I ask Beth Chequers to describe Tongue & Groove, the Lewes-based band she sings with. Her answer is packed with the enthusiasm of a fan. “A crazy, fun, function party band who are up for anything”, she says. “Great musicians with a really good front man.” And the type of music? “We have disco, funk, soul, a little bit of chart and a little bit of ‘dad rock’ in there. If you want to have a good slam-up knees-up party, everyone's going to sing along – whether they're 11 or 104.”
Anyone who’s seen Tongue & Groove is likely to echo Beth’s passion. Led by Phil ‘The Fox’ Rhodes, the band is renowned for more than just its music. “We dress up the stage as well as ourselves”, explains Beth. “Phil likes to vomit rainbow everywhere, wherever he goes.”
The band had already been together for a few years when Beth joined. She’d known Phil as one of the lecturers from her course at Sussex Downs College in Lewes – “a crazy guy with a ginger afro who made incredible stuff” – when one of her other tutors told her Phil’s band needed a backing singer.
“It was New Year's Eve four years ago when I was 18. I went there with no rehearsal and felt really out of place but everyone was so warm and welcoming. After the gig Phil said ‘Right, you're in the band, I'll email you when the next gig is’ and paid me. It was lovely.”
Having completed her college course at Lewes, Beth’s currently studying for a degree at Brighton Institute of Modern Music. She also teaches performing arts at two schools, runs a choir, is in another band called Retro Ladies and is a professional session singer as well. “All of that has helped pay for Uni, which is pretty good. Every single job I do is fun – most of the time. I think I'm very lucky and very blessed to have that.”
Teaching is particularly close to her heart. “I love the confidence that children can get from singing. I have a child in my class who didn’t ever speak outside home and now speaks in my class. I got her to sing before she would talk. Singing's a magical thing.”
The next opportunity to hear Tongue & Groove in action is at the annual Midsummer Pool Party at Pells Pool this month. “It's crazy”, promises Beth. “Fire, light, explosions. Every year Phil is like ‘What else can I do?’ I'm convinced one year he'll somehow make himself fly, just for Pells Pool. He will achieve it. He's a health and safety nightmare."
What about Beth’s longer-term plans? “Whatever I do, it will be in music forever – and I definitely want to utilise teaching because I love doing it. I want to be my own boss and make my own rules. If I want to walk away from it I can… and if I want to stick to it and make it something magical, I will.”
Midsummer Pool Party, Pells Pool, Sat 21. Music from 5pm, main event from 7.30pm. Tickets £6/£3, £15 family of four, from Pells kiosk or Union Music.
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 93 June 2014.