Harmony by the Sea: A Barbershop BABS Convention in Bournemouth

This is what I loved about BABS Convention in May 2023.
BABS barbershop convention 2023 was by the beach in Bournemouth
Written By Mary Williams – Choir Leader, Singer & Blog Writer

The second May bank holiday weekend in 2023 beckoned me to a seaside retreat. Yet, my destination was far from a traditional beach holiday. My journey was set to the charming town of Bournemouth for the British Association of Barbershop Singers – BABS convention. I love singing.

For me, it was a significant tenth anniversary of my first foray into the world of barbershop BABS conventions.

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In 2013, I wasn’t part of the barbershop community circles. I knew no one other than my immediate chorus, which was not affiliated with the Ladies Association of Barbershop Singers (LABBS), British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) or Sweet Adelines (SAI). Still, I had an intense thirst to learn more about this type of addictive singing and chord ringing.

I had been pulled into my local “choir”, which just happened to be a barbershop chorus.

This arranging style caught my attention more than I could ever imagine, further fuelled by this exploratory visit to the BABS Convention in 2013 on my own for a day trip. 

Now ten years later, my fellow singers and I would be part of the outgoing Gold Medal Winners’ 2022 Mixed Barbershop chorus – The Bristol Mix.


Meeting singing friends in Bournemouth

I arrived earlier than the scheduled time, greeted by the sweet sea air that offered a soothing prelude to the musical extravaganza that awaited. In previous years, it began around lunchtime, but a look at the schedule said we had to wait until 5 pm. Next time, I must read the information more closely.

Connection with people is the key to a healthy life, and it’s important to me. A relaxing walk on the seafront followed by time in a seafront café with my friends served as an impromptu place to catch up, where our excited shared chatter vied for attention with the rhythmic percussion of the waves. 

The community I felt sitting in that café while drinking lattes and eating cake was real. People I knew and hadn’t seen for months (and years!) grabbed a chair, and we connected over our music, friendship and history.

Male Quartet Semi-Finals 

The first part of this barbershop competition was the male semi-finals quartet competition on late Friday afternoon. The anticipation was evident, yet the air carried a unique camaraderie only found in these close-knit barbershop circles. Every quartet had rehearsed hard, and they wanted to do their best. They didn’t disappoint.

The competition was fierce, the standard exceptionally high, making each performance a dazzling display of vocal artistry. Sadly, only a few can qualify for the final. Still, everyone who made it on the stage should be very proud of their achievements. 

Some people sang in more than one quartet and in more than one voice part – a testament to their dedication and talent. Having been in that position myself, I also know it is totally exhausting to give your entire self all over and over. Kudos to them.

WATCH IT: Link to the BABS Quartet Semi Finals 2023 on YouTube

BABS Chorus Contest

Saturday unfolded a marathon of harmony – the male barbershop chorus competition. The skill and passion exhibited in each performance were enough to stir our hearts of us as listeners. As an enraptured audience member, I was more than happy to be glued to my seat, soaking in the singing showcase of each choir throughout the day over many hours.

It didn’t matter what the size, ages of singers or history of the chorus was. Proudly the men took their few minutes on stage and sang their two barbershop competition songs with pride. From ensembles of tens of men to just a few brave souls, they held their chins high and sang their hearts out. 

“From ensembles of tens of men to just a few brave souls, they held their chins high and sang their hearts out.”

I observed that most singing groups are still recovering singer numbers from the after-effects of the pandemic and the higher cost of living nowadays, and previously huge choirs are still diminished and catching up from where they were. This will recover in time, but there were fewer people than in previous years. I especially noticed this in the bars and afterglow following the show on Saturday night.

Alas, there can only be one winner of the BABS Chorus Competition, and the outstanding Cottontown Chorus from Bolton took the gold medals. Their second song was about older men in singing, trying to keep up with the young ones. It entertained us all, and I loved it! There was dancing and multiple rip-off costumes from tank tops to sequins for those singing in the front row!

WATCH IT: Link to the BABS Barbershop Male Chorus Competition 2023 on YouTube

Saturday Night Showcase Show

Saturday evening saw me step into the spotlight alongside The Bristol Mix chorus. Last year we won the Mixed Barbershop Chorus Competition 2022 at BABS Convention with our collaboration of singers from choirs and connections across the Bristol area. 

The exhilarating rush of adrenaline I felt on stage, the harmony that weaved itself around the packed auditorium, and the shared connection with my fellow singers were nothing short of magical. It was a poignant reminder of why we devote ourselves to this craft.

I didn’t get a chance to watch the other acts as I was backstage, but I am 100% that they were terrific.

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Mixed Barbershop Chorus Competition

Sunday arrived, bringing a refreshing change – the mixed chorus competition, where diversity of voices came into full play. Sadly, I had to sing in the early mic warming and mic cooling spots with The Bristol Mix, so I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the competitors needing a few minutes to eat and drink before we had to go backstage again (which we did three times that morning!). 

However, the standard was set high again in the Mixed Barbershop Contest judging by the score sheets. Our fellow Bristolians, Bristol A Cappella, triumphed and won the gold medals in this barbershop contest. I can’t wait to see their performances online when BABS posts the videos.

WATCH IT: Link to the BABS Barbershop Mixed Chorus Competition 2023 on YouTube

BABS Barbershop Quartet Finals

The day concluded with the quartet finals, where barbershop harmony’s crème de la crème fought for the crown – well, gold medals! These performances epitome the sheer dedication, talent, and heart that each participant barbershop singer poured into their craft.

I particularly enjoyed the mic warmers and Fifth Element, but the gold medals went to Trailblazers. They put on a performance that was not only technically excellent and well-sung but was honest. Their love song, up-tempo in the final about the lead falling in love with a boy he fancied, was outstanding. I took to my feet in a standing ovation.

WATCH IT: Link to the BABS Barbershop Quartet Finals 2023 on YouTube

More than a singing convention

Looking back, the British Association of Barbershop singing convention in Bournemouth was more than a mere event or music festival. It was a celebration of harmony, a testament to the unifying power of music. 

It was also a reminder that sometimes, the most profound experiences can be found not only in grand concert venues by professionals but in a beach town in a conference centre by the sea, where melodies dance in tandem with the rhythm of the waves. The energy comes from the community, the time freely given by the organisers at BABS Convention and from within the ordinary people who love doing and enjoying it.

I’ll be back next year in May 2024 in Harrogate. I look forward to my next ten years of Barbershop BABS Conventions!

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Take care,



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