OxTales: The Oxford Gargoyles at the Edinburgh Fringe

A bearded man accosted me as I watched the Oxford Gargoyles advertising their show in the street. “I love the Gargoyles,” he told me through his facial fur. “I come to see them every year.”

Already wary of the term “jazz a capella”, I was equally cynical about the critical capacities of an Albus Dumbledore lookalike.

So let this serve as a warning against passing judgement. Jazz a capella is not the reserve of middle-aged men on the verge of breakdown, and beards are not the reserve of those suffering the aforementioned breakdown.

The Gargoyles’ vocal abilities are not in doubt: they won the European stage of an international competition back in Hilary. But tight production complemented their vocal spectrum in Edinburgh, turning the show from a mere display of first-rate singing into a visual, aural and comedic feast.

After a chirpy ten-second introduction, “Come Fly With Me” begins, in which the group give a taste of what’s coming up: goofy baselines, smooth vocals, euphoric build-ups and perfectly-timed pauses. Edward Randell and Emma Ladell’s solos fuse beautifully with their bandmates’ voices. Then, with a slickness that would make Pete Tong envious, the song merges into “I’ve Got The World On A String”.

The choreography here and throughout is tight. The ironic glimmer on many of the boys’ faces acknowledges the cheese factor of the moves. The audience is complicit in what would otherwise be a crime against masculinity. You can’t help but smile with them.

The black tie outfits contrast with the bright rainbow backdrop and the sunny harmonies of a brilliant arrangement of the Beach Boys’  “Good Vibrations”. On the other hand, in later songs such as “Feeling Good”, every colour is stripped out to great effect. Natasha Lytton’s positively raunchy opening solo to that song changes the Disney-cum-Sinatra campness into sultriness.

Each Gargoyle guy and girl has a distinctive voice and character that you get to know through the course of the show. What they lack in Out of the Blue-esque brute volume, they more than make up for with panache. Seize any opportunity to see them play; beards optional.