It's Sacks, bagels and rock 'n roll

By Simon Rocker, May 1, 2008

In the same London studio in which the cream of British pop urged us to feed the world for Band Aid 24 years ago, a new anthem was being prepared this week.

But instead of Bob Geldof, George Michael and Sting, cue a trio of chazans, the men of the Shabbaton Choir, a couple of dozen pupils from the Moriah Jewish Day School from Harrow and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

For an Anglo-Jewish gathering, the studios of leading producer Trevor Horn in bohemian Ladbroke Grove may have been off the beaten track.

But they were there to record a promotional video — destined for YouTube — for the Chief Rabbi’s recently released double-CD, Home of Hope, in celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday.

Already 200,000 copies of the CD set have been distributed here, in Israel and the United States, a kind of audio haggadah which interleaves the Chief Rabbi’s telling of the story of Israel with a wide range of music.

Mr Horn himself produced three of the tracks, dedicating them to his Jewish wife Jill Sinclair who has been in a coma for two years after an accident. “My wife was very passionate about Israel,” he said. “I’ve been there with her when she was screaming at people in restaurants.”

On Wednesday, the producer — an avuncular figure in blue sweater and jeans — was lending all his expertise to a two-minute new version of Oseh Shalom, “He Who Makes Peace”, by Shabbaton’s director Stephen Levey.

“I’m quite a fan of the Chief Rabbi,” Mr Horn said. “He’s a really cool guy.”

By evening, the cool guy had appeared at the studio and eventually shed his jacket and loosened his tie as he joined the band of choristers rocking from side to side. “We want you to link arms, do the swaying, and lots of movement,” urged video director Adam Cohen, a swirl of arms like King Louis from The Jungle Book.

The backing track had already been laid down by experienced session musicians, with Mr Horn on bass.

In the afternoon, the soloists, chazans Jonny Turgel, Rabbi Lionel Rosenfeld and Shimon Craimer, recorded their vocals. Mr Craimer had flown in especially from New York, just as had Boy George for that original Band Aid single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?

“Somebody give Lionel a big pair of dark glasses,” Mr Horn suggested, “That’s what he needs.”

Next came the Moriah kids, who had gone through two auditions at school to make the cut and clearly impressed their host. “I’ve done amateur choirs before,” Mr Horn said. “Normally, you get two or three takes of abject chaos. But the kids were right on.”

The Chief Rabbi had been inspired to make the video on the recent Shabbaton Choir tour of Israel, when he had heard audiences joining in the rendition of Oseh Shalom.

“Guys, I just want to thank you,” Sir Jonathan Sacks told a crowded studio, including some of the project’s backers, such as Lord Jacobs and Richard and Linda Loftus.

By 7.30, the Shabbaton Choir were on cue, having waited in the wings amid bottles of sweet kosher wine and platters of bagels. Feed the world, perhaps not, but certainly feed the Jews.

Last updated: 2:24pm, May 13 2008