Part II of the success story that began in 2005 when Universal Records auditioned thousands of choirboys for a place in the world’s first choirboy band, the founder members (so to speak) Ben, Patrick and CJ who like all boys their age enjoyed football, computer games and rock music. More unusually, Ben, Patrick and CJ also enjoyed centuries-old choral music by long-dead classical composers. Collectively they became known as The Choirboys. They certainly struck a chord with the public with their debut album selling 500,000 copies, in the process reaching No.1 in the classical charts, the top ten in the pop charts and the single, their version of Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, reached the pop top 20.
18 months later and nature had taken its natural course, Ben, Patrick and CJ were no longer quite able to reach that high C. Naturally, for young men of a certain age, their voices had broken and it was time to pass the baton on to the new kids on the block.
The Choirboys, Bill, Andrew and William are back for Christmas. The faces may have changed, but the voices are as pure as ever. Three new boys singing a collection of carols and Christmas favourites that will melt mothers’ hearts and fill stockings for years to come.
So what are The Choirboys? They are cute. They are commercial. And they are an integral part of our cultural heritage… given a twenty-first century twist. At first glance William, Andrew and Bill look more like a stylish boy band – Latino heartthrobs Menudo or a clean cut junior Busted spring to mind. They might sing like angels but they have discarded their traditional uniform of cassocks and surplices for Gap chinos, designer suits and trendy haircuts.
“We auditioned literally hundreds of boys and these are the three best singers we could find in the whole country,” said Dickon Stainer, general manager of Universal Classics and Jazz. “Unlike a pop group, where looks, style and personality are given as much priority as musical ability, these boys have been picked on one criterion alone – their voices. It has to be more than excellent, we cannot get away with second best.”
The Carols Album is a collection of seasonal favourites – including Silent Night, In the Bleak Midwinter, Away in a Manger, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing – with a few unusual takes. In Dulce Jubilo sits somewhere between the traditional arrangement and Mike Oldfield’s 1975 hit. The evergreen Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, originally sung by Judy Garland in the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis” and subsequently covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to James Taylor and the Jackson 5, has never sounded as good. Another highlight is the duet with girl choristers All Angels on O Holy Night, which while not technically a carol it is consistently voted Classic FM’s number one Christmas track.
Three is better than one – or that’s the conclusion Steve Abbott (the man behind the early careers of Moby and The Stereophonics and now the manager of Hayley Westenra and Aled Jones), Dickon Stainer and Mark Wilkinson from Universal Classics and Jazz first came to in 2005 following a nationwide search that took talent scouts to nearly 50 cathedrals and churches all over the country.
“Originally we were looking for just one choirboy,” says Mark, “Steve, Dickon and I had an idea what we were looking for but there we were in a studio down in Chiswick and we couldn’t make up our minds between the final three boys – they were individually brilliant and each was a little bit different. We just said ‘why don’t we create a group and call them the Choirboys.’ It was a spur of the moment thing but from that moment we intuitively knew it was a good idea.”
The appeal of the Choirboys brand is about more than nostalgia for it captures a fleeting moment in time. The life of a boy treble is so limited. It takes years to train a voice to the level that they can be a jaw droppingly beautiful soloist and from then on it is a race against time and nature. There is no guarantee that a choirboy will have a second voice and even if he does it can never be the same.
2007’s search followed the same process of elimination with Steve Abbott criss-crossing the country visiting choir and cathedral schools, all the places he knew were dealing with good young boy trebles. He first saw both Andrew Swait from Gloucestershire and William Dutton, from Harrogate in Yorkshire, sing at Westminster Abbey in Radio 2’s Young Choristers of the year competition which William won. The trio is completed by Ben Goss, who was coincidentally William’s friend, a fellow chorister at their primary school.
The Choirboys and they are about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. All three know that their time in the spotlight is limited and relish the opportunity they have been given. They are doing things they have never done before and may not do again, finding out how a record company works, spending time in a studio, meeting composers, doing record signings, being at the heart of promoting a record. It is they all agree “great fun”.
“We have come back with the Choirboys brand intact and revitalised” says Mark Wilkinson. “There is no reason why we can’t visit it again in the future when we can give another three choirboys the opportunity to capture in twenty-first century sound a musical moment in time that can never be repeated.”