They Will Rock You: The rise of Rock Choir

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With 7,500 members, Rock Choir has filled Wembley, signed a record deal, and is now the subject of an ITV show. Alice-Azania Jarvis meets the woman behind it

Nicholas Williamson had never done anything like it. “I’ve always liked music, but I’d never taken any opportunities,” explains the 20-year-old student. “I wasn’t very confident.” But when his mother joined a local choir, and his girlfriend expressed interest in doing the same, he decided to give it a go. Before long, the pair had signed up as members of Rock Choir, Glasgow City Centre. “I wanted to be part of something big – and now I am.”

Rock Choir is, by all accounts, “something big” with seven-and-a-half-thousand members nationwide. Its members sing feel-good hits – anything ranging from the Motown classic “Dancing In The Street” to Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse’s arrangement of “Valerie”.

Since 2009, the choir has held a three album record deal with Decca Records, part of Universal Music. And in May, it filled out Wembley Arena to give a special performance to 3500 spectators, the organisation of which has been the subject of a three-part documentary on ITV.

The whole thing is the brainchild of Caroline Redman Lusher, a classically trained musician who, in her teens, nurtured ambitions of pop stardom. A professional singer from the age of 15, she studied contemporary music at Salford university before spending four years as a session musician, entertaining guests at the Dorchester. “I was lucky to make a living for so long,” she reflects. Eventually, though, she packed it in, returning to her native Surrey to take up a post as a teacher.

It was while she was teaching performing arts and music that the Rock Choir model began to take shape. “I had all these students who wanted to sing but hadn’t necessarily had any training; it was about bridging the gap between amateur and professional.” What began as a small gathering of 20-odd quickly swelled to a far more formidable 170. “Before long, I had the mums and dads begging for their own version – that’s when I realised that there was a market amongst the general public.”

And so it was that, in 2005, Lusher quit her job, borrowed £1,000 from her family (“for equipment,” she explains) and pinned a poster up in her local coffee shop. “I was hoping for 20 attendees,” she says of her first choir practice. “My dad and I laid out 40 chairs. In the end, 70 people turned up.” They were people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities; crucial to Rock Choir’s appeal is the fact that there is no audition process, meaning that even the least confident, most inexperienced of singers can relax and enjoy themselves.

For the following three years, Lusher remained the sole teacher at Rock Choir; her time was spent driving around Surrey, racing from one rehearsal to another. Eventually, demand for her unique brand of feel good became too much. “I started searching for musicians to train up as instructors.” Doing so was a risk – looking at footage of Lusher in command of a group, it’s quite clear that her charisma accounts for much of the brand’s success. She is ceaselessly energetic, enthusiastic and imaginative, pounding away on the keyboard, chanting instructions into her microphone headset. Her teaching style combines professionalism with accessibility: she teaches by rote, but her background ensured the choir has “a backbone of structured music.” Imitating it is no mean feat.

Catherine Jones signed up to become a Rock Choir instructor after spending a year as a member of the Dorking troupe. “I had been teaching singing for years and joined Rock Choir for fun,” she explains. “I just found this wonderful family of people at my local church hall.” Following in Lusher’s footsteps meant spending two or three days a week training. “There were a lot of sessions – having been a member helped, too.” Now she teaches Rock Choir full time in Wilmslow, near Manchester, while running a summer school in musical theatre during the summer holidays.

Teaching isn’t, however, limited to the experienced. Unlike Jones, Stef Conner had never heard of Rock Choir until she applied for a role opening up a new group in Yorkshire. “I was studying for a PhD in classical composition and I needed a job that I could fit around that.” Without any grounding in (and limited knowledge of) pop music, embracing the new style was a challenge – but one that has paid off. “I spend a lot of time in isolation, composing, and classical music can be quite fringe. Rock Choir has opened up a whole new world to me: a new style of music, but also a place where I can go and be an extrovert, have fun.” Williamson feels the same way: “You’re part of a team having fun,” he reflects. “I’ve become so much more confident.”

It’s precisely this sort of experience – both among teachers and pupils – that accounts for the choir’s runaway success. When Dixon Stainer, head of Decca records, saw Lusher and co on BBC breakfast, he called her immediately, insisting that “whatever you’ve got, we want to bottle it.” May’s appearance at Wembley was typical of Rock Choir: over the years, it’s pulled off a host of stunts – from flash mobs to Guinness World Records. The next project will be even bigger and better, says Lusher. “One day I’d love to perform at the Royal Variety Show,” she says. “And there’s been some talk of the Olympics, too. Ultimately, it’s about what the members can say they’ve done. The sky’s the limit.”

www.rockchoir.com

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there