THE BIG READ Urban Vocal Group: 'It's all about creating confident young people'

The members of UVG rehearsing for their Portsmouth Guildhall concert at The Wedgewood Rooms
The members of UVG rehearsing for their Portsmouth Guildhall concert at The Wedgewood Rooms

AS the voices swell as the song reaches its climax, you can see the rapt expressions on the choir members' faces.

The young woman nails the solo before another member takes over, and then the massed ranks return for the final chorus. Lost in the moment, the enjoyment is plain for all to see.

In recent years choral singing has had something of a renaissance thanks to the popularity of people like Gareth Malone and his accompanying prime time TV shows.

But this is the Urban Vocal Group, which began expressly to give youngsters free access to singing and is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2018. And tomorrow they will be putting on their biggest headlining concert to date at Portsmouth Guildhall.

The event will be a celebration of the charity's work and will feature more than 150 singers accompanied by a house band and special guests, Most Wanted Street Dance.

The UVG, a registered charity since 2013, provides free access to group vocals, songwriting, recording, instrument tuition and industry training

Amba Tremain and Charlie Fletcher, the co-founders of UVG

Amba Tremain and Charlie Fletcher, the co-founders of UVG

Musicians Amba Tremain and Charlie Fletcher founded the group in 2008. They first met while both teaching at Park Community School in Leigh Park and Charlie had the idea of creating a vocal group which would be open to any young person who wanted to sing, regardless of ability or personal circumstances.

Charlie says: 'I wanted it to be free to access and to be different from other choirs with a more contemporary vocal style and repertoire.

'The idea was to attract young people who would not normally have the confidence or inclination to take part in group singing and to use it as a gateway to further participation in music.'

The Urban Vocal Group’s first session took place in Havant with eight people in January 2008.

Lost in the moment - rehearsing at The Wedgewood Rooms

Lost in the moment - rehearsing at The Wedgewood Rooms

Since then hundreds have passed through its ranks.

The groups have performed at venues and events including Victorious Festival, The New Theatre Royal and The Wedgewood Rooms. In 2011 they even had the privilege of performing at The House of Commons. They have also recorded and released two group EPs.

The UVG works in areas of Portsmouth and Havant defined as disadvantaged where there is limited access to music-making activities and this has enabled them to tap into talent that may otherwise be overlooked while also building community spirit and developing personal and social skills in young people.

They offer work experience and volunteering opportunities to support education and employment prospects and have recruited three apprentices and two music leaders from within the groups.

Olivia Haggarty, 18, is coming to the end of her apprenticeship through UVG. She found herself at a loss after dropping out of college, 'it wasn't what I thought it would be,' and went to Charlie asking for any kind of work. He suggested the apprenticeship scheme.

'It's been great, I can work and get paid for doing something I love.'

Working with another charity, Artswork, they created a bespoke scheme for Olivia, covering many aspects of the music business as well as the actual music itself.

'The amount of things I've learned and gained through this have been incredible,' she adds.

In 2014 they began to offer opportunities to develop the emerging talent that was coming through the groups and have helped 16 young musicians in writing, recording and releasing their own tracks on The UVG label.

The UVG is now recognised as a major provider of artist development opportunities for young people with artists such as Mollie Scott, who recently graduated from the Guildford Academy of Contemporary Music and also released her debut EP, making a name for themselves in the Portsmouth area.

In 2014 a fee-paying adult group was set up in Havant both as a means of progression for members who reached 18 and also to help raise funds to enable the charity to continue its work. There are now more than 60 singers attending adult groups in Havant and Portsmouth.

UVG’s main funder is Youth Music – a national charity which invests in music-making projects for children and young people experiencing challenging circumstances. However they recently secured additional funding to diversify their activities including a Heritage Lottery-funded songwriting project and a radio show project funded by Youth Social Action. He adds: 'Who would have thought all those years ago that so many young people would be given the opportunity to aspire and achieve through making music?

'Our model of contemporary repertoire and informal delivery combined with access to professional development opportunities resonates strongly with young people.

'The differences that we have seen are not only musical but personal and social, helping them prosper in education, employment and life.

'The charity doesn't exist to make people famous, it's to make people believe in themselves.

'I don't care if people come out of UVG and become musicians, it's about what they get out of being part of UVG.

'It's all about creating confident young people.'

• The show is at the Guildhall tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets £12. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.

For more information about the charity and its sessions, go to theuvg.co.uk

____________________________________

They don't just sing others' songs – they make original music too

In 2014 Urban Vocal Group began to offer opportunities to develop the emerging talent that was coming through the groups and have supported 16 young musicians in writing, recording and releasing their own tracks on The UVG label.

In 2016 they piloted Breaking Through, an artist development programme which enabled six young musicians to release an album of original tracks co-written with music mentors Andy Muscat, Mollie Scott, Leonie Tremain, Parv and Jerry Williams.

Jerry is also a patron of the charity and has performed with the young singers on stage several times.

She adds: 'The UVG are one of the best groups you will ever see live. Every time I see them I get the biggest buzz and burst of happiness. They're truly inspiring and "feel good".'

_____________________________________

'We're like a big family'

For many members, Urban Vocal Group is merely somewhere to come and sing – and that's fine.

But for others it has come to mean so much more.

Victoria Edwards, from Havant, joined the UVG as an 11-year-old. Shortly afterwards she had a brain haemorrhage, leaving her paralysed down her left side. Then in 2012 they found a brain tumour, which, while benign, is growing slowly, leaving her in constant pain. She has recovered much of her movement but it left her partially sighted. 

Now 18, she says: It's great to come to UVG and have that release and to forget about it. I can come here and just sing, and that's all that's needed. It's been my medicine.'

The group has also helped her get her Gold Arts Award. 'It's like the creative arts version of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and it's equivalent to an AS level as well.

'There's been so many opportunities in the UVG to allow us to grow as people.'

And she loves the social side too. 'We are like a family. If you're having a bad day, we all support each other.'

For Keelie Sanderson it has become an outlet for problems at school. The 12-year-old says: 'I'd been bullied at school and I still am.

'My brothers and my mum came to UVG, and I'd been to a couple of their gigs before I started, so I knew what it was all about.

'I didn't realise how much I enjoyed singing until I joined UVG though.

'Being at UVG helps me cope with it all. Before I felt like nobody cared, but here it's like a big family, we all have a laugh and joke together. 

'Even when we do argue, we're friends the next day.'