Let’s face facts, the Oxford a capella scene is a pretty over-subscribed market. Cornmarket Street seems to be flooded with all manner of cheerful teens singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ with such wide smiles they make the Cheshire Cat look like Eeyore. Being a cynical, washed-up old hack my opinion on these sort of groups was that they represent everything that has gone wrong with the human race of late. Still the ticket was free so I thought why not check out one of Oxford’s premier a capella groups, The Alternotives.
Whilst this account may come across as something as an epiphany moment it’s not. A capella still has the potential to remain depressingly cheerful, yet what makes watching The Alternotives such an enjoyable experience is the incredible ability of the singers. Afra Morris is implausibly talented and surely possesses the best voice on the Oxford music scene, as evidenced in her magnificent version of Cee-Lo’s mega-hit ‘Fuck You’ and ‘The Great Escape’; her soulful performances make one run out of superlatives.
Yet she is far from the only talented performer in ‘The Alts’ and group performances like ‘California Girls/Gurls’ (a rather magnificent Beach Boys/Katy Perry medley) and ‘Loveshack’ showcase a wonderful vocal group whose styles compliment each other. So enjoyable is this concert that I find myself humming along to ‘Wonderful Tonight’; despite the fact that it’s normally the most schmaltzy, sickly song in existence, Dom Burrell’s delicate delivery found the beautiful love-song Eric Clapton had so expertly hidden away.
Such high-quality singing ought to be enough yet The Alts provide the audience with a ‘show’, offering a high-energy performance with plenty of audience participation, including a hilarious moment when they serenade a blindfolded member of the crowd with The Police’s ‘I’ll Be Watching You’. Having survived of a diet of sweaty indie bands ignoring the crowd it makes a refreshing change to watch such a vibrant, eager and passionate group.
The only weakness I could find with The Alternotives performance comes in slower songs like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water/Lean on Me’. Whilst these are undoubtedly well performed they lack the energy and excitement of their more up-tempo songs, leaving me wishing they’d break out into ‘Dreadlock Holiday’.
The Oxford Alternotives are an incredibly talented a capella group who perform imaginatively arranged pieces and put on a show that leaves the entire audience spellbound. As such, despite my distaste for any music more cheerful than Joy Division, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. In a crowded scene The Alts stand out above all the other a capella groups I have seen in Oxford thanks to the incredible talent of each and every individual.