by Chris Burn
Saturday night at the Usher Hall and the Soul Supreme Show is about to begin. Front stage lighting is a low loop of colours – blue then purple, yellow, silver, pink and back to blue. From the shadows at rear stage, some four hundred faces look back at me – calm, eager and perhaps a tiny bit anxious. They are the members of Got Soul Choir – from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, three separate choirs combined for the first time, waiting to give their best – and certainly their numerically largest performance, tonight. A soft throbbing comes from the band’s amplifiers.
The Got Soul Choir was founded by Maryam Ghaffari in Edinburgh in 2012. Her love of Soul music and passion to help others came together in this choir, the culmination of over 25 years performance work in music and theatre and additional time spent as an addictions counsellor. In the last four years, she and her team have run hundreds of workshops, performed in some of the country’s most prestigious music venues and expanded from Edinburgh to Glasgow and Dundee.
The choir members come from all backgrounds and most have never performed on a stage before. Age or ability are not barriers to joining, in fact there are virtually no barriers to joining – that is the whole point.
Maryam comes on stage and the audience roars. Soon we are all on our feet singing along to Boogie Nights, Love Train and Car Wash, moving and clapping to the spellbinding rhythm. We’re ’full of funky fever’ and there is more to come, as the show’s Star, Mica Paris enters and does an unforgettable set.
After a brief interval we continue with Good Times, Doo-Wop and We are Family; crescendo follows crescendo, ‘Boogie’s got us in a super trance’.
The atmosphere in the hall is electric and unstoppable; performers and audience move and sing tirelessly. They should connect us to the National Grid. My knees are hurting but I bravely boogie on. ‘Spellbound rhythm keeps me on my feet’.
Then it is all over. Even action-girl Maryam has to take a rest. She has given it her all – she told us halfway, that she dedicated the show to her sister Fatima, who died tragically two weeks ago. What a response she has given.
At the afterparty I chat to Lisa Towers whose slim-gilt beauty belies her role as Sergeant-Major to the assembled singers (getting four hundred people on and off a stage requires massive discipline skills). She suggests that I come to a choir workshop for a try. I protest that I have no experience (that doesn’t matter), I’m 76 years old (there are people older than you), I can’t sing (everyone can sing a bit), my arthritic knee hurts (stop whining). Is she joking? I daren’t ask.
Got Soul was founded as a charity with the purpose of bringing people out of loneliness and isolation and it has certainly done that tonight. But, recognising their part in the bigger community and the needs of others as well, they have offered another charity, Childrens Hospice Association Scotland, the chance to fundraise on this night too. This outreaching to others is yet one more deeply impressive aspect of this amazing event.
At the stage door a slow trickle of choir members are leaving– a trickle because almost all of them want to say goodbye and thanks to Maryam as they go. Departing, each weary face bears a smile of happiness and satisfaction for a job well done.
They go back to all kinds of lives – crowded or lonely, routine or chaotic, harassed or humdrum. But each will carry the memory of a ‘foot stompin’, pulse racin’, passionate celebration of sound and vision’ of which they were the stars. And that’s certainly something to tell the grandchildren.
My friend Tim helps me limp back to the car where I collapse, happy but exhausted. I wonder what I’m going to tell my own grandchildren about my swollen knees and this whole extraordinary night. The answer of course is as obvious as Michael Jackson’s nose – Blame It On The Boogie!