Marginalised Hackney residents form choir vying for Christmas No.1 slot

PUBLISHED: 16:26 17 December 2013 | UPDATED: 16:26 17 December 2013

Nial Weir with some of the Cantignorus Chorus, photo credit Eat Hackney.

Nial Weir with some of the Cantignorus Chorus, photo credit Eat Hackney.


A 60-strong choir formed of a church congregation, homeless people, recovering drug addicts and sex workers is vying for the festive No.1 slot, with their song which captures the true meaning of Christmas.

Rev Niall WeirRev Niall Weir

The Rev Niall Weir, of St Paul’s West Hackney, Stoke Newington Road, who formed The Cantignorus Chorus from the diverse groups which meet at his church, hopes his song, Holding out a Helping Hand, will recreate the success he 
enjoyed 20 years ago with his Christmas hit which raised £30,000 for poor East End families.

Although the song flopped in the UK, We’ll Sing You a Christmastime, went platinum in the US.

Holding out a Helping Hand was released last week on iTunes and features performance poet John Hegley as well as St Paul’s Cathedral School choir.

A couple of months ago the disparate group had never met each other, but shared the same church hall for various activities like the soup kitchen, the sex workers outreach programme and the narcotics anonymous sessions.

Choir members Annette Emery, George Atiase, Guy Weir, Phoebe Weir, Nicola Doherty, Tim Hogan. Photo credit Eat Hackney.Choir members Annette Emery, George Atiase, Guy Weir, Phoebe Weir, Nicola Doherty, Tim Hogan. Photo credit Eat Hackney.


Mr Weir wanted to bring everyone in his parish together as one.

“The mix of people was a bit more oil and water rather than gin and tonic, I wanted to get them from the former to the latter,” he explained.

“How do you get them 
together, I guess you do food or you do music. I’d done a bit of songwriting in the past, its genesis was wanting to get people to know one 

Rev Niall WeirRev Niall Weir

Mr Weir’s focus isn’t on fundraising or reaching the No.1 slot. “My hopes have already been filled,” he said.

“Yes we might hope to raise a bit of money, but we want to raise how people feel about themselves, their expectations of themselves, all that’s been raised. There are smiles on people’s faces that weren’t there before we started.”

The choir, which only came together for the first time last month, is led by community musician Tom Daggett from SingSpire, a community project which aims to bring people together through music.

“It’s an authentic sound we have. I think that’s something quite special and you don’t get that from pop artists,” he said.

Proceeds from sales will benefit the groups involved in the choir like North London Action for the Homeless, Hackney Winter Night Shelter, Narcotics Anonymous, 4Sight Mental Health Lunch Club, the Open Doors Project for vulnerable young women, Family Mosaic Housing Association tenants’ group, Over-70s Dance Group, Hackney Songworks Community Choir and Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market.

The song which has 
already featured on Radio 4’s PM programme and Radio London costs 79p on iTunes.

n To purchase a copy visit i=776867256&ign-mpt=uo% 3D4.

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