As part of Autumn Voices’ Third Age Plus Pioneers project, singer songwriter Chiara Berardelli and multi disciplinary cabaret artist Miss Annabel Sings worked together on a very special project with Alf Barnett, a 93 year-old man (and Annabel’s dad) living in Wembley, whose long held dream was to write songs and perform.
Growing up during the Blitz, Alf never got the chance to study music and left formal education at 14 to work. His lifelong love of music and performing never left him however and last year he was finally given the chance to record the songs he has been writing throughout his life. Alf spoke with us about his experience of being in the studio and having his dream realised.
Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. age and what you do for a living)
I am now 93. I grew up in the Jewish East End (Stepney Green) of London during the blitz, and left school aged fourteen. Further education was never on the cards – I am the youngest of nine (and the only one still living), born to my Jewish immigrant father (Latvian) and my mother (from London), and I had to go out to work to support the family. I worked in the ‘shmutter/rag’ trade for years: ran a market stall, worked as a factory manager, later co-managed a café, and latterly managed the post room at various large companies. My wife, Yvonne, is Swiss. We met in London in the late fifties when she came to London as an au pair and got married in the mid sixties – and have been together ever since. She taught English as a Foreign Language, moving up the ranks to become an examiner. We have three children.
Tell us about your musical journey
Singing and music kept people going during the war, and I have always had a love of music that that has deepened over the years. I would sing at dances (one band leader took a shine to me) or for friends/beaus but never anything more. I have been writing songs for 50+ years. They just appear in my mind, and I have books and books full of them. My long held dream is to write songs and perform.
How did you finally make it into the recording studio?
My daughter Annabel, who lives in Edinburgh, is a cabaret performer and community artist who performs as Miss Annabel Sings. I had asked her if she could help me to find the right place and people to help me achieve some of my musical ambitions, so my songs reach a wider audience. In 2021 Annabel worked with Autumn Voices (an arts organisation championing creativity in later life), on a project called Third Age Plus Pioneers, focussing on creativity among those aged over 90. Through this Annabel met the Glasgow-based musician and songwriter Chiara Berardelli, and put us in touch. Over several months we worked via video call on my songs, a process which culminated in my stepping into a recording studio for the first time in August to record two songs.
What are the songs you recorded?
‘Memories’ is an instrumental. We made two versions, an instrumental with Chiara at the piano, and a longer version with me talking to Annabel about how the song appeared in my mind, and my thoughts on what happens to us at the end of life, and where we go. Chiara is playing piano as we talk.
‘Roses’ is a song which I sing, again with Chiara on piano, and Annabel on backing vocals. It’s a song about how we should enjoy life and not take anything for granted.
Any plans for a follow-up?
I am now writing new songs, including some where I can duet with Annabel. I am keen to record an EP and work with Chiara to achieve it. I have always believed that anything is possible with enough determination!
All the photos were taken by Vicki Couchman.