Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Singing styles

We all have at least one unfulfilled ambition and my main one was to be a singer-songwriter of the Joni Mitchell kind. I wrote my first song when I was six, and just kept on. Even now, a song bubbles up every so often like lava from a dormant volcano, reminding me of the existence of music in my soul.

When I used to sing, I loved the tonal quality of notes, drawing them out and making them ring. To me, singing was about the beauty of the sound and the emotional sense of the words. My voice was of the pure, folky soprano type as delivered by Mary Hopkin and Joni Mitchell in her early days prior to The Hissing of Summer Lawns when she started to go jazzy, which caused as many ripples amongst fans as Dylan did when he decided to go electric.

Now, though, singing seems all about style and much less about meaning and tonal quality. Listen to the singers on X-Factor and you won't hear a pure note amongst them. What you get instead is a series of tricksy twiddles and hiccupy catches. It's 'clever' singing, technical singing, rather than singing from the heart and letting it pour out of an open throat in the way an opera singer does. It's a style I knew nothing about until the day I went to put a track down in a recording studio about 20 years ago and the producer wanted all kinds of vocal frills and furbelows that I didn't have a clue how to do. Next time I heard my song, he'd got another female singer to ad-lib all the twiddles.

So how refreshing it is to hear Camilla Kerslake's high, pure tones on How Can I Keep From Singing. Not a twiddle in sight, just the lovely, lilting melody, unadulterated by affected modern pop 'style'. This is the kind of singing I do. In fact, I can reach her notes, which is quite a miracle. Though it's been some time since I could hit Minnie Ripperton's very highest squeak on Loving You. I can still reach the note below it, though. I tried it when I was all alone in the changing room at the gym the other day. There's a stone floor, tiled walls and a very good echo. Then I heard a male voice clearing his throat very loudly and realised that the male changing room was on the other side of the wall. Oops. Bet he thought someone had pulled their thong up too high, with a twang. Ee-ee-eek!