‘A ZERO COMMITMENT CHOIR’ is the tagline that’s fuelled the rise of a quirk of the Irish music scene, the wonderfully boisterous ‘Sing Along Social’. The concept is simple: several lively ‘craic mechanics’ put on a few of your favourite cheesy records, and you crowd together, a mass of euphoria with the most innocent of aims: to belt them out at the top of your lungs.
Aoife McElwain, who started this glorious, carefree cheese-fest, stumbled across the idea almost by accident. “A few years ago, a friend and I discovered we were both obsessed with Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’,” she recalls. “We thought it would be a hilarious idea to get together and just sing it from start to finish. Then we thought about who else might like that, so we could invite them along.”
“It turns out we know too many people who liked the idea, so we booked a room on a local pub and then thought why not put it on Facebook, in case anyone else wants to join us. The next thing we knew, over 1000 people wanted to come.”
Things have barely let up since. Sing Along Social have two monthly events, at MVP in Dublin 8, and The Sugar Club, just off St Stephen’s Green, There’s an ever-diversifying list of themed days, corporate events and hen parties, and McElwain – also an Irish Times food writer and the author of a book on time management, ‘Slow At Work’ – has made this boisterous party her full time job, one that’s now close to fully booked for the remainder of 2019.
“I’ve always been a bit of a dork,” she laughs. “I think my job at Sing Along Social is to be the first person to make a fool of myself. When I do that, and nothing bad happens, it helps get things going. I put on this pink boiler suit and I’m just not afraid of anything. I think Sing Along suits introverts and extroverts. It’s not like karaoke as everyone sings together. In a sense, we just push play and see what happens.”
Previous themes have included Beyonce v Lady Gaga, that Alanis Morissette album, and festival cheese-alongs at events from Electric Picnic to Body and Soul. The next festival-sized outing, at Mother Pride in June, will see Sing Along Social return to some well cultivated roots amid the LGBTQ community.
“Our natural audience seems to be a lot of women and LGBTQ folks,” she explains. “One of our ‘craic mechanics’ is a drag queen. We’ll play a lot of guilty pleasures, Mariah, Shania, that kind of stuff. The lyrics are really important, I find. I like to print out lyric booklets, and people end up looking at lyrics that normally they’d just throw out without really thinking about them.”
Even after nearly four years of regular events – Sing Along Social emerged in September 2015 – there’s no let up in themes and events for the gang to explore, and some fantastic memories emerging from the experience.
“My first festival was playing the Mother Stage at Body and Soul in 2016,” McElwain recalls. “I wasn’t expecting many people, and I did a kind of guilty pleasures set. I’ll never forget playing Shania Twain and literally hundreds of people coming over the hill. I’ve been crowd surfing for the first time. Somebody made a boat with Enya’s face on, and we all went in it on the floor for ‘Sail Away’. I even went to a wedding in California. My specialism seems to be making the host cry with joy, which I do love. The spontaneous things are the best, though.”
“Some older themes are coming back around from the early days, especially with the move to the Sugar Club. We’ll be doing the Spice Girls before they return in May,” McElwain says.
“I’ve even found that it’s really good for the mood, so it has some benefits for mental health. It’s like a kids party for adults, and we don’t often get that chance to relax and let go. Really, though, this is just my favourite kind of music.”