An interview with Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee is Inspiration’s fabulous signed song interpreter for concerts at The Sage Gateshead. Look out for him at the next Inspiration concert and you too will see how much he enhances the performance for both deaf and hearing audiences alike.

Why did you decide to learn BSL
(British Sign Language)?

When my wife died, I was very involved with looking after my kids and I didn’t leave the house for nearly two years. After a while, my father gave me the prospectus for a college so that I could improve my maths and English and also to give me a reason to get out. While I was there, I met a deaf girl who was in my English class. We spent time communicating with written notes, but this felt quite primitive and ignorant not being able to communicate in any other way. So, after I finished the studies I was doing, I went to my BSL Level 1 class with her and then Levels 2 and 3. I’ve been interpreting for 9 years now!

Is this the first time you have provided signed song interpretation for a choir?

No. I have interpreted for the Silver Singers and a deaf choir in Manchester as well as doing signed song with school groups. However, the sheer size of Inspiration and the involvement I have been able to have with the choir members is what makes working with them special and very exciting.

How is signed song different to BSL?

The difference between BSL and signed song interpretation is very simple. Signed song has a structured BSL basis but each interpreter will create their own artistic version of that piece of music or song by using facial expression and body language to emphasize the emotions of that piece. In the same way everybody feels something different when they hear a song, it may bring tears to some people and yet others may feel something totally different. Whereas within a simple BSL translation the words are simply structured within the correct syntax or word order.

What has been your favourite Inspiration song and why?

Do I only get one? That is so cruel! I do like ‘Hallelujah’ from ‘Shrek’ (not The Hallelujah Chorus) but the one that was so emotional for me was ‘Walking in Memphis’. It was so moving and beautiful. I cried when I heard it. I think it is the way it starts off with the solo at the beginning and then everyone joins in, ending with the amazing gospelly bit. Such teamwork!

What music do you listen to at home?

Varied! It ranges from classical music to whatever the latest bands that the kids are into. The deaf kids are really hot for The Black Eyed Peas song ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ at the moment. They play it so loud and get really absorbed in the signing and music. At home alone, I listen to classical music.

Cliff Lee delivers signed song workshops as part of The Sage Gateshead School’s team. For more information or to book a workshop please contact

Cliff Lee

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