Gareth Malone has called on British choirs to drop Purcell for punk after the award-winning choirmaster unveiled a new project in which a hand-picked group of singers lend their voices to radical new arrangements of hardcore rap, rock and R&B songs.
Malone, credited with leading a nationwide revival of community singing through his television series, topped the charts with the Military Wives, the choir he formed from the partners of serving military personnel in Afghanistan.
The Bafta-winning broadcaster now promises a “watershed” in choral singing with a new album, Voices, which he says is designed to expand the repertoire of British choirs beyond tried and trusted works by Bach and Handel and selections from the Glee songbook.
Malone has assembled “a new and revolutionary choir” of 18-25 year-olds after putting up posters of himself around Britain as a Lord Kitchener-style figure, with the phrase “your choirmaster needs you”.
The first track released from the album is a cover of "Guillotine" by Death Grips (video above - with strong language), an experimental Californian hip-hop band, who mix hardcore punk, dub and militantly political lyrics to create a highly confrontational sound.
Malone’s choral reinvention retains the title and repeats one line of the original lyric – “Hidden art, between and beneath, every fragmented, figure of speech” – to create a haunting interpretation, which transforms Death Grips’ aggression into sacred vocal music more closely resembling the Tallis Scholars.
The track, which Malone has posted on the Soundcloud website, will be followed on Voices by versions of songs by Fleet Foxes and Alicia Keys among others, with guest vocals from Lianne Le Havas, fashion model Amber Le Bon and Guillemots’ Fyfe Dangerfield.
Malone told The Independent: “In choosing music to record for this choir, David Kosten (producer, whose credits include Bat For Lashes) and I asked ourselves the question: ‘what is the unlikeliest piece of music for a choir to sing?’.
“David suggested Death Grips’ track ‘Guillotine’ and we wondered if we could pull it off. The result is, I think, a choir sounding very different from how you’d expect and yet it’s still distinctly a British Choral sound.”
Malone, who helped Gary Barlow record a No 1 single for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, added: “Death Grips appealed because they are inherently experimental. Consequently David felt they’d be unlikely to object to a choir covering their song because they’d appreciate the creativity and the spirit of trying to do something bold: he was right.”
The Bafta-winner rejected the easy option of an album of hymns and classic pop hits. “It would have been easy and safe to cover songs that you'd expect on a Glee show but Glee already exists, why repeat it?,” he said. “I want to challenge what ‘straight’ British choirs consider to be appropriate repertoire. I hope this is a watershed moment for choirs: they can do anything.”
Malone, who plans to take his new choir on a world tour, will post a series of web videos detailing the making of the album.
He said: “My mission is to create a ground-breaking choir, celebrating the amazing talent in our country, and initiate a new choral style that is fresh, modern and utterly unique. Our aim will be to inspire a whole generation.”
Malone’s web appeal for Voices choir members stated: “Regardless of background, if you have the voice and the vision, I want you.” The group attempted radical arrangements of songs by Radiohead and Lana Del Rey in order to fulfil Malone’s vision of an album which will “tread uncharted territory by mixing lush, choral textures with innovative and contemporary recording techniques.”
Malone, 37, who made his television breakthrough teaching teenagers choral singing in the 2007 BBC2 series The Choir, is poised to become a US star. It Takes A Choir, launching on the USA network in November, follows Malone as he travels the nation to help unite various American communities through music.
Death Grips – Guillotine original lyrics (video above - with strong language)
Can't stop the groove licks jaws clear off them locks relentless raw movement
Fit to knock you from here to that g-spot body rock connected
To everything you want, ever did want, we got it why not come get it
Stick your head in that hole and watch me drop this cold guillotine death sentence, yah, yah
Tinted windows, bulletproof, the slip knot fixing rope to noose
To the grave stone grinder of cold steel, the passion that blinds me so I feel, yah
Can't let go, no it flows through our veins
Blows through our tunnels and rattles our chains and they all fall down, yah