Four strangers in the midst of difficult life transitions find friendship, purpose, and perfect pitch in in this heartfelt comic novel.
In the small English village of St. Ambrose, the members of the Bridgeford Community Choir have little in common. But when their singing coach dies unexpectedly before a big contest, the motley group must join forces — and voices — in pursuit of an impossible-seeming goal. Featuring an eclectic cast of characters — including a mother suffering from empty nest syndrome, a middle-aged man who has just lost his job and his family, and a 19-year-old waitress who dreams of reality TV stardom — ALL TOGETHER NOW is a poignant and charming novel about small town life, community, falling in love, and the big rewards of making a small change.
‘So, let’s get back to it.’ Judith clapped her hands. Still chatting together, they all drifted back to the circle of trust.
‘What do we fancy to finish up with?’
‘I know.’ Annie, shaking the water off her hands, was the last back to her seat. ‘Something a bit modern – end on a high. Let’s show Tracey here what we’re made of.’
‘How about some ABBA?’
‘Go on then.’
Mrs Coles began, they started up. They hadn’t done this one for a while and while Judith was particularly audible, and quite heartfelt, on being ‘nothing special’ and ‘a bit of a bore’, the rest were a bit rusty. The sopranos were horribly warbly and the altos, having forgotten the words, were sharing their reading glasses and losing their places. Tracey sat with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes, flaring her nostrils, very clearly having nothing to do with any of it. Towards the end of the first verse, they were starting to lose their way al – together. Even Lewis seemed to be aware that something was amiss.
And then it happened.
So I say . . .
As the volume began to build and Mrs Coles’ fat fingers bashed out the first chords to the first chorus:
. . . thank you for the music
Tracey – despite herself – started to sing. It didn’t seem to be a particularly joyful or even a voluntary act. She looked quite shocked, almost violated, as if her voice was forcing its way up through her chest and out of her mouth, like sudden vomit or an alien baby. She sounded strong from the first, but soft, like she was keeping a hold of it, still had some control. But then her sound started to build and that full, distinctive throaty mezzo filled the whole hall almost at once. And then it built some more. And suddenly it burst through and up and out at the top of its own strength and the sound of the Choir was at once transformed. Lewis held out his lyrics for her, but she couldn’t see them. Tracey had stopped fighting; she was possessed, lost, somewhere inside the song. Her eyes were closed, her fingers were snapping, she rocked in her seat. Her mouth was so wide that the light kept catching her tongue stud. All the others could do was cling on for the ride.
For gi-ving it to . . . me.
The rest of them leapt to their feet, cheering and whooping, but there was no time for any of that stuff. Without any sort of democratic discussion whatsoever, Tracey had gone back to the beginning of the ABBA Gold track list. She was off, unstoppable. Nothing was going to get in her way until Waterloo had been fought and lost.
At the end of it, they bellowed for their own encore, roared their own appreciation. ‘That was amazing,’ called Maria.
‘Just what we need,’ Pat muttered to Lynn, ‘another bloody diva.’
‘Tracey, before you go, we must get your email,’ shouted an alto over the din.
Tracey, who was sitting still, stunned by the sound of her own voice, slowly came blinking back into the room. ‘Oh . . . no . . . Christ, no . . . I don’t think . . . ’
‘Don’t worry. We know where you live. Well done, Lewis, for bagsying this one. Why don’t we say that everyone has to bring a new person next week: friend, family member—’
‘Total stranger dragged in off the street.’
‘Unsuspecting passer-by by means of a sack over its head.’
‘—to double our numbers. And need I remind you: we are DESPERATE for MEN!’
‘Speak for yourself, love.’ Some of those sopranos – so predictable you could set your watch by them.
And the basses were no better. ‘Am I not man enough for you any more?’ That was, of course, absolutely hilarious. On some obscure historic point of principle, basses were required to find everything said by basses to be absolutely hilarious.
‘You’re all too funny for words. Just a few notices before we go . . . ’
Everyone got up. There was a loud scraping of chairs.
‘We’re singing at midnight on Saturday at the anti-superstore protest on London Road,’ Annie shouted over the noise. ‘Usual protest programme – the one we did when they demolished the cottage hospital, closed the youth club, “We Shall Not” etc., etc. Sign-up sheet here.’
The Choir were picking up their bags, shoving in their lyrics, making plans for the week ahead.
‘We’ve also – do you all minding waiting until I’ve finished, please? Not much more. Thank you – we’ve also been asked to run the hot-soup stall for the sit-in for the protesters on Friday night, ten p.m. onwards. A big issue for everybody – excuse me, Lynn, if I could just get to the end of the sentence – an honour to be asked. I’ve done a rota of half-hour slots. All who can come, put your names down. Thank you.’ Annie waved two sheets of paper at the hall and went to put them on the table by the door.
‘Can I just add,’ bellowed Lewis, even though the hall was nearly empty now, ‘we’re just weeks away from the Talent Show – our major fund raiser of the whole year. I hope you’re all perfecting your acts.’
‘Night,’ called the last ones to leave.
And the singers drifted out into the darkness, huddled into their coats, clutching music to their chests, bracing themselves against the cold air.