Martin Thomas, boy soprano

I still find it astounding that some small children can be so eager to perform stuff, anything, in public, whether it be playing football for the school football team in front of crowds of bawling, wailing but expectant parents, singing in a school concert in a hall full of parents only some of whom wanted to be there in the first place, or performing in a school play in a hall full of parents only some of whom etc etc etc

And yet they are, some children simply want to show off what they percieve to be outstanding talent, whether or not they have outstanding talent, and don’t get me wrong, some do have outstanding talent, but there is still no shortage of those who don’t possess outstanding talent to stand up in public and perform regardless, the sort of child who a parent will sit reluctantly in a school hall on hard plastic chairs for two hours while their arse disappears from the internal radar of all feelings, smile and say “Aww bless him/her/delete as appropriate”

I was never that sort of child.

I hated being in the spotlight, I even hated my mother coming to our school, I was embarrassed to bring my mother to school for the likes of open days/open nights and/or the seldom few school productions that I was press ganged into. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed by my mother as such or that she did anything to embarrass me, it was just embarrassing to have your mother tag along with you in school telling you to straighten your tie and to introduce her to this nice boy here, is he one of your friends, “No mother” you’d say “this is school bully, he would normally have had my dinner money off me by now if you hadn’t been here”

And so it came to pass that in that first term at Leeds Modern School the only slightly pubescent Jerrychicken was selected by our Beethoven look-alikey music master, the miserable Weber, to be in the school choir, me having what he must have recognised as a passable soprano, it took him two further terms to realise that in fact I mimed most of the way through any group singing, a fact that was painfully obvious when he finally asked me to sing a solo.

But for the time being I was selected as one of thirty or forty first year soprano boys to lead the school christmas carol concert, an evening of christmas song in the big hall in front of hundreds of assembled parents only some of whom ec etc etc

Our head had delusions of himself being on the bridge of a prestigious red brick public school somewhere close to his beloved Cambridge rather than head of an admittedly red brick (but real red brick, not the nomenclature cartel of prestigious-ness) but very ordinary city grammar school and his christmas carol concerts were snaffled straight from the sort of thing you’d expect to see at Kings College Chapel – rows of angelic choirboys (yes, me) walking down the aisle from the back of the hall holding candles among dimmed lights and warbling in three part harmony while mater weeps with pride.

I wished my mother had not come, I wished I’d never given her the duplicated note from school that said “You are commanded to attend the school christmas carol concert especially as your son is in it” but she’d signed the tear-off slip at the bottom and stupidly I’d handed it in and now here she was, on her own because my father would never break off one of his billiards nights for a bloody stupid school event, somewhere in this vast audience was my mother nudging whoever was sat next to her and whispering, “Thats my son you know, his father sings in pubs so we know where he gets it from”

My father had never sung “Once in Royal Davids City” though, my father had never had to walk down an aisle of hundreds of parents while carrying a candle and warbling/miming in a soprano style and hoping that his mother didn’t see him, or worse still, hoping that he didn’t see his mother – I did.

Martin Thomas had been hand picked by Weber to sing a soprano solo, I’d have died, just died, if Weber had picked me but there was never any danger that Weber would pick me for Martin Thomas actually did have a perfect soprano voice and he actually did want to sing the solo, Martin Thomas was one of those boys who WANTED to perform in public, I’d gone to junior school with Martin Thomas and even there he was regarded as a bit of a wimp by the rest of us, a bit like Softy Walter of Dennis the Menace fame, I wasn’t surprised at all when Martin Thomas was revealed as a perfect soprano, it completed the picture of Martin Thomas.

But he had the bottle to sing the whole of the first verse solo, as the rest of the choir, older boys and masters with deeper voices, assembled on stage we first year (and one as yet “not whole” second year) sopranos gathered together in the crush hall at the back of the main hall, freshly scrubbed faces, freshly pressed and starched white shirts, school ties wiped clean of last months school dinner stains we paired up into a huge crocodile chain and leading us at the front was Martin Thomas, star soprano,

At the front of the hall before the school orchestra and main choir Weber took his place on the conductors podium, tapped his baton and Martin Thomas began to sing, then stepped from the crush hall into the aisle of the main hall.

“Once in Royal Davids City” he sang, “stood a lowly cattle shed” he sang, further steps into the hall, no musical accompaniment, singing solo acappella, and we followed, two by two, just like Noahs animals, not singing yet, not until the second verse, but walking and trying to stop this fucking candle from melting wax all over your hands.

And then I was in the hall, stepping slowly in the chain, concentrating on the candle that was guttering threateningly like a firework that was about to explode, and where was my mother, keep your eyes on the candle, don’t look up for now all the parents had turned around to watch the choir process down the aisle, jesus wept this was embarrassing, how the hell did I get here, why was my mother here, we don’t do religion in our family, why was I about to mime to a religious song as if I cared less about being born in a stable, and where was my bloody mother anyway ?


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