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Giggin4Good Presents Songs4Soi - St Paul's, Covent Garden

“I know there was a sound issue, it’s not his [the sound engineer’s] fault, it’s the Church,” quipped either Jordan Langford or Nathan Lodge, the closest thing to Ant and Dec that the Giggin4Good team had on stage for the latest in a series of concerts in aid of miscellaneous charities. Quite why that was the most memorable thing they said I have no idea, especially as they shortly thereafter invited the audience to stand and participate in a one minute ovation in support of the victims of the recent Manchester massacre. One of the people murdered was someone close to the pair.

This wasn’t an event I intended to say anything about, mostly because I hadn’t planned on being there. But, a spur of the moment decision to go was made by some last-minute tickets going on sale for the princely sum of £10 (£11, really, once the booking fee was taken into account), and I just chanced to notice a Tweet or two about it, with less than half an hour to go before the £10 offer was to expire. Giggin4Good, for the uninitiated (as I was before going to this concert, which I didn’t even know was called Songs4Soi before I was given a programme, which consisted of nothing more than a list of songs and performers, was set up in the summer of 2011 by Emma Howe, Hayley Guild and Karen Howe.

Inspired by what they had seen at Great Ormond Street Hospital after one of their younger relatives was treated there, they set about putting together a concert to support GOSH. Then another one followed, and another, and another: this particular one was the tenth, something of a landmark for those who have supported this worthwhile venture from the outset. I can’t comment on the previous nine events, but this time around they secured a number of guest performers, some of whom are very well known to those who know their musical theatre productions like they know their own name. I’m not one of those people – for some years now, I have seen far more plays than musicals, mostly because there are far more plays than musicals to see.

I don’t really know what the overarching theme was meant to be, as the selection of tunes was very good, but rather random, save for two numbers. Firstly, ‘Last Night of the World’ from Miss Saigon, sung here by Adam Bayjou and Savannah Stevenson, was put in because the Soi Dog Foundation’s founders, John Dalley and his wife, the late Gill, were huge fans of musical theatre in general and of Miss Saigon in particular. Secondly, ‘Times Like This’ from Lucky Stiff, an obscure musical, was performed by Mikaela Newton, and was, as far as I recall, the only tune to even mention dogs throughout the evening.

Soi Dog is an organisation based in Phuket, Thailand, with the aim of eradicating the stray dog population of southeast Asia through emergency treatment, sterilisation and vaccination. Stray dogs are a huge problem, because such animals are used to supply the dog meat trade, now a black market industry. An information leaflet available at the benefit concert adds, “Dogs are often skinned and boiled alive, tortured because of a belief that pain tenderises the meat. This multi-million dollar trade is run by criminals who deal in pain and misery.”

I turn to the rest of the music, as per John Dalley’s wishes – in a short address towards the end of the evening’s proceedings, he made as much reference to the performances as he did about his charitable enterprises. Hosted by Benjamin-Vivian Jones, who also performed a delightful King George III in ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Hamilton, this truly was a live experience, with a small band under the direction of Jack Bennett, and not a single backing track used for any of the 20 songs (hurrah!).

Any awkward silences were minimal, and the music kept flowing at a decent pace, allowing the audience to get back home at a reasonable hour (I even had time for a post-show meal in Covent Garden). I politely declined the offer to enter a raffle, in which it was only explained that a ‘strip’ was £2 and two ‘strips’ were £3, but no information as to what I could potentially have won. Just as well: in the darkness of the church nave and the brightness of the chancel (I refuse to call it the stage – this is a consecrated Christian church that still actively functions as such), it was difficult to see the colours of the various ‘strips’. There may or may not have been the odd prize unfairly doled out, given the speed with which the prizegiving was done. But everyone seemed happy, whether they won anything or not, and that’s the main thing.

A girl band called Houston, ( a trio, Lauren Byrne, Holly-Anne Hull and Charlotte Steele, specialising in country music (but not, at least on this occasion, matching cowgirl outfits), kicked off proceedings with a lilting melody of their own, ‘Fake’, and a wonderful harmony cover of Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’. Two musicals on Broadway that are all the rage (aside from the continuing success of Hamilton) were also featured. Firstly, I was already intrigued by Waitress after hearing Louise Dearman sing ‘She Used To Be Mine’ at the Royal Festival Hall recently, and Harry Francis’ rendering of ‘Never Ever Getting Rid of Me’ showed that the show includes cheery melodies as well as powerful laments.

Secondly, there was an entire section given over to songs from Dear Evan Hansen, and having listened to this selection, it’s easy to see why it’s already gaining fans even before any hint of a London production, particularly with these arrangements, which included a contribution from ‘The MTA Choir’. There was no explanation given as to who they are, and I can only assume they are comprised of current students of ‘The MTA’, which used to stand for Musical Theatre Academy, but as I understand it, it is no longer technically an acronym.

The MTA is run by Annemarie Lewis Thomas, who styles herself ‘Principal and Head of Musical Theatre’, and apparently insists on all her faculty being actively involved in the theatre industry. (Does she fire them if a show they are involved in posts closing notices and they don’t happen to have something else lined up immediately after closing night?) They did very well, singing largely unamplified but still clearly heard, though the acoustics of the church may have assisted with that – presumably the church’s own choir also sings without boom microphones in place.

There was familiar fodder for this London audience to enjoy too, with Savannah Stevenson providing a perfectly serviceable rendering of ‘When I Marry Mr Snow’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, and the ever-sublime Emma Williams reprising ‘If Mountains Were Easy To Climb’, the eleven o’clock number from Mrs Henderson Presents, which had too short a run in the West End in 2016. A rather eclectic selection of songs overall, but all to the sort of high standard that surpasses certain offerings elsewhere on the West End stage. As is customary with charity events at which I attend in a personal capacity, I dispense with star ratings (this does not make this a no-star show, in this case quite the contrary).

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