The Choir with No Name is a group for homeless people and those on the fringes of society. The choirs are founded on the belief that singing makes you feel positive and helps you build up your confidence. The choir sings anything from pop to reggae and rehearse once a week in London and Birmingham with a dinner provided at the end of each rehearsal. They welcome everyone, including those who love to sing and those who have never sang before. The choir is extremely successful at inspiring its diverse members and the London choir are currently preparing to perform at a concert called ‘With One Voice’ at the Royal Opera House on the 2nd July.
Street’s Got Talent speaks to Dave Cooke, a member of the Choir With No Name and a regular busker at Waterloo. Dave was homeless from the age of 19, but five years ago moved into his own flat. Read how busking and performing in the choir gave him confidence and direction….
“I was homeless on and off for most of my life. When I was 15 I had already passed my test to join the army and so didn’t really put much into my exams because I thought I would be alright because I had a job. I then joined the army at 16 and left after a couple of years.
I had a lot of problems once I left the army. Wherever I was I didn’t feel like I belonged. It was a really difficult time of my life. So I ended up homeless for the first time when I was 19.
I was homeless for a long time and used to sell The Big Issue. There’s only so many times you can say Big Issue before you want to pull your tongue out. It’s not the best job in the world. I have always been singing, doing karaoke’s and open mic nights, so I decided to follow in that direction away from selling The Big Issue.
Six years ago I bought a guitar and taught myself to play. I knew a busker who taught me four chords and I just practised and practised. I used to sell The Big Issue during the week and busk at the weekends when I was learning the guitar.
There is a good atmosphere for going out at the weekends. But busking isn’t that good in the week in London as you’ve mainly got the working mentality with everyone focused on work. Also once people have gone into work there aren’t that many places with people about that you can work in London.
Busking on the underground would be better because Monday to Friday you have all the commuters. I have been trying to get a license to busk on the underground for about five years now and every time I apply I get an email saying too many people have applied and I can’t get an audition. It’s quite frustrating. I know a few people who have busked a few years after me and are on there already.
After a couple of years I worked three nights at Liverpool Street station before I was removed and told that if I was caught on any of the underground pitches again then I would be blacklisted forever. I would never get a pitch so I haven’t been down there since!
Now I busk at weekends in the tunnels around Waterloo, particularly the Imax tunnel which has really nice acoustics, which is important because I’m not amplified. I’ve got a loud voice so I can’t busk anywhere without decent acoustics as you hear my voice a lot sooner than you hear the guitar. So I’m limited to where I can work.
When I first started busking I wasn’t confident playing an instrument and singing at the same time. Busking was very good for building my confidence and getting used to singing anywhere and not worrying about it.
I got into housing five years ago. In The Big Issue there is always articles about Crisis, promoting their music courses, and I’ve always wanted to do that. So five years ago I tried to get into a hostel and once I was in I did all the music courses I could. It was quite comfortable there, but when I first moved in I didn’t really think I’d like it and stayed out as much as possible. So I was doing evening courses that I had no interest in just because they were there and keeping myself occupied.
I also did a couple of promotional stuff for Crisis and so they moved me out into a temporary flat after about seven months. I heard about the Choir With No Name through Crisis and I’ve been a member of the choir now for about three years.
There’s a lot of different kinds of people in the choir and so it helps people in many different ways. For me it built my confidence as a singer. Performing with a choir is completely different as you have a static audience. In the places I busk it is always just passing traffic so you don’t really have people to perform to. I think it is tons and tons better if you have an audience in front of you to sing to. Especially if you have been busking for an hour or two and you might not be concentrating on the meaning or the feeling of the song as much as if there was a person you were actually singing it to.
Music definitely helped me out of homelessness. One of the main issues with me was I had no direction and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Once I started doing music I found the needed direction in my life, and it’s been a hell of a lot better since.
Watch the Choir with No Name’s video below to learn more about the choir.
London’s ‘Choir With No Name’ rehearses every Monday and performs regularly.
- Emma Spedding