Barbershop groups get a rush of new blood

Hit television shows such as 'Glee' and 'The Choir' are encouraging record numbers of boys and young men to find their voices

With their slick suits, coiffed hair and tight vocal harmonies, Monkey Magic could be virtually any aspiring boy band. Only the four young men's pitch-perfect singing gives away that they are actually barbershop singers and among the growing number embracing the unfashionable genre.

Traditionally the preserve of middle-aged men in stripy waistcoats and straw boaters, the British Association of Barbershop Singers (Babs) has seen youth membership double in the past six months; a surge that some attribute to a wider rise in the popularity of singing among boys and young men. This week, 2,500 people will head to Harrogate to take part in the annual convention of British barbershop singers.

"One thing driving the increase in young people attending is the availability of barbershop videos on YouTube. We get lots of people who have seen clips and want to get involved," said Alan Goldsmith, 60, chairman of Babs. "A lot of people think that young people only like pop songs, but that is not true."

While the National Barbershop Youth Chorus sings barbershop versions of modern songs, when entering competitions members are restricted to performing a list of traditional songs.

The popularity of TV shows such as The Choir – in which choirmaster Gareth Malone taught choral singing to those who have never sung before – and the hit series Glee are also thought to have encouraged non-singers to take part. Total membership of Babs has risen by 20 per cent in the past 15 months to more than 2,200, while nationwide "Learn to Sing" barbershop courses were heavily oversubscribed, with some choruses having waiting lists of 100.

Some experts believe that it may be the single-sex nature of barbershop quartets that appeals to shy youngsters. "The thing which embarrasses them is girls," said Martin Ashley, professor of education at Edgehill University, who has published extensive research into boys and singing. "Between the ages of 11 and 14, girls put boys off singing by the million. Then by the age of 15 or 16, when they have got over the period where their voice is a bit squeaky, the singing then becomes a good way to impress girls."

More than £40m of government funding has been spent encouraging young people to sing during the past three years, via the national "Sing Up" programme in schools, with the aim of increasing children's confidence and communication skills through song. Barbershop singing also offers boys an alternative to singing in church choirs, where the high-pitched songs put off some youngsters.

Professor Ashley said: "The boys in barbershop quartets are often popular types, who play football as well. Barbershop singing isn't uncool. Whereas when we asked secondary school boys what they thought of boys singing high-pitched songs, they unanimously thought that they shouldn't be singing like that."

Alan Hughes, 24, a member of the quartet Monkey Magic, started barbershop singing when he was 10. "When I was at school people thought it was a bit weird, so I didn't tell many people, but by the time I got to university people just thought it was unique. A lot of my friends now are singers too," he said. "We practise every weekend at one of our houses, most of the time we do a gig on Saturday nights. It can be quite testing on a relationship; three of the four of us have girlfriends who are barbershop singers too, so they understand."

While barbershop quartets may not be jostling Lily Allen for position in the Top 40, record companies are on the lookout for new barbershop acts. Young a cappella group Voces8 signed a recording deal with Signum Classics 18 months ago, and their barbershop-inspired album of Bond film themes enjoyed good sales. Many quartets regularly perform in small venues and private parties.

"It is mostly weddings and anniversary parties. It doesn't make us a profit but it covers our expenses and we've got to travel all over the world, which is a perk. We went on Britain's Got Talent but went out in the first round. I don't think they want people with actual talent," Mr Hughes said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions