The Urban Vocal Group has a passion worth singing about

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As the voices soar, the energy in the room is palpable.

The Urban Vocal Group is in full swing, practising for a summer of major concerts.

The Urban Vocal Group with soloist Justine Taylor take part in the Portsmouth Schools Glee Competition held at the Guildhall in Portsmouth.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves. (114203-11)

The Urban Vocal Group with soloist Justine Taylor take part in the Portsmouth Schools Glee Competition held at the Guildhall in Portsmouth.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves. (114203-11)

They are not just any old choir. The UVG is made up of youngsters from across the area with 11-year-olds from all sorts of backgrounds rubbing shoulders with singers in their late teens.

They all have one thing in common – a passion for music.

Thirty-five of them are in a small room at Bedhampton Social Hall rehearsing songs with coach Amba Tremain. Their repertoire is wide and tonight they are rehearsing for a performance with classical group Blake at the Kings Theatre.

As you leave the room you hear others voices echoing around the building.

In one room vocal coach Sally Salmon is working with small groups to ensure they don’t harm their vocal cords and they stay fit and healthy.

Elsewhere Martin Parvin, known to his fans as MC Parv, is passing on his skills to youngsters after he learned his trade at The UVG.

The atmosphere is electric, even though it’s just a normal Monday night for the group.

Director Charlie Fletcher, who founded the group in 2008, is buzzing around making sure everyone knows what they should be doing and taking questions. The 48-year-old swapped a career in business to chase his dream of teaching music – and now he has succeeded in making the dreams of others come true. The decision to leave his steady career stemmed from tragedy.

He said: ‘My best friend, who taught me guitar, passed away when he was 38. He just dropped dead of a heart attack, out of the blue. I’ve been a passionate guitarist all my life and that was the jolt that got me volunteering with young people.

‘In 1995 I thought “I can do this”. I realised that all the stuff I learned in business was so easy to transfer over to the arts. It put me in a better position.

‘And, through music, you can teach those young people transferable skills too, like communication, team work, and the importance of practice.

‘The most successful entrepreneurs are creative people. The arts have a place in society.’

To prove his point, Charlie says that of all the hundreds who have passed through The UVG’s doors, every single one is either in work, education or training. It bucks the trend of almost 10 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds nationally who are not in any form of education or training.

Charlie adds: ‘There is not one person who has accessed The UVG who is unemployed. There could be a number of other reasons for that but I hope that we have helped them develop vital skills.’

So what does the future hold for The UVG? Ultimately Charlie would like to set up a label where members can publish and produce their own music as well as taking The UVG further afield. There is no doubt he will succeed.

Earlier this month Charlie, a Glaswegian, was rewarded for all his hard work with an invitation to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. He was nominated by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation – and he wore a kilt. He said: ‘I was chuffed to be nominated. There’s not a lot of money in this game but to get recognition with this for something I’ve put my heart and soul into makes me immensely proud. But I couldn’t do it without Amba and Sally. They do so much and without them we wouldn’t have such fantastic singers.’


The UVG started with just eight members and within eight months had 20.

There are now around 40 young people who sing, perform, compose and record music.

It is free to join and covers a wide area – from Havant to Portsmouth and further afield if they can make it.

There are no barriers to entry.

The success of the group is breeding success and attracting funding from the Arts Council, Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, Waitrose and local authorities.

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The UVG has performed many concerts – from The Wedgewood Rooms to Portsmouth Guildhall and even the Houses of Parliament.

They are much in demand. The most recent gig was a support slot with Blake, a Brit-award winning classical four piece.

The show was a departure from their usual contemporary pieces but they wowed the packed out audience of The Kings Theatre with Nessum Dorma, Jerusalem and Hallelujah.

Irish actress Dervla Kirwan was so impressed with a performance by the group she agreed to be their patron.

She said: ‘I was completely blown away by the professionalism, enthusiasm and commitment by all the members of The UVG.

Changing young lives

The UVG has given young people a focus, taught them skills they will keep for life and given them opportunities they may never have had otherwise.

For some, it’s changed their lives.

South Downs College student Louiza Scotto, 16, has been with the group for 18 months. She said: ‘At first I was really shy but everyone was so friendly. I’ve made tons of friends and the atmosphere is brilliant and it’s helped my confidence to grow.’

Sophie Hodgson agrees. The 14-year-old, from Miltoncross School, in Portsmouth, has written and recorded her own song.

She said: ‘It’s pretty awesome here. I’ve performed at the Wedgewood Rooms, which is somewhere I go to see gigs. I never thought I’d be up there on stage. It was a phenomenal experience.

‘I’ve also just finished recording a song. I have a big book of lyrics and I brought them to Sally (Salmon) and she helped me put the song together. I would never have had that experience if it hadn’t been for the UVG. It has changed my life, definitely.’

When Faye Carpenter first joined she was so shy she used to sit in a corner. The 14-year-old Purbrook Park School pupil said: ‘I found it really hard to interact but I grew in confidence because I knew everyone came here with the same expectation – to sing and enjoy ourselves. I’ve never regretted joining.’