Music / The Idea of North. At The Street Theatre, May 25. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN
HOW time gets away! It is astonishing that it’s now 25 years since four talented vocal students at the jazz campus of the Canberra School of Music got together and formed the a cappella ensemble, The Idea of North.
Of the original group only Nick Begbie remains, although Naomi Crellin, now the musical director and chief arranger, joined as a replacement for Megan Begbie 17 years ago. To the sorrow of this reviewer, it’s a few years since I’ve been able to attend a concert so this was my first opportunity to see and hear the new members who joined around 2017. Soprano Emma Rule and bass Luke Thompson seem to have slotted in seamlessly as has Kai Kitamura, a simply astonishing vocal percussionist from Japan.
Still very prominently present are the wonderfully tight harmonies, clever and innovative arrangements and rich and beautifully blended ensemble tone as well as an easy going and charming stage presence. In the very beginning the team sang to have fun and, two ARIA awards and more than 10 albums later, that intent is still certainly most evident.
From the start of the concert the capacity audience was put at ease with an invitation to mimic individual tenor, alto and soprano lines. In no time, a subdued, but accurate, three-part audience harmony wafted through The Street Theatre. Fans were immediately like putty in the hands of these consummate performers and a happy atmosphere, accompanied by fantastic singing, remained present for the entire evening.
Vocal percussionist Kitamura gave a solo insight into his gymnastic vocal ability and his range of sounds was incredible. He sounded more like a drum kit than a drum kit with every sound effect accompanied by drumming movements from his feet and non-microphone hand. Like many others I simply shook my head in disbelief, I’ve never seen or heard anything like it!
Tenor Nick Begbie led a nostalgic and moving “Growing Pains” then a funny segment when an audience member was invited to “conduct” the group as they dined out on a little Latin number. Hearing the individual vocal lines stop and start in the middle of nowhere according to the whim of the cheeky “conductor” was hilarious, clever and musically most professional.
A parody followed with Alfred Hitchcock and Andrew Lloyd Webber combining for “Psycho: The Musical” – Norman Bates lamenting to a tune most similar to “Music of the Night”! Thirteen songs about money were brilliantly tied into a medley that required absolute vocal precision in terms of key, tempo and style changes then more vocal genius as tenor Nick sang segments of a tune a semitone higher than his partners. That is difficult!
An old-time dancehall medley of Jack O’Hagan (“Road to Gundagai”) tunes opened Act 2, then a fantastic up-tempo version of Kermit’s “Rainbow Connection”. Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and Cold Chisel’s “Flame Tree” made for interesting vocal contrast and, in between those, Kai Kitamura delivered splendid vocal pictures of the differences in train sounds between Tokyo and Canberra.
A closely harmonised “Big Yellow Taxi” then the Scottish/ Irish folk tune “The Parting Glass” brought to an end a warmly received concert of great variety, outstanding singing and simply wonderful entertainment. The Idea of North promise they’ll return to Canberra before Christmas. Don’t miss them!