Just to sing – it’s…it’s probably my all-time favourite thing.’ These words were said quietly by Poppy one morning at a Headmaster’s breakfast (one of over 50 Headmaster’s breakfasts that Mr and Mrs Piggot have generously hosted – in their home at 7.30am, I hasten to add – for Upper Sixth pupils in boarding houses over the last decade).
Poppy’s words struck home – amidst the coffee, the cornflakes and the bleary-eyed teenagers – through their evident heartfelt sincerity. They spoke of a truth that the College has been fortunate to witness over the last ten years: the gradual blossoming of Poppy as a singer. It has been a remarkable process, one of the more unexpected pleasures of the Piggot era, and it reached its apogee – the blossoming reached full maturation – in an unforgettable concert on the Saturday of the Exeat weekend.
In her early performances at the College, at the ever-popular Extravaganzas, a slightly hesitant Poppy was accompanied by an acoustic guitar, tenderly played by the talented and protective, Paul Henson. But right from the outset of her Epsom singing career, there was a boldness to the song choice, a determination to explore pieces of real range and depth.
A particularly memorable performance with Paul Henson was a riveting version of Shallow by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and another strong choice was Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, on this occasion supported by the staff band, necessary for the earthy pounding beat of that sultry seductive track. And over the years there have been many entertaining Extravaganza performances with the most recent being a joyous rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody with Poppy performing as one of The Three Sopranos (the others being Iryna Chistyakova and Celine Winmill).
How satisfying it was, therefore, that for her final farewell performance concert, Poppy was fronting a full, first-rate, live band and had a full set of songs – all written by women songwriters.
The instrumental quintet of Ben Tompsett (piano), Mike ‘Ozzy’ Osborn (drums), Rebecca Wilson (double bass), Bethan Rose (violin) and Curtis Day (lead guitar from Holman Lower Sixth) produced a wonderfully textured sound that filled Big School and created a perfect platform for Poppy’s unique voice.
The whole concept of the concert was Amelya Goldy’s – who has been Poppy’s singing teacher since she joined Epsom – and the set was a brilliant bewitching blend of pieces over the last five decades. It was fitting that Amelya, along with Bethan Rose, provided backing vocals for many of the songs – typifying the high-quality musical support Poppy has enjoyed.
But this was Poppy’s night, and she commanded the stage from the first moment of the first track – I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King) – and proceeded to sing with feeling, tenderness and urgency throughout the next hour. There were many memorable moments; her set had something for any music lover. For me, the haunting vulnerability and strangeness of Kate Bush’s mesmerising classic The Man With the Child in His Eyes was the pick of the evening – but everyone had a personal favourite.
All in all, a great evening, and one in which the supporting act of the last decade – what is it that they say is behind every great man? – stepped out of the shadows and became a star.
- I Feel The Earth Move (Carole King)
- Walking on Broken Glass (Annie Lennox)
- The Weakness in Me (Joan Armatrading)
- You Had Me (Joss Stone)
- Bad Guy (Billie Eilish)
- Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell)
- Sweet Hours (Beth Rowley)
- The Man with The Child in His Eyes (Kate Bush)
- Haunted (Taylor Swift)
- Love Song (Sara Bareilly)
- Fallin’ (Alicia Keys)
- Don’t Stop (Christine McVie)