Music

Gareth Malone: "Can Taylor Swift really sing?"

Gareth Malone on the benefits of communal singing, the 'stigma' of men in choirs - and why he loves Auto-Tune

You’re back with a new show called The Naked Choir. After working with military wives, postmen, doctors and nurses and singing celebrities, are you now on to nudists?

Yip, The Naked Choir – all nude. Actually it’s naked in sound, simply by the fact it’s stripped back a cappella with no instruments. I quite like the idea of an entirely blurred series. Channel 4 did that show where people were… Let’s not go into that.

I think it was Channel 5, unsurprisingly. We’ll never forget that image of Keith Chegwin.

That’s the one.

Is singing a cappella more challenging?

It really is. If you’ve got a piano there’s something to lean on but with a cappella you have to lean on each other. You can’t rely on a backing track with a sweeping string section. No, and let’s face it there are plenty of singers out there who do rely on a big production to give them a lift.

Our culture is all about hogging the spotlight and having The X Factor, while a choir is about coming together to create something more than the sum of their parts.

You are focused on other people, listening to them, and that brings you together. It is immensely beneficial, it makes you feel you’re in society. You can feel totally alone but not when you’re singing.

When I was at school it wasn’t cool for a boy to join the choir.

Same for me. I was in the choir anyway because I was bloody-minded enough just to go for it. I don’t know why singing became stigmatised in this country as something not male. It’s absurd, like saying walking isn’t manly. We’ve all got voices and we can all make some kind of noise.

I think I would benefit from some Auto-Tune though.

I love Auto-Tune, it’s a brilliant and amazing thing. It has a bad reputation but I listen to music of the ’80s and ’90s and it’s incredible how much of it is out of tune. Everyone in the pop industry at one time has found a bum note and thought, oh we’ll just Auto-Tune it.

Is that a good thing?

If you are someone for whom it is fairly offensive to listen to something that’s out of tune then yeah. So much of the music we all now listen to is beyond in tune, it’s perfect. It makes you suspicious – can Taylor Swift really sing? That’s why a cappella has risen on the internet, there’s something real about it.

Your previous shows focused on people with little singing experience but The Naked Choir features ‘active amateurs’.

There is no sense of you thinking, oh didn’t they do well? There’s an element of that with my previous shows where they tended to be about the story why they are singing. Here this is about them trying to create great music.

Has the growth in choirs been inspired by your previous shows?

I think it has. We can thank BBC Two for that. There is a lot of baking going on and a lot of people taking up ballroom dancing because of Strictly.

People like to take potshots at the BBC.

I’m very robustly pro-BBC – as you would expect, since I work for them – but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. On my travels I’ve seen television in other countries and I simply don’t think it’s as good or good enough. Having the BBC has a knock-on effect on other channels – everyone I’ve worked with on a series at the BBC has worked on other channels alongside the BBC. It’s good for everyone.

The Naked Choir airs Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC Two

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