A far cry from violin concertos and serious choral repertoire, on the 8th of December Elvet Methodist church housed the Northern Lights, Durham’s premier a cappella group. The bountiful array of Christmas lights that greeted substantial audience proved to be a mere feature of the sheer dedicated to the evening’s entertainment.

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The choir’s strikingly confident entrance made it clear from offset that their hard work would not go unnoticed. A strong start by soloist Rebekah Fitch in the Jessie J medley ensured direction for the rest of the concert. The four microphones spread between the on-stage group (3x sopranos, 4x altos, 4x tenors, 4x basses and a beatboxer) evidently had been tried and tested, as levels from the outset were sufficiently balanced. However it did become clear in the first item that levels within the choir were still being adjusted. Due to one microphone being assigned to a single bass singer, there was little room for lower registers to firmly establish themselves within the output of the choir. Albeit, levels on the whole were balanced.

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A colourful and clever arrangement of American Pie seized the audience’s attention if it hadn’t been acquired already. Granted that the nature of these arrangements may be viewed as a tad “cheesy”, there was certainly a sense of class and genuine enthusiasm for the music by the performers. An intimate rendition of Paulo Nutini’s Last Request highlighted the group’s dedication to choreography, as the actions of soloist Emmanguel Adeagbo and Miranda Philips were replicated in the background by the rest of the group. This intimate affair was followed by an entertaining arrangement of Sweet Child O’ Mine by the group’s new designated arranger Helen Butcher. Perhaps paying homage to the song’s appearance in the film Step Brothers, the arrangement featured the famous guitar riff dispersed between female voices, which proved humorous yet rather effective. Frank Ocean’s Super Rich Kids with Elton John’s Benny and the Jets certainly caught my ear. The rich harmony of the former was tackled adequately, due to its constant string of major seventh chords that proved a menace for intonation. Despite this, the seamless integration of two completely songs certainly highlighted the group’s creativity and intuition.
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Cake from sponsors 9 Altars fuelled the sheer enthusiasm shown by audience members during the interval, as those attending a Northern Lights concert for the first time were staggered at the variety of talent they encompass. If diversity in programme hadn’t been shown already, Prince Ali certainly covered that. Despite an unquestionably strong level of competency in memorising music, there is something to be desired in the group’s diction, which appeared to be slightly lacking in highly verbal passages.Monster Mash featured a tribute to more ‘stern’ choirs that did not go unnoticed. Uncontained remarks from the audience proved the sudden switch to a mock, traditional choir hilarious. An undeniable attraction of the group lies in its self-awareness; neither pretending to be what they’re not nor taking themselves too seriously.
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A gleeful audience was brought steadily into the festive spirit by the first of three Christmas songs, led by soloist Patrick Bell. The resonant voice of a confident and clear bass brought a sense of maturity to Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time, despite the soloist having put his Christmas jumper on the wrong way round. The Christmas Song elegantly arranged by Helen Butcher brought us nearer to the finale, an outstanding performance of All I Want For Christmas Is You by soloist Rebekah ‘Aguilera’ Fitch. Despite the virtuosic talent effortlessly displayed by Rebekah, it was exceptionally evident that the ensemble concluded the night with as much energy, if not more than what they began with.
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I have had the pleasure of seeing the Northern Lights perform on several occasions since their inception last year. It is fantastic to see that the group from humble origins has kept to their niche of being a delight to both listen to and watch. With playful arrangements by Seb Marlow and Helen Butcher and light-hearted choreography by Sam Arrowsmith, the group are undeniably one of the standout, most enthusiastic ensembles in Durham. Be sure to look out for fantastic new arrangements of classic songs in the New Year!

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Review: Dumitha Gunawardene

Photography: David Cotter