The King's Singers - QPAC

The King's Singers - QPAC


Posted 2024-03-21 by John Andrewfollow

Wed 20 Mar 2024

Since six singers, all Kingsmen, joined together in 1954, bound together by friendship, fun and an eclectic love of music the “King’s Singers” have become legendary around the world, popular, they tell us, more outside the UK than within it, and particularly known in the USA, Canada, Germany, Austria and Switzerland and with a growing following in China and Japan.

There have been 22 singers in all.

The theme for their current tour is “Finding Harmony” – music having a unique power to bring people together, to unite and to comfort. Looking over the program notes from several venues it became clear that no two concerts are quite the same. I’m a little sad that “Loch Lomond” didn’t feature for us. I also regret that Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” (a powerful evocation of lynching in the American South) also on their “Finding Harmony” album, didn’t make the cut. Our QPAC concert had African American and Civil Rights songs, songs from the Soviet Union, and from the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First (and Second), folksongs, anthems, pop songs and spirituals.

“I’m gonna let my little light shine” began the evening - and it needed some adjustment to adapt to a highly contrived and complex arrangement of an essentially simple song. Sheer admiration of their brilliance and musicality mingled with some unease as to whether the treatment married to the message.

Not so their Scottish Gaelic folk song. With a bass line evoking the threnody of the pipes, and beautiful complex harmonies enhancing a simple melody this was a song for the ages, and there was the “good silence” in the audience as all of us were enthralled.

Elizabethan songs by Tallis and Byrd played to two strengths of the King’s Singers – musicality and scholarship. One imagined the acoustic of a cathedral as we heard their glorious harmonies, cut-glass counter-tenor lines soaring to the stratosphere, and counter-balancing deep bass. Just glorious.

Their “comic” songs – though brilliantly sung – felt a little laboured. Indeed the most truly comic moment was during the introduction to the songs, when one word (possibly “clearly”) was misheard by one of their lap-tops leading Siri loudly to offer assistance, the collapse in helpless laughter of the narrator, and cheers and applause from the audience.

Bringing us up to the interval the King’s Singers sang a Disney medley, reminding me of a review by John Daly-Peoples where he wrote “As well their ability to sing like a choir of angels they can sing like a rowdy pub crowd or an earnest revolutionary mob”. If you thought that the original “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was difficult to sing, you should have heard this tour de force, which lifted our spirits and heightened our awe at their ability to interlace their voices, interchange lead vocals, and re-define close harmony.

It is often said that audiences are more appreciative after an interval – unrelated, of course, to access to the bar.

But it has to be said that the three songs by Maurice Ravel with which the King’s singers opened were sublime, combining beautiful melody with lightness of touch and an approach which at times was Elgarian, at times a-tonally modern.

Another string to the King’s Singers’ bow is folk music, and after a sensitive, empathetic introduction came one of the highlights of the evening, Eric Bogle’s “Gallipoli”. Unforgettable.

I’ve been following the King’s Singers for close to 54 years, and once had a venerable copy of an album entirely featuring Beatles songs. So I was hoping – and it only took the first few notes to recognise “Blackbird” – another highlight of the evening, with one singer featuring the best skill at whistling since the wonderful Roger Whittaker.

Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” was linked somewhat loosely to Valentine’s Day, followed by a stunning rendition of Braithwaite’s “The Horses”.

Then came highlight number three – the 1971 King’s Singers arrangement of “The Oak and The Ash”. Simple, melodic, unforgettable.

The show (sort of) finished with an energetic, comic, complex rendition of “Honey-pie, you’re driving me crazy”, and then the singers left the stage, to be recalled several times by enthusiastic applause. Would they or wouldn’t they – have an encore, that is.

And then they began
“I've been to cities that never close down
From New York to Rio and old London town
But no matter how far
Or how wide I roam
I still call Australia home.”

A great ending to a concert by great singers. Given their 54-year-long repertoire might we have chosen some different songs? Probably. But if, as they promised, they come back soon will I be scrambling for tickets? Absolutely.

281224 - 2024-03-21 09:18:07


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