Christmas carols? The Southsea Alternative Choir offer up something different at The Wedgewood Rooms

Christmas-time 2010 and a bunch of musician friends decide to busk some of their favourite songs around Southsea.

Thursday, 16th December 2021, 4:53 pm

They are doing it to raise money for Samuel’s Fund which is helping a friend's son with cerebral palsy so he can get an operation in America.

Eleven years on, Samuel has long since had the op, and those friends are still playing together, still raising money for other charities, including Enable Ability, Tonic and Cystic Fibrosis Kids.

The Southsea Alternative Choir’s Christmas shows have become a festive staple, they’ve been part of every Victorious Festival to date, and they have raised a whopping £60,000.

There had been big plans to celebrate their 10th anniversary last year, but these were of course waylaid by the pandemic.

Vocalist Charlie Waddington says: ‘What with last year being the anniversary, we were all really looking forward to it and had this grand plan of what we were going to do, being our usual ostentatious selves, but yeah, it got scuppered, along with a whole lot of more important things than us.

‘So that put paid to that idea, and then with the big, long layoff we got even more rusty than we already were!’

Previous years’ Wedgewood Rooms Christmas gigs have taken a variety of themes, from The Band’s The Last Waltz to 1967, but this year, they’re cherry-picking from five years across five decades.

The Southsea Alternative Choir on the main stage at Victorious Festival 2019. Picture by Paul Windsor

‘We've got an anniversary set, so it's songs from ’61, ’71, '81, ’91 and 2001. We did have a look at 2011,’ he laughs, ‘but we couldn't find any songs that we liked. I'm not sure if that's age... but maybe we all shut down in 2001 and after that there was no new music!’

They’ve been holed up in Casemates rehearsal studios in Hilsea, putting the set together.

‘It's a really cool set though and really fun and we're looking forward to doing it. We have managed to find the time to get together a handful of times and put some graft in.

‘It’s been fun putting something new together, and it always means a lot getting on stage at The Wedgewood Rooms – we love it there.

The Southsea Alternative Choir at The Wedgewood Rooms. Picture by Paul Windsor

‘Paul (Caruana, Casemates’ owner) there is a lovely chap and he looks after us – we all used to practice there when we were kids in different bands over the years, so it's natural that we get there again.’

The current TSAC line-up features seven, but has gone up and down and featured numerous guests over the years.

‘At the moment, it's Dan Waldren on keyboards, me, Matt Gill and Jim Lines on lead vocals, then we've got Sam Richards on acoustic, Sam Davidson on electric and snare drum and fancy footwork, Ash Hills on bass and kickdrum.

‘It's a nice tight unit, I think it's probably the longest we've had the same line-up now. We're all putting up with each other, there's a mutual tolerance that runs through the band that keeps us going,’ he laughs, ‘it takes a lot of patience to be part of this bunch of idiots – but I don't think any of us would survive without it.’

The Southsea Alternative Choir, 2012 vintage.

Early on during the first lockdown, unable to sing in the same room the boys began creating a series of videos of some of their favourite songs.

‘We did the Super Furry Animals one, It's Not The End of The World, we were being a bit cheeky, and trying to make people giggle.

‘The format worked really well, and it took us by surprise. Sam Davidson put in a ton of work on the technical side.

‘We just had to sing it badly a few times and send him the video, and he pieced it all together and made it sound like we knew what we were doing, but it went down really well.’

For the next one, Charlie roped in a famous family member – his brother-in-law Nick Lowe, and Nick’s son, for a cover of Lowe’s hit (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.

‘That was really fun. Nick's lovely – and was really up for doing that. It was something we decided to do early on in lockdown and he was very game.’

The video finishes with Nick asking Charlie to put the kettle on and Dan, impressively, throwing a teabag into a mug from the opposite side of the room

‘That all came from Nick. He sent me the video, and he just said that at the end. I thought it was really funny, so I replied to him. Then Dan did that, and he'll tell us he did it once, but it was probably about the 90th attempt!’

But Charlie’s favourite was a cover of psychedelic-rock legends Love’s Alone Again Or – a long-standing staple of the choir’s sets. They managed to get Love co-founder Johnny Echols involved, along with several other guests.

‘That was the coup de grace. Johnny Echols – what a lovely, lovely, man, and that was awesome – that was a dream come true for me.

‘Their Forever Changes is one of my favourite albums of all time. We couldn't really top that, so we packed it in!’

When Charlie, Sam Richards and Matt were in noughties hopefuls, the Parlophone-signed Bluesky Research, Love were a ‘huge influence, it was a common theme for us’.

It was a passion shared by Jim, then in indie-rockers Ricky – who actually managed to crack the top 40 with their single Stop Knocking The Walls Down.

‘Us four were huge fans of (frontman) Arthur Lee and Love. We saw Arthur Lee at The Wedgewood Rooms and I forced a demo of Bluesky's into his hands when I bumped into him outside the venue. I'm sure he listened to it loads...

‘But that was pretty cool.’

Looking back at their beginning, Charlie says: ‘It was a Christmas carol alternative, and that's where the “alternative” came from. None of us are Christmas carol fans, so this is way better.

‘I don't think any of us envisaged it lasting this long.

‘It was Stu (Scott, who left in 2017), Sam and Sam who went out one Christmas, then Jim, Matt and I joined them just to say “hi” and hang out.

‘After that, they went away and had a natter, came back to us all and said: “Do you fancy trying to do something properly next year?” And the rest is history.

‘We're impressed with ourselves that we've managed to last this long and people are still listening to us.’

They’ve also effectively become Victorious Festival’s house band, having played at every one since it began in the Historic Dockyard, and now putting in up to six sets over the weekend while their helpers rattle the fundraising buckets through the audience.

‘It is fun, and it's always defined the festival for me – there's been years where I haven't seen a single other band. But the organisers are all mates of ours, and it's a real fun thing to do.

‘Andy (Marsh, Victorious co-founder) used to be in (fellow Portsmouth band) Ridgeway when we were Bluesky, so we knew each from knocking about the gig circuit, and we'd bump into them in London and Manchester and stuff.

‘It was natural that we'd be involved in some shape or form, but probably didn't expect it to take the shape that it has, but it's cool – it's a good weekend.’

Charlie fondly recalls them playing on the main stage mid-afternoon in 2018. ‘It was quite fun having the Happy Mondays warming up for us – that was quite special.

‘Them walking off stage and us saying: “Well done lads, we'll take it from here...”’

But now they’re looking forward to finally being able to play some Christmas shows again.

‘‘We had a lot of messages from people saying they missed seeing us last year, which was really nice.

‘We seem to have carved out a little place in people's Christmases, which is all we could have hoped for.

‘Our motives for doing it are pretty universal for all of us – it's to see each other, and to raise the money for charity.

‘It would be very difficult to stop it now with a clear conscience – it's something we're able to do, not everyone has the opportunity to do something that provides something good, but also really enjoy it. It's a nice job.’

The Wedgewood Rooms gig on December 18 is now sold out, but check for returns.

The choir will also be making an appearance at a pub in Albert Road, Southsea, on Tuesday, December 21, and playing another ticketed show at Southsea Beach Cafe on Tuesday, December 28.

Keep checking for details.