Durham University’s award-winning gospel choir are always going to draw in a healthy crowd, but it was clear that everyone was expecting a high-quality evening from the offset, as those supporting filled Castle Great Hall.
Gospel Choir immediately set the standard for this evening’s concert with Church. The choreography of walking from the back whilst clapping slightly unsettled the tempo, as not everyone was clapping at the same rate as the drums, bass and keyboard at the front of the hall, though this was soon corrected when everyone was at the front. Gospel Choir’s enthusiasm is always a selling point for the society, though the words that they were singing so passionately were almost always lost due to imbalance between the band and the choir. All a cappella arrangements avoided this issue, with all choral parts being well matched. Stable harmonies provided a base for the rhythmic solos of Abi Brown and Tom Buckle.
Unlike in my background in the choral tradition, it was so nice to see individual personalities shining through in the trio medley of spirituals. The performers’ infectious enjoyment of the music was immediately evident, and each overlapping melody was perfectly together and confidently portrayed. It is always such a joy to watch La’marisa Barclay conduct, her infectious energy spreading through Rock My Soul, with an impressive solo from George Bone to match. Made A Way/ Moving Forward showed that this was not a one-off, with stunning solos from Abi Brown, Francesca Tugwell, Michael Fuxman, George Bone and La’marisa Barclay. Again, it was a shame that the keyboard slightly drowned out the text at times, though this did not detract too much from the overall performance. It was great to see Ollie Le May and Lucas George interact during their solos in Baba Yetu and their voices complimented each other’s well.
Guy Parker’s dulcet bass tones provided a lovely grounding to Glory, whilst Noa Sabi’s clear and uprising rapping was certainly the cherry on top. It could have been nice for the violin accompaniment to have been placed further forward in order to address the imbalance provided by the keyboard. Better is One Day, arranged by co-director George Bone, turned out to be the earworm of the evening, with stable harmonies and controlled backing to a moving and sincere solo from Noa Sabi. For this set to have been brought to the next level, it would have been nice to have had all the choreography, be it clicking or clapping, starting unanimously as sometimes these effects trickled in, which somewhat detracted from the confident singing. My, Life, My Love, My All by Kirk Franklin had some lovely expansive phrases with dynamic contrasts being effectively handled by La’marisa and Yes, by Trey McLaughlin saw a fantastic connection with the audience. The trio of voices in Joyful Joyful went very well together to bring the first half to a close and the musicality of these performers was lovely to see.
Unfortunately, we learnt that Gospel Choir’s accompanist was ill at the last minute. However, we were lucky that Henry Bird was able to accompany pieces, whilst co-director La’marisa Barclay conducted. A flawless rap solo by Michael Heron in Blinded By Your Grace Pt.2 by Stormzy (arr. George Bone) earned avid applause after a 25 minute interval. Take It To The Lord appeared to start out of nowhere, with effortless harmonies by Daniella Pollendine, Nathalie Reid and La’marisa Barclay. Abi Alton’s chill-inducing performance in Stand By Me was my personal highlight of the evening, her voice suiting the song perfectly. Bridge Over Troubled Water had a lovely unison start. I especially liked Michael Fuxman’s bass grounding to the quartet. Proving that they can master more than one language, La Cruz was expertly managed by Nao Sabi and Elisa Monte-Jeffs whilst Freedom showed off the evenly-matched voices of Maya Spence, Abbie Longmate and Guy Parker. It may be better here to maintain the hazy, sultry effect of the voices that was achieved in the beginning, as a forcing of the voice towards the end seemed somewhat out of place. Maya and Lucas George interacted nicely during It Is Well (Soul’s Anthem) and I felt that the other members of the quartet could perhaps have made this uniform. Gospel Choir definitely left the best until last with O Happy Day, receiving whoops from the audience, with ever impressive solos from Francesca Tugwell and Natalie Reid.
Furthermore, with only a couple of instances of choir and band imbalance taking a moment to settle, Gospel Choir’s Epiphany Concert was a roaring success, especially considering last-minute changes of keyboard player! It would also allow for a smoother start to pieces if only one note, or a quick chord, were given at the start. A special congratulations goes to Abbie Longmate and Maya Spence and their executive committees for putting together a fantastic concert.