Shrewsbury School

Sixth Form Chapel Interviews – Ali Webb

Thursday 16 May 2013

In the fourth of this term’s Chapel Interviews with Sixth Form leavers, Ali Webb (S) looks back on his time at the School and, in particular, on a highly successful musical career.

Can you say a bit about your background and upbringing
Ali WebbI was born on a snowy winter’s night in March 1995. I am the youngest of three boys and have lived in rural Worcestershire all my life. Dad is an IT salesman, Mum teaches languages, I have one brother in New Zealand on a gap-life and the other studying in America. I have an aunt who has done some in depth research into family history, and she unearthed that my family is descended from Ethelred the Unready, King of England from 978 to 1016, so that’s pretty cool – if you believe it. From a very young age I loved music - whether it was singing “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles on a table tennis table, or playing the drums very loudly, all the time. I attended a small rural primary school until I moved to Abberley Hall Prep School at the age of eight, where I then stayed until Shrewsbury. It was there that my passion for music was nurtured and developed under a fantastic teacher, Jane Whittle, to whom I owe a great deal.

Why Shrewsbury?
My eldest brother, Michael came here so I had an 'inside' view of what it was like and how good it was. I also knew how incredibly strong the Music Department was and the style and ethics of the school are very similar to Abberley, so it seemed like a logical step.

Tell us a bit about your music.
Put simply, music is my passion. I live and breathe the stuff. I came to Shrewsbury with a love of the arts, and I’m leaving with musical ambitions for life. I owe so much to the Music Department for helping me develop my passion, and also to the House for putting up with my consistent excuses: “Sorry, got a piano lesson”, “Sorry, can’t come out, got a concert”. People have often joked that the Maidment Building is my second home. It scares me to think how many hours I’ve actually spent there in five years, but for me that’s been time well spent. Music is a universal language that we all speak and are affected by. There is a poster in Mr Peach’s room of a quote by the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, which translates as “Without music, life would be a mistake”.

You spent some time at Berklee College of Music last summer - could you tell us a bit about your experiences?
I was fortunate enough to attend Berklee’s Five Week Summer Performance Programme in Boston, America. It was possibly the best five weeks of my life - I was surrounded by amazing music, awesome people and a great city. I had never been totally immersed in music for such an extended period of time before, but I can definitely say that I didn’t want to leave. Rob Collins, who left two years ago, went to Berklee to study full time, but chose to transfer to a more traditional music degree at Durham. The ‘American way’ may not suit all, but I fell in love with the place, the community of musicians and teachers, the way of life - everything - and I hope to return one day. I cannot recommend the Five-Week highly enough to any budding musicians out there.

As well as being passionate about music, you’re also quite talented! Which came first?
Ali Webb 2010As I said, I was into music from a very young age - but the spark that ignited my passion, as it were, was the beat of a Caribbean steel band that visited my primary school when I was six years old. That inspired me to take up the drums and I remember even now how frustrated my family and neighbours would get at the volume of noise coming from the Webb household! The piano followed suit, and then trumpet and voice. I practised ferociously, and I’d often get very upset because I wasn’t as a good as Elton John... but I stuck at it and proved to myself that if you practise, you get better. I did some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations and I estimate that since coming to Shrewsbury I’ve probably done in the region of about 2000 hours of practice. There was an article published in ‘The Week’ in 2008 which said that researchers have estimated that 10,000 hours of practice is the magic number for becoming a ‘true expert’, so if this is the case, I’ve still got a fair amount to do!

And what about sport?
In my first two years here I was a keen fencer and J15 rower. Despite making the decision, which to some extent I regret, to reduce the amount of sport I did to make more time for music, I still enjoy a rare game of football on the house pitch or an afternoon bike ride. In fact two years ago I did cycle 1,000 miles in 9 days from John O’Groats to Land’s End, so you can do anything when you put your mind to it!

Ali Webb with family and friends, Land's End 2011

What are your thoughts on co-education, and where do you see Shrewsbury in ten years’ time?
When I joined the school in 2008, Sixth Form girls were also introduced. This was great. I have fond memories of singing Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” in a school assembly, joined by four gorgeous Sixth Form girl backing singers. Similarly I remember being coddled in ‘private’ rehearsals which were for no other reason than for female attention. I came from a co-educational prep school, so the move to an all boys’ school was the only downside to Shrewsbury. Having now spent two years in co-education once more, I can say that it is much better – for all the known reasons that I shan’t bore you with. As for the future, I have no doubt that Shrewsbury will continue to thrive in full co-education, but if Severn Hill is the next house to be converted for small girls, well, then I might have something different to say!

Do you have a philosophy of life?
There is a wooden sign in my room that reads “The harder you work, the luckier you get”, another that says “He who dares wins” and a small card containing the motto of the clothing company, Life is Good - “Do what you like. Like what you do”. We are surrounded by different philosophies, different ways of doing things. This is a good thing because it lets us observe them, see how well they work and we can try them for ourselves. I’m still working out what works for me, but in the meantime, these are good ones to start with.

What have been some of the highs of your time here?
There are so many I wouldn’t know where to begin! But I guess there’s one that stands out: organising and performing my own solo gig in the Ashton Theatre earlier this year was the most stressful yet enjoyable few months of my life. The buzz I got from singing to a packed house, accompanied by great friends and musicians is an emotion I want to keep feeling for the rest of my life. Beyond that: two Edinburgh tours, numerous House Singing victories...the list goes on! 

Ali Webb in What You Will and performing with Severn Hill in the House Singing Competition 2012

Ali performing with Severn Hill in the House Singing Competition 2012 and (right) with Rob Cross and Izzy Osborne in 'What You Will', 2010

What of the future?
I’ll be spending next year at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok teaching music as a gap student. After that, the finer details are as yet unclear, but I’ll be pursuing a career in the music industry.

What will you miss?
I will miss a lot about Shrewsbury - the music, facilities, staff, friends etc . But to tell the truth, I actually can’t wait to leave and get out into the real world. Now that’s not a negative comment - Shrewsbury is preparing you to do just that and I think the Headmaster and all the staff would be disappointed that they hadn’t done their job if you weren’t chomping at the bit after five years to get out there into the next phase of your life. I certainly am!

If you had one message for those in front of you, what would it be?
When I arrived in Third Form, I was offered some wise words from my brother which came in the form of a letter sent from Delos Island, Greece, dated Saturday, 6th September 2008:

Dear Ali,
1. Don’t be a prat. You may find that some of your fellow new boys in the house are prats. I certainly found this. After five years, however, I guarantee you will count them all as among your very best friends. People change a lot in this time, much more than in the prep school years.
2. Don’t be a prat yourself. This consists principally of saying bad things about people behind their backs. It can be hard to avoid sometimes, particularly regarding somebody everyone dislikes, but just don't do it.
3. Salopian slang is important and you should master it as soon as possible.
4. Don't forget to enjoy yourself!

During talks with my Tutor, Mr Moore, he briefly touched on the fact that school is a place to make mistakes, and this is something that has stuck with me. Now, I’m not encouraging people to be naughty, and you should “get it right, lads”. But you need to be yourself. And in order to do that you need to find out who you are. So, don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries. Most of all, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You owe it to your family, to your friends and, most of all, to yourself.

Note: A DVD of the concert Ali mentions in his talk is available to purchase for £6. Please contact

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