in touch to find out when singing sessions would resume.

“I was really touched by how much everyone wanted to come back to the group, and how much everyone said they missed it, and how they said it helped them in this way or in that way, and I’d never realised that,” Ms Tan said.

After making their way through Queen, the group then sang and danced their way through songs by Frankie Valli, Nat King Cole, Rod Stewart and more until finally it was time to wrap up with their mandatory last song: Thank you for the Music, by ABBA.

As everyone left to go about their Friday night, all signs of an end-of-week weariness had washed away. Instead, the room was full of lightness and energy.

“This one hour is just pure happiness,” Ms Tan said.

“Here, you will always be good enough for us. You will always be accepted, no matter how you sound.” •

Contact Amber Tan: [email protected]

Caption: Members of the Southbank Sing Along group after belting out their favourite tunes at Boyd.

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