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October 17, 2008

Viva Voices: The Idea of North

Australian Stage Online (Australia):

Wollongong mightn't be able to attract a high calibre of councillors or developers, but it fares rather better when it comes to the arts. Prima facie evidence came in the form of the urbane, witty, entertaining and highly-polished acapella of The Idea Of North, comprising four fine voices: arranger and alto, Naomi Crelin; strong, soaring soprano, Sally Cameron; bassist and percussionist ('all with the same mouth') and local yokel, Andrew Piper; pleasing tenor, gentle humorist and frontman, Nick Begbie.

The beauty of a capella, aside from the strange solace afforded as the collective sound, so much greater than the sum of its parts, strikes a chord somewhere deep down, is, traditionally, it allows a group to transgress boundaries of genre and style with cavalier impunity. This, alone, lends a great deal of promise for an engaging evening; realised in TION's performance, via bookends such as a hilariously meticulous, ridiculous 'German folk song' and a singalong, three-part harmony take on Stevie Wonder's sweetly affecting Isn't She Lovely. This would seem to be something of a specialty of the house.

They seem to have affinity, too, with Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now. Indeed, songs such as these last two, especially, denote the measure of the fab four's serious & wholehearted commitment to songs which, clearly, float their boat. Wherever one finds that, I contend, one's bound to find an audience that's right there, with the performers, every step of the way. There seems to be little or nothing outside Idea's scope, or range: jazz (including standards, such as The Nearness of You & nouveau stylings, as in Sting's breathtaking Fragile, with very special guest, Katie Noonan), pop, funk, folk, gospel and beyond.

Andrew Piper is compelling to watch: for much of the concert, I was doing my damnedest to discern by what alchemy, or devious magic, he manages to tirelessly output rhythmic and bottom-end sounds, with matchless fluidity.

Crelin seems like the serious one of the group, her constant smile more stagecraft than sincere, spontaneous joie de vivre, it seemed to me; which isn't intended to take anything away, for her arranging is clever, distinctive and carefully-tuned to individual and collective capacities.

Cameron has a pure tone, which sails out of her, to the ceiling.

Apart from Begbie's universally lovable, tender tenor, there's his equally engaging personality, idiosyncratic anecdotes (apropos of nothing, but rapport-building) and romantic serenades with deliberately, or randomly, selected audience-members.

It's all broadly crowd-pleasing, with each treatment of a piece given enough originality that, if you've heard it before, it can never really be stale and, if not, it will make the discovery enriching and enjoyable, if not downright thrilling. Even 'classics' rendered sacred and inviolable by personal favouritism, such as Wonder's aforementioned wonder of lyrical, mellifluous wonders, are given the respect and attention they demand and deserve. On the occasion, what's more, this surfeit of talent was bolstered, ambiently, by well-mixed sound (hallelujah!) and conducive lighting, under the surprisingly intimate Circus Monoxide Big Top. So, whether it means heading somewhat south to see them, or in an entirely different direction, ensure your musical compass is set to The magnetic Idea of North.

Posted by acapnews at October 17, 2008 12:01 AM


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