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Little singers who are big in Japan / The Times

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At home, they are a group of south London schoolboys who pass through life without attracting much attention beyond their family and friends. But in Japan, the choirboys of Libera are treated like rock stars, with fans queuing to get their albums autographed.

Christmas Carols With Libera, which was released last Friday in Britain, reached the top of the classical charts last month.

The choir, a charity, consists of pupils as young as six from state primary schools in Balham, Brixton, Peckham and Wimbledon who practice together in south London churches. Although they perform in Britain, they find their most enthusiastic audiences overseas. The touring group of children aged eight and upwards has performed for two popes including a concert in 2016 in the presence of Pope Francis in Krakow Poland where 1.7 million pilgrims attended a prayer vigil on World Youth Day.

Robert Prizeman, who founded the choir, which had its first big international tour in 2004, said it was an extraordinary spectacle. "They were standing on the stage there and you couldn't see the edge of the audience," he told the Times.

Their most recent tour took place last month when they sold out the 2,500 seater Bunkamuri Orchard Hall in Tokyo for two nights. The boys then sat in the lobby as a queue of fans snaked around the building in the hope of meeting them.

Mr Prizeman said the group has a large following not only in Japan but South Korea and the Philippines. "In South Korea, audiences make a lot of noise and in the Philippines they go completely crazy, but in Japan they are silent until the music ends, then they will applaud for a long time. You get one thousand people literally queueing around the block to get CDs signed."

The group has 70 members, 30 of whom go on tour alongside former members who act as chaperones. "It's quite an extraordinary south London story." He said, "We did a thing for Brian Wilson at the Kennedy Center in front of George W Bush. [Wilson] sends us Christmas cards every year."

The smaller of their two papal audiences was a concert in 2008 at Yankee Stadium in New York, where they performed before a crowd of 60,000. They have been on the same bill as Meatloaf and Miley Cyrus and sang at the wedding of former choir boy Aled Jones. "Then they go and sing in a church with an organ in south London." Mr Prizeman said, "For some of them it will be life changing. For some it will be an activity like joining the Scouts. Hopefully it will inspire a love of music.The area where we work doesn't have much private education. They all come from state primaries. It's a bit of a hothouse for them. That's the extraordinary thing with children. They get as good as professional singers in their own way."

Their music includes covers of pop songs such as Orinoco Flow by Enya as well as more traditional choral music. "We're definitely not King's College Cambridge."

He said that their tours were not typical of the music industry. "You get this curious thing: you're going off and there are teddy bears hanging out of their backpacks. They boys are limited to one small cuddly companion of soft toys – no large teddies."

The children usually travel during school holidays so they get a lot of recreation time between performances. Boys play a lot of football in downtime – sometimes rounders – but they always play in silence because on tour they have to preserve their voices. Screaming on the pitch is a sure way to wreck them."