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.”

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • 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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before