Dave Watkins was a founder member of the National Youth Choir and left in 1989. He now lives in Belfast.


When were you in NYCGB and what part did you sing?

Started out as a tenor 'domestique' in 1983 (an NYC founder member, no less) in awe of the many big beasts of the time, hanging in there until departing as a grizzled 21 year-old veteran in 1989.

Where do you now live, and what do you do?

Having torn myself away from Manchester, I live in Belfast with my wife Ali, three sons who fortunately have the brains of their mother and the good looks of their mother, and a springer spaniel. Northern Ireland is a great place to live, especially for lovers of rain. I work as a paediatrician in the NHS, which is a great and privileged job, but might be better served moving into politics, as nobody round here is doing that at present...

Do you still sing, and if so, in what capacity?

I sang last year in the Belfast Philharmonic Choir with my son Michael, a much better singer than me, which was lovely. The number of rehearsals though reminded me how spoiled we were in NYC, learning huge volumes of music in no time and getting on with performing them! My other warbling is with my band bloodsugar, on the go since medical school days- I trust that the musical connoisseurs reading this won’t mind if I take the opportunity to shamelessly plug our new album Perfect Colours, available on iTunes and all good streaming services…. (“this album is not total rubbish- *** ” – MOJO)

What is your standout moment from your time in NYCGB?

Hard to pick out one among so many- from the hairs standing on end right through my first rehearsal in Thornbridge, through being one of 14 squeezed into a Bristol phone box, becoming 'Sporting Dave' with a watery basketball shooting display of breathtaking incompetence in Honolulu, Blind Date at one of the Darley Dale cabarets - to be honest every day in the choir brought something to treasure- but a packed gospel church in San Francisco in 1984, where the hosts sang for us and we sang for them, and the congregation were generous enough to cheer four white English boys singing spirituals, was simply electrifying.

What is the one piece that if you heard it again would remind you of NYCGB?

Again, there are a few: special mention to the 'May Magnificat', 'Nonsense',  'Ca’ the Yowes', and those brilliant arrangements of 'Ezekiel Saw The Wheel' and other spirituals. But the winner is 'Belshazzar’s Feast', a majestic piece which we performed with absolute venom and fury at Vernon Handley after he’d taken us apart at the dress rehearsals!

If you were to design a tour for the current National Youth Choir where would you take them?

I would send them around some of the major cities of Europe to showcase something positive from Britain via the excellence of the music and the forging of a thousand new relationships, making sure that they sang in many non-English languages.

What skills did you gain in NYCGB that you still use in everyday life?

A work-hard-play-hard attitude: not exclusive to NYC, but it pervaded everything that happened there, created the musical results and underpinned the whole choir experience. It was in NYC that I learned to listen properly, certainly an essential skill for the day job these days, and it’s fair to say that the lifelong friendships made in NYC did as much as anything else to nurture whatever social skills I took with me into adult life.

You are having a fantasy dinner party: who's invited? 

Let’s be greedy- table for 8 please: Barack Obama, Dara O’Briain, Victoria Coren-Mitchell , Adam Buxton, Jo Nesbo, Neil Finn and Professor Brian Cox.

Your house is on fire. Your family and pets are safe, but you have time to save just one possession. What do you save?

Almost everything is either dispensible or replaceable, and every one of us has way too much stuff anyway. I’d be tempted to grab my 35 year collection of Manchester City shirts, but they are so flammable they probably started the fire in the first place, so it would have to be the hand-written cards my kids have made for me over the years, and maybe stuff the pockets with some pre-digital photos on the way out of the door.

What is the theme tune to your nightmares/ dreams?

Don’t know if it really counts as a tune, but the 3am hospital bleep generally raises the pulse and blood pressure in a hurry. The theme tune to my good dream? 'The Boys in Blue' by the Manchester City 1971-72 squad, as heard at the end of every home game, playing me and the lads off the pitch (at Maine Road or the Etihad, my dreams are flexible) after I’ve just scored a title-winning hat-trick. It could still happen…

Dave Watkins was speaking to Lizzie Spear.


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