Raphael Oyelade and My Last SongJune 8th, 2010 by Paul Hensby
I asked my friend singer/songwriter Leonie Casanova to write the melody which she and her collaborator Richard Bignell delivered to me a few weeks later. All I needed now was a vocalist as Leonie’s contract prevented her from recording it.
At this point, my friend Marlene Forde, who runs a small south London charity that gives voice coaching to disadvantaged teenagers, introduced me to Raphael, known to his friends as Raph.
He was an articulate, charming, polite and enthusiastic young man. It mattered not a jot to him nor to me that he walked with the aid of crutches, a result of contracting polio when he was a baby in Nigeria.
More important was the quality of his voice. The impromptu audition was a revelation…an ex-choir boy, he sang the last verse of How Great Thou Art without any false starts or any hint of embarrassment. His warm, strong tenor ended confidently on the high note, his eyes looking into the middle distance.
In the next few months, I organised the recording of My Last Song I Sing For You with Raph as the vocalist. I hired session musicians and backing singers, one of whom, Mabel, is Jools Holland’s daughter. Richard Bignell put the various tracks together at his Acton recording studio, and the result is a great song for which I take little credit, now available to download on iTunes.
During this process, I was in Raph’s company for many hours. He never swore; didn’t use ‘like’ or ‘kind of’ when speaking. His sentences were well formed and delivered with just a hint of a south London accent.
I found out that he joined the South East London Army Cadet Force when 12 finishing as Company Sergeant Major, marching at the head of the cadets on crutches.
He had successfully completed the outward bound stage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Medal award which included a four day expedition on foot (and crutches) over Dartmoor National Park.
He attended Archbishop Tenison’s School in Vauxhall where he was Head Boy and Captain of the School.
For three years he helped to organise Tate Forum events for young people including Loud Tate, an art/musical performance day at Tate Britain.
He had just left school with three A’ Levels and was enjoying the first year of his degree course reading Astro Physics at Lancaster University.
During his Easter vacation he came back to London and we filmed the video that is now on YouTube. An easier person to work with would be impossible to find. He won over the crew without trying.
In some ways Raph’s an exceptional person. In others, he’s a typical product of Nigerian, and more generally African, parenting skills and attitude. His mother and father instilled in him the value of education, good manners, perseverance and regular church going. It was certain that Raph would be a choir boy and equally certain he would become head choir boy.
Raph hasn’t asked for any special treatment or favours because of his disability. He has just been determined to succeed in every thing he as put his mind to.
That is why he spent hours rehearsing the song before going into the recording studio and why he insisted that several scenes in the video were re-shot until he was happy with his performance.
Thank you Raph.