Steven Luke Walker on the Great Surrey Choir, working with Keala Settle and his favourite things
PUBLISHED: 16:06 13 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:38 03 October 2018
Guildford-based West End vocal coach Steven Luke Walker has launched a new community choir. He talks about Meat Loaf, The Greatest Showman and period drama
Why did you start the Great Surrey Choir?
About two years ago I was asked to help the Royal Surrey Hospital set up a choir for healthcare workers. I thought it would be nice to have something inclusive for everybody, not just people at the hospital. The choir is non-profit-making, Ruth Bolton and I do it for free. We first met on February 7 and were astonished by the uptake – we had 46 people. We offer a free taster session before people start paying subs.
What songs is the choir singing?
I’m experimenting with musical arrangements and writing them around people’s voices. I’m looking at medleys rather than individual songs – there’s a lovely Cole Porter medley of 1930s and 1940s jazz-influenced songs. We’re also doing a medley based on The Greatest Showman – I was vocal coach on the film.
What was The Greatest Showman like behind the scenes?
I worked with Keala [Settle] who played the bearded lady. Her song was going to be an anthem for the film. All the songs were pre-recorded before the filming, so I never got to see anything on set. The only world I knew was the music, but I knew it would be a soundtrack that people would want to listen to. I got to conduct at Abbey Road Studios – you can feel the ghosts of so many fantastic albums there. Although it wasn’t a success with the critics it was one of those films which won over audiences. It’s a story about people being unique and individual, flying their freak flag which is important with everything going on politically.
How did it compare to working with the Bat Out of Hell musical?
Film is a totally different world to theatre. Bat Out of Hell – The Musical is another huge spectacle. Jim Steinman’s songs are very theatrical. I’m surprised it has taken so long to turn it into a musical.
Is there a piece of music or performance which influenced you to choose your current career?
I didn’t set out to be a vocal coach – it descended from my training in dancing and acting for musical theatre. My first professional production as a child was in Scrooge the Musical with Anthony Newley, Jon Pertwee and Stratford Johns from Z Cars. That was the show which made me say: ‘This is what I want to do.’ As the show progressed I got taller, so I had to do different roles.
Where do you go to see live theatre?
I went to see Cilla The Musical at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. The show was a beautiful, respectful take on her life story.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I’ve been reading The Divided Mind [by Dr E Sarno] which talks about psychosomatic processes. If you have stress and worries it can manifest itself in the body and in the voice. It was very supportive of my theories of what I do as a singing tutor and vocal coach.
Is there a book you like to give others as a gift?
Last week I finished my book which is due for publication with Nick Hern Books at the end of the year. It’s about singing and my system of training. It’s an opportunity for people who can’t get access to good vocal coaching to have some kind of connection to me.
What was the last box set you watched?
I’m fascinated by Call The Midwife, Peaky Blinders, Downton Abbey and Endeavour. It doesn’t have to be about crinoline dresses – anything remotely period.
What was the last film you saw?
The Darkest Hour. Gary Oldman is insanely good in that. I will definitely go to see Peter Rabbit – I was brought up on Beatrix Potter books.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I’ve opened The Vocal Sanctuary at The Other Palace [in Palace Street, London]. We offer workshops to the theatre community, one-on-one tuition and vocal rehabilitation. It’s about the singer realising their technique – they are doing eight to 10 shows a week so I’m training them to be vocal athletes.