The Northern Lights have been very busy over the last few years, in whirlwind of activity leading them to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the semi-finals of the International Championships of Collegiate Acapella among other exciting ventures. However, Saturday’s performance was a chance for the busy ensemble slow everything down and, as President Luke Hill put it in his welcoming address, ‘strip everything away’ and just sing. The small and intimate venue of the Dowrick Suite at Trevelyan College was ideal for the afternoon concert. As an audience we were invited to feel like we had been invited into their living room, but this informality never took away from the overall polish of the set.
The theatrical manner in which the concert began immediately made the audience warm to the performers as they began their arrangement of ‘Prince Ali’. In this number, and ‘American Pie’ which followed, soloists Sam Arrowsmith, Biff Sharrock and Lottie Jones were very good, though just a little reserved. There was a slight issue of balance between the soloists and the ensemble, but this might not have been helped by the unusual acoustic of the Dowrick Suite. In the third number, a mash-up of Elton John and Frank Ocean which needs to be heard to be believed, the relaxed vibe given off by the soloists was appropriate to the song, whereas in the previous two songs it might have been nice to see the performers play off the encouraging audience a little more. The Northern Lights have generated quite the student following, and they should not be afraid to approach each performance with even more confidence.
A real maturity of style was shown in the arrangements, which are all created by student members of the group. In particular, the arrangements of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and ‘Purple Rain’, which are new additions to the group’s repertoire, were outstanding; building excitement from the beginning in quite a special way. The effortless blend of harmonies in ‘Purple Rain’ caused me to simply write the word ‘beautiful’ in my notes, in capital letters. The excellent use of the individual vocal styles of each singer shows a level of refinement which I’m sure will only improve as the group develops in experience. ‘Shut up and Dance’ was obviously a lot of fun to perform, however it was slightly more obvious that this was a new arrangement. Though it was not as comfortably under the voices as some other numbers, it still had the audience engaged and laughing. It is sure to continue to be a crowd-pleaser.
For me, a particular highlight of the concert came in a staple of the Northern Lights repertoire, ‘Everybody Move Your Feet’. A crescendo halfway through the number suddenly showed how much volume the group actually had to give. The room was saturated in an extraordinary sound, without any help of microphones. The ‘next level’ of volume infused the set with energy which carried the set to the end without dipping. For me, this showed a commendable level of maturity on the part of Musical Director Seb Marlow, to have not released the group’s full vocal power until a decisive moment. Marlow should also be praised for the tightness and togetherness of the group throughout the concert, particularly on small but effective details such as consonant placement and phrase endings. Also the skill of passing small melodic fragments in an almost orchestral way is quite hard to do well, but this was executed extremely well, particularly in the ‘Don’t look back in anger/Nobody to love’ mash-up, and ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, mentioned above.
The group’s final number, the so called ‘Monster Mash’, swept across a wide range of hit tunes, a little like a night in Klute on fast-forward, but with much better singing. As someone who has watched the progress of The Northern Lights, the subtle references to other songs from their set, and their previous successful arrangements, was a nice reminder of just how far they have come as an ensemble. The brilliant execution of this mash- led to the audience demanding an encore.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon concert. The transitions between songs were smooth and professional. The numbers were spaced out with updates from different members on what the group had been up to, such as the recent recording of their EP, and I never felt like this element was overdone. It was lovely that throughout the concert, they didn’t take themselves too seriously but were just enjoying the music, particularly the more seasoned members of the group.
For any busy Durham student, an hour of superb afternoon music from the Northern Lights comes highly recommended.