Can singing transform lives? Most definitely, says James Belmont a member of the Invictus Games Choir who features on classical star Carly Paoli’s latest single Liberty.
Belmont was discharged from the Army with cancer at 25 and one of the first to join the choir, formed by broadcaster and choirmaster Gareth Malone in 2016 to aid the recovery of injured or sick Armed Forces personnel.
“I think one of the reasons why I don’t have any mental health issues is because of the choir,” says Belmont, who these days works in recruitment and serves as the choir’s chairman. “The choir changed my life. It gave me confidence and a sense of joy; I often break out into song when I’m at home or in the office.”
Belmont was one of 12 members of the choir to join Paoli at Abbey Road Studios to record Liberty. The group represented all branches of the Armed Forces and consisted of 11 Army, Navy and RAF veterans and one serving soldier (the choir isn’t just for veterans, serving Forces members can join too).
“It was a great experience,” he says. “We were made to feel so welcome, Carly was amazing and the song was so poignant and emotional.
“Singing in a recording studio is totally different to singing in a church or cathedral, as I discovered when we recorded Flesh and Blood (the choir’s first single). In the studio you just sing to the mic and focus on the sound, you don’t have to worry about volume or resonating your voice to the audience.”
One of the biggest challenges the choir faces is getting together, as members live across the UK. To overcome this hurdle, each choir member preps their pieces at home and rehearsals are held one weekend every two months.
“People come from far and wide because it is such a positive and powerful experience,” says Belmont. “At every rehearsal you see the power of song. You see people who have been in dark places, who haven’t left the house for weeks, come alive.
“Our musical director John Turrell is phenomenal. We don’t have the best singers, but we do have enthusiasm. We have all the hard workers in the room and John has the ability to coax the best out of us. He can see potential in people where others might not.
“The other interesting thing is that even though we’re all from the Armed Forces, we’re all different. You have people of all ages and walks of life, you have brigadiers singing alongside troopers, but all that gets put to one side, music unifies us.”
Proceeds from the sales of Liberty will be donated to Help for Heroes to help military personnel, veterans and their families affected by their service on their recovery journey.
The Invictus Games Choir will perform at Classic FM Live, a special concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 9 October to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
Follow the choir on Facebook.