The evening revealed the positive relationship between the A Capella group ‘Voices’ and Durham’s only Ceilidh Band. Voices have a reputation for exploring a wide range musical styles; last year’s repertoire alone included a progression from traditional choral music to popular music. This programme sustained the reputed diversity with its Irish theme which was a nice touch ahead of St Patrick’s Day on March 17th. Armed with a vivacious accompaniment and an enthusiastic set of singers, the night was destined to be highly entertaining.
The programme started with a mash-up of Frederic Weatherly’s Irish Classic ‘Oh Danny Boy’ and ‘You raise me up’, written first by Secret Garden. The ensemble immediately made an impact with a strong Soprano and Alto section with a pleasant timbre, although the Tenors and Basses were somewhat drowned out by their female colleagues. The transition worked well, exploring some interesting harmonies which were managed competently by the singers.
The next song – D.K. Gavan’s ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ – showcased impressive articulation of words as well as some effective stomping from the ensemble during the refrain. Despite a slightly unsure ending, this was a highlight of the night; thanks, in part, to Megan Hathaway’s impressive Fiddle solo which was very expressive and rhythmically succinct. The most striking performances came from the Ceilidh Band’s solo numbers. ‘Out in the Ocean’, despite sporadic ill-timing from the guitar, successfully kept all parts together allowing the dance rhythms to be extremely effective, to the point where they stimulated foot tapping amongst most audience members!
Following this was another mash-up of Steve Earle and Ed Sheeran’s very different versions of ‘Galway Girl’, thereby evidencing Voice’s thirst for musical diversity. Here, there were some intonation issues from the sopranos but it was compensated for by their well-rehearsed polyphonic passages. The fiddle duet was also a highlight for its clarity despite some tricky passages. The arrangement of ‘Drunken Sailor’ by Melody Bishop was vivacious and harmonically explorative and tempo changes were managed well.
Next came ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ by the Dubliners which started with a confident solo by Daniel Murphy. There was entertaining group clapping and exciting voice exchanges between parts, although because Daniel sang rather than conducted the choir miscued some important entries.
Voice’s performance of the traditional Irish tune ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ was commendable for its stronger sound, however, when the tempo accelerated the clarity of diction suffered; a challenge for any large ensemble. This was proceeded by a folk song called ‘The Rattlin’ Bog’ which required the audience to sing and add a word to the chorus cumulatively. Everyone clearly enjoyed themselves, shown by the cheering at the end of the song. During ‘Banish Misfortune’ by Malcolm Dalglish we had another opportunity see the Ceilidh Band, who were consistently together and very entertaining despite some faulty intonation from the whistle. The finale witnessed a progression from Elder Brackett’s hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ to ‘Lord of the Dance by Michael Flatley. Despite some lack of confidence, there were moments of fruitful unison as well as a superb whistle solo by Ben Wynn which tackled a tricky elaboration of the pastoral theme with complete ease.
Overall this was an entertaining evening which proved to be a refreshing contrast from classical repertory. Special mention must go to Daniel Murphy and Melody Bishop for their direction of the ensemble. The balance of the voices could be addressed so that there is more bass and it would also be nice if the singers felt confident enough to look out of their copies more. However, these shortcomings were made up for by the positive attitude of all performers. This, when united with the exciting rhythms and melodies of the Irish music, meant that the evening was very enjoyable.
Voices have their summer concert as part of Durham Festival of the Arts so look out for that; and for more fun music by the Ceilidh Band be sure to go to the next Ceilidh on March 7th!