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Amba Tremain: Musical Director of the Urban Vocal Group [Interview]

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Shaping Director Stef Nienaltowski recently met with Amba Tremain, Musical Director at the Urban Vocal Group, to find out more about the UVG, how it started and developed, and Amba's role:

Stef Nienaltowski: Good morning, I'm sitting here with Amba Tremain, the Musical Director of the Urban Vocal Group, and I'm going to be discussing with her the history, and the current plans, that this wonderful group have got going forward. Good morning Amba.

Amba Tremain: Good morning!

SN: So, what is the Urban Vocal Group?

AT: Okay, so we are a free to access young person's music charity, originally starting with group vocals, which used to entice a lot of young people in, and now we've actually expanded to music tuition, recording opportunities, an adult vocal group, but primarily we are a free to access young person's music charity for anyone aged 11-18.

SN: Your title, musical director, sort of gives us a hint as to your role in the organisation.

AT: Yeah I think it was an accidental role. Me and Charlie [Fletcher, UVG Director] met whilst we were teaching at Park Community School. I was teaching a choir, he was running a drum workshop kind of skills thing, and he said "Do you want to come and do some group singing with us?" and the group singing started, the group got bigger, the opportunities came about, the gigs started flowing, then the music tuition, and he was kind of like "Do you want to take this?" and I was like "Yeah, I'll take it". So yeah, musical director, anything musical that happens within the organisation comes down to me.

SN: So again, you've hinted there a little bit about your background. So, are you a singer? A dancer? What are you?

AT: I am a singer, and a musician, and a song-writer, so that is my main core job, especially before UVG I was out as a session singer and session player. I've been in bands since I was 20 years old, and I actually trained as a dancer and a performer at a theatre school in London, and when I came home back to sunny Portsmouth, I kind of thought "well, I don't really know where I'm going or what I'm doing now".
So I ended up teaching at Southdowns College, and filling in, then that escalated to five local Hampshire Schools, and so music really took over, so all of my kind of performance side of things, dance and drama, took a back seat. Music took over, and then I was in a band, then I met Charlie, then UVG evolved. So music, yeah.

SN: Before we get into where the UVG is going, why the name?

AT: I remember we were sat around with eight kids that we had invited to come from the schools that I was teaching at, and we sat around together and we said "What do we want to be called? We don't want to be called a choir" you know, because they didn't want to be known as something from a school, they wanted separation from it really, and we sat around and they said, "We want to kind of be a bit more Urban and a bit more cool, like a Vocal Group", and we all kind of looked at each other and went "Oh! so it's like an Urban Vocal Group" and then the name stuck. I think we originally said "that'll work for now" and then it just stuck, and the kids designed a logo, and so yeah the UVG was born from a chat really, from a group session with all the kids that we had.

SN: Brilliant. I know you've said it's free to access for the youth, the young. Is there an age limit to the "young/youth"?

AT: We've got 11-18, so basically, until they turn 19 years old they're welcome to access any of the activities we run. But we found, starting with 8 young people, and then suddenly having 120 people now across the whole of UVG, we didn't just want to chuck them out, and say to them "that's been a nice time, see you later". We actually have kids from 15/16 developing into really amazing creative songwriters and artists, and we wanted to help see that through. And then we had a public demand from parents and friends of, who were just a bit old, you know, just saying "oh you know, I just wish I was 18 again, I want to come along" and so we thought, well, let's do something for the adults, and let's see how we can make it work.

So we actually put a little vote out there to any adults who wanted to join, and they all said "we'd be happy to pay to come along, we'd be happy to contribute to the charity". So that was the birth of the Adult Urban Vocal Group at UVG, and yeah, every single week we've just got so many more members coming in, I think we've got about I think 70 adults that turn up over two classes each week. Every single person pays a fee, and they know exactly where their money's going, they gig with us, they perform with us, they support us. So yeah, it turned into kind of a self-funding stream off our beautiful charity, and yeah they contribute and it gives them a warm fuzzy feeling.

SN: Well, wonderful, so there is the Urban Vocal Group, then there's the Adult Urban Vocal Group. If listeners to this want to get involved in either of those two, what's the best way of doing that?

AT: Well the best way is to go onto our website, which is www.theuvg.co.uk and on there you will find where to find us, where our classes run, age brackets, fees, everything, but our adult group is actually £7/session, and the first session is always free. We run in Portsmouth at St Luke's Church Hall, and at the Havant Pastoral Centre on Petersfield Road on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

SN: Evenings?

AT: Evenings, yes, 7.30 till 9, and the younger groups run on a Monday and Wednesday, Mondays in Havant at the Bedhampton Social Hall, Wednesdays is here at the Guildhall, and they run 5.45 to 7.15. So we've kind of got a nice little packed agenda throughout the week, two young sessions, two adult sessions within Havant and Portsmouth. They're right next to train stations, they're really accessible, but that's where to find us, the best place, the website.

SN: Thank you. And finally then, what do you see at the UVG, or the AUVG's, role in the community?

AT: Well, UVG, actually I felt, I'm going to be perfectly honest with you actually, I felt like for a little while, we were kind of the underdogs of the music scene in Portsmouth. Although people knew of us, they loved everything we ever did, we weren't a school, and we weren't necessarily a huge organisation. We were just this kind of little pot of singers that just loved to come along and were bubbling away on the surface. And then it just kind of grew and grew and grew, and I think our ethos of keeping it free for young people and inclusive to everybody, you know any experience, just everybody is welcome to come along. I think that went straight to people's hearts, and I think especially Portsmouth, they take all that kind of really really on board, and then some great opportunities came up, community festivals, and people start to get to know our name.

The Adult Urban Vocal Group is slightly different in the sense that the group of adults we have, this has changed their life. Some people have tried other choirs, or something, other organisations, and it might have been a little bit more strict, a bit more classical maybe or choral, and the group of people that we have just walk through the doors, their faces light up, they make the best friends, and for some of them it's really, really transformed their lives. Even like mental health state, to emotional, you know and just making friends, and I think the sheer number of us, the sheer volume of us, and the music that we do, and the community events that we perform at, it's just really heartwarming, and I think it's different to most organisations, because some of them are Uniforms, a bit more structured, and ours is very much just arms open, come in and join us, and I think that's what makes us unique.

SN: Fantastic, Amba listen, thank you, first time we've met, you're infectious with your enthusiasm, so all I can say to anyone listening to this, get along to one of these sessions, and if you'll have me, I'll come back in a few months’ time, and find out how things are going.

AT: I would love to see you again, thank you.

SN: Thank you.

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