After their victory in Edinburgh over the weekend, taking first place at the at the International Championship of A Cappella quarter-finals, Northern Lights took to the stage on Monday night with their annual Gala concert, supported by Full Score; one of Durham’s newest and youngest mixed a cappella choirs, centered on their love for the barbershop genre.

The evening began with Full Score’s selection of barbershop favourites, conducted by Alex Mackinder. Their first piece, an ‘I Love Jazz Medley’, opened the concert with eagerness and an overall sense of confidence. Most noticeable was the choir’s immediate sense of unity, with intonation and rhythms very precise indeed. I wonder perhaps whether the level of energy displayed mirrored that demanded by the song, but the overall character really shone through; and clearly a great start for what was to come.

To follow was their interpretation of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’. Clearly a very energetic piece, there were a few issues with the coherence of the faster passages, but the character was retained, and the singers clearly engaged with the emotions of the song. It was at this point that the choreography really added to the music, and this was very well displayed.

Their third piece of the night was ‘Their Hearts Were Full of Spring’. Here, once again, the choir’s intonation was exemplary, with a clear sense of direction from Mackinder, the result being a rounded sound which matched the song’s demands well. The additions of the glissandi in the male parts was a refreshing shift in the colour of the overall sound, but I feel that at times the upper notes were not always reached. However, they were generally very well stylized.

Next up was ‘The Next Ten Minutes’, taken from the musical ‘The Last Five Years’. With the lower energy of the song, naturally the choir had to work harder to portray the emotion and vitality of sound, and it was very carefully crafted here. The opening solo part from the male lines was well tuned and in keeping with the style of the song, if not a little unconfident in places. It was nice also to hear the choir perform repertoire which explored these slow, quiet phrases.

immediate sense of unity, with precise intonation and rhythms

Their penultimate piece was ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, and here the choreography was exceptional, and truly added to the character of the performance. The energy was also highly vitalised, and the ending clearly portrayed this.

Full Score’s final song of the evening was ‘Go Down Moses’, which displayed the choir’s aptitude for close-harmony barbershop singing. It was a shame that the male vocal entry after the climax was rather untidy, but this was easily made up for with the ending, which showed the true potential of the choir’s sound. It truly was spectacular!

After the interval, the headline act, Northern Lights, presented their first song, ‘Go Your Own Way’. It was evident from the start that the choreography (put together by Izzy Clarke) was spectacular and worked in harmony with the group’s musical talents. The solo, here sung by Naomi Cook, was well stylized and portrayed the true character that the song demanded. The sound was extremely powerful and well-focused also. It was unfortunate however, that during this particular song, the beatboxing seemed slightly overpowering. Regardless, the overall sound was truly special, and the harmony and intonation were very fine.

Up next was their rendition of ‘High Five’ with soloist Goya Verity. The energy here was immediately evident. Every member of the group was clearly passionate about their individual parts and coordinated them with tenacity to create the powerful sound which was the result. The solo was particularly powerful, with clear command of the style and genre in which the song was set.

Their third song was one of their classics ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger/Nobody to Love’ with Rosie Western taking on the solo. Here, once again, the tuning was spotless; as was the harmony throughout. The beatboxing by Oscar Lingard was most effective at this point and added to the character and emotion of the song. As with the previous songs, the choreography was also very well planned here, but I sometimes felt that it impacted the vocal standards slightly. Their fourth song, ‘Heavenly Father’ with soloist Joe Norris, presented the audience with a truly magical atmosphere, with the harmony of the supporting parts faultless. Most notable in this song was the group’s impeccable handling of joint entries, even when the group was spread across the entire stage.

Up next was a special format of just five members singing ‘My Heart With You’, which explored the member’s ability to sing in a more intimate and musically exposed fashion. After this we saw Dewi Erwan perform the solo part for ‘Shotgun’, a highly energetic performance with the level of beatboxing now at a more balanced level. The group’s interpretation of the song was exemplary, and it was great to see the choreography really affecting the overall performance atmosphere.

Their next song ‘God is a Women’, with solo by Tasmin Martin-Young, perhaps felt the freest song in the entire concert. The sheer power from the group throughout this song was highly commendable: not once did the wall of sound falter and the energy remained for the entirety. I also found it hard to find anything of fault with the harmony parts, or the way in which solo and chorus interacted. It was a fathomably spotless performance.

a truly magical atmosphere, with the harmony of the supporting parts faultless

…the level of energy from the entire group culminated in a strong, powerful, and unifying sound

‘High Hopes’ was next, with soloist Oscar Lingard. Here, once again, the choreography was exemplary, and the solo line was very passionately portrayed. The supporting harmony was also very well intoned, if not on occasion sitting slightly unevenly in pitch and unity. However, the overall character of the song was very well portrayed and the solo voice suited this song particularly well.

Following on from this was Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ with solo by Elle Morgan-Williams. This was perhaps the most atmospheric opening of any of the songs, with the single female voice. The balance was particularly impressive in this song, with both solo and supporting harmony working perfectly together. The bass lines were of particular strength here, which added overtly to the overall sense of command and power in this song.

Northern Light’s penultimate song was ‘Tears’ with soloists Rosie Western and Harlem Nquyen, which clearly showed the singers command of the style and genre. The concert finished with their interpretation of ‘Clarity’ by Zedd, and soloist Harlem Nquyen. Here, once again the bass line was evidently strong, but this sometimes led to the harmonic backing seeming slightly muddled or ‘washed’ in colour. For the most part, however, the harmony was very tight indeed. This was perhaps the highlight of the concert in terms of solo lines. There was true passion throughout the solo, and the group melded extremely well, as such creating a truly powerful ending which displayed the group’s total command of the genre.

a truly outstanding evening of music

Overall, a very well-presented programme, with a range of styles and genres, which was enacted with precision and clear musicality. Special mention must go to the soloists, who all performed spectacularly, their passion shining through in every song. The harmonies were very well balanced, with the intonation nearly perfect throughout. One of the highlights for me had to be the level of energy from the entire group, culminating in a strong, powerful, and unifying sound. A truly outstanding evening of music!