In the lead up to my interview with Chris Filbey I was invited to a band rehearsal at the Band Club just off Brackley High Street one Sunday evening which I happily went along to. I sat at the back of the rehearsal room fascinated as people came in, opened oddly shaped cases and started putting together their instruments. Chris was there with his back to me and was connecting wires to amplifiers and I got the impression that he was the technical guy. As the band began playing an incredible voice like that of Michael Bublé began to sing and I thought to myself that Chris had done really well to sync the singing with the music. And then to my amazement it dawned on me that it was actually Chris who was singing! The music, and Chris’ singing, was fantastic and it was a very enjoyable evening, the only down-side being that for the next 3 weeks I was singing, non-stop and very badly, the chorus of Cry Me A River.
Chris is a local guy. He grew up in Brackley and attended Bracken Leas Primary School and Magdalen College School where, Brackley being a small town, everyone knew everyone. He was keen on the creative subjects such as art and design, graphics, technology and drama. He spent some time trying to learn the guitar and drums but he never really got into singing while he was there. After Magdalen he went to Bristol University of Western England where he studied a Construction and Property Management course. Chris loved life in Bristol and was heavily into the music scene, which was very active at that time. After Bristol, Chris came back to Brackley and took a job in the construction industry with his interest in music being consigned to a hobby rather than developing into anything full time.
Chris’ interest in music started early. His parents and grandparents were big jazz fans and so Chris grew up listening to jazz being played in the background. Eventually, when he was aged 12 or 13, Chris started to sing along around the house for his mum and later when he was 15 or 16 he would sing at family parties. Chris credits his Fiancée, whom he met at school, for taking his singing to the next level – she bought him a studio recording session at Fitdog Studios in Northampton. Standing in the booth, just him and a microphone, Chris felt as though he belonged and the session went well. At the end the guys at studio suggested to Chris that he should try some vocal coaching and pointed him in the direction of Sheridan Coldstream of Total Vocal located in Finmere. Singing is a very technical exercise and for Chris, Sheridan picked out his breathing for special attention. Everyone would think of breathing as coming fairly naturally but to be able to sing and to be able to hold extended notes the method of exhaling becomes a process that needs to be taught and requires much practice. Sheridan not only coaches people vocally but focuses on the building up of their confidence. This was exactly what Chris needed in order to be able to stand up in front of large audiences and to sing with the necessary freedom. Chris still practices at home, or even when he is out and about, by singing along to downloaded backing tracks including music from Frank Sinatra, Jamie Cullum and Michael Bublé. Chris suggests that anyone can sing you just need coaching and then plenty of practice but I’m not so sure about that.
Chris’ first foray into the world of professional singing was with a folk band called Autumn Buskers. They performed locally at weddings, parties and in pubs but it was when family commitments caused the demise of the Buskers that Chris heard that the Great Central Big Band may be in need of his talents as their resident singer was moving on. Chris had always known about the band as his sister had played the tuba for them and, also, the bands leader, Lee Smith, was well known at Magdalen School as the ‘cool drummer’ in the upper years of the school. Chris describes the bands response to his first singing auditions as being muted, which I find hard to believe, but as there was no one else available he got the job! But, for Chris, the change from singing with the Buskers, one guitarist and a pianist, to singing in front of a 16 piece big band was amazing. One of the main differences with singing with such a large band is that you can’t hear yourself as your voice becomes part of the music. For Chris, the training and practice that he has done gave him the confidence to know that he was on the right track and sounding good – he just needed to go with the flow.
As with all budding singers Chris had dreamt of stardom and success in the music industry when he was younger. He entered several of the ‘Pop Idol’ competitions but his number never came up and now he sees his singing as a hobby that he very much enjoys but the dreams of stardom have all but faded. Now, singing with the Big Band is his passion and he is convinced that the Big Band is headed for a ‘big’ future. Leader, Lee Smith, with his enthusiasm and direction has transformed the band since he took over 2 years ago and has made it into much more of a professional entity. He has organised many more gigs and got the band into the studio to record their first album which they have recently released. In the coming year the band has gigs and festivals in the pipeline so the future for the band is looking very exciting.
I’m no music expert (I’m an AC/DC and Iron Maiden type of guy) but I wouldn’t say that Chris should give up on his dreams of stardom just yet. I think he sounds amazing. You never know.
Written for Your Letterbox by John West