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The Idea of North: Up Close and Personal


Australia’s best a cappella vocal group make their highly technical work seem simple – and that is one of the reasons they keep selling out shows at the Adelaide Fringe.

On Saturday night, a cosily packed Promethean – in full jazz club mode – saw The Idea of North present one of their “by request” shows. “Menus” on the tables offered the list of songs for the audience to request, divided into “lighter” choices, main meals and more.

The breadth of the material shows how the quartet – alto Naomi Crellin, soprano Sally Cameron, tenor Nick Begbie, and bass (and vocal “percussionist”) Andrew Piper – can turn their talents to just about anything.

So we had rollicking vocal jazz (“St Thomas”), disco (“Stayin’ Alive”), standards (“Embraceable You”), folk songs (“My Hat is Has Three Corners”) and pop (“Big Yellow Taxi”).

Piper underlays the sound with his eye-popping combination of deep, precise bass lines and “drum” beats – he’s the glue that holds the whole thing together. Cameron and Crellin – who met as schoolgirls at Marryatville High School  – are sparkling and technically brilliant, while Begbie is a jack of all trades, taking lead solos, ranging up and down the register to fill in the gaps and, at one point, laying down vocal percussion loops recorded in real-time on stage.

Begbie doesn’t have the technical virtuosity of the rest of the group, but he more than makes up for it in musicality. His arrangement of Sting’s “The Pirate’s Bride” provides one of the highlights of the night, with his plaintive rendering of the story-telling song backed in brilliant style by voices that ebb and flow like the tides referenced in the lyrics.

However, the best moment of the night was the final number – “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” – requested by someone with impeccable taste. The old Vera Lynn song has been made famous by the world’s greatest vocal group, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Idea of North does a tightly harmonised, exquisite version.

My only quibble was the format. I like the idea of “by request”, but too much time was taken deciding on song choices, which robbed us of more of what we wanted – the group’s singing.

The Idea of North performed Up Close and Personal at The Promethean on Saturday as part of the Adelaide Fringe, which is now finished.

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Click here for all InDaily’s 2014 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews.




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