As the World Wars of the last century retreat from living memory, the significance of Remembrance Day is in danger of reclining. It is becoming a day when Royals wear pearls, diamonds and rubies to the Royal Albert Hall, as The Court Jeweller expressed in a November 2022 headline. I am one who still remembers. My grandfather died in WW2.
As a reviewer, I am inclined to agree with Leonard Cohen when he suggested that Hallelujah has been covered one too many times. (Cohen did moderate his stance, as he trusted the song’s inherent strength). In the case of Shona McGarty’s rendition of the song at The Royal Legion Festival of Remembrance 2022, Royal Albert Hall, I have no reservations.
Hallelujah is an appropriate song to sing at a Remembrance event. While invoking the possibility of redemption and being suitably solemn, Cohen’s lyrics avoid sentimentality and incorporate the foibles of humanity. Given that the war dead – and the soldiers who survived – were people from all walks of life, many of whom suffered, it is appropriate that the song is never sanctimonious. What is surprising is that the song was sung by an actress best known for playing Whitney Dean on Eastenders.
Were she not so recognisable to UK audiences, Shona McGarty’s performance could be mistaken for that of a professional opera singer. It no doubt helps that she is backed by a fine choir, but that doesn’t detract from her performance or her composure. Appropriately, given the song’s reference to “the fourth, the fifth, the minor falls, the major lifts”, the choir is The Fourth Choir, which bills itself as “London’s #LGBT+ choir for advanced singers”. Here is McGarthy singing Let It Be for charity
Posted in December 2021, McGarty’s Let it Be was a Covid-era charity fundraiser for MIND, a mental health charity. In the video, McGarthy is backed by celebrities Anne Hegerty (The Chase), Rebecca Keatley (CBEEBIES), Eunice Olumide MBE (Super model), Sam Hughes (DJ) , Georgia Hirst (Actress), Ivan Kaye (Actor), Kathy Hill (Model), Maddie Duggan (Actress/Singer), Charlie Ross (BBC Antique Expert) and Verona Rose (TV Presenter). What a hoot it is to see Anne Hegety out of the dominatrix persona that she adopts on The Chase!
As it turns out, and as one would expect from the above two videos, Shona McGarty has form as a singer. Before joining Eastenders she participated in amateur musical theatre. In 2012, she sang Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come for the BBC TV programme Children in Need. In 2018 McGarty sang Rock With Rudolph together with 26 other celebs. Specially written & produced by Grahame and Jack Corbyn, the track was recorded as a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was released as being by The Celebs.
The 2022 Remembrance Day Festival at the Royal Albert Hall was attended by King Charles, Queen Camilla, Prince William and Kate Middleton. After the show, McGarty posted a video of her performance on Instagram. She wrote: “Such an honour. A truly humbling experience. We will remember them…”. If you would like to see more from Shona McGarty, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.