Having heard a preview for the Oxford Alternotives’ end of term concert, it occurs to me that the a cappella genre has a bit of a bad reputation. Say “A Cappella”, and words like “cheesy” and “geeky” spring to mind, along with the vague notion that you might be locked into an auditorium for an hour and forced to listen to that Dell Advert over and over again. But, despite hearing songs like Want You Back and Don’t Stop Me Now within twenty minutes, I never heard a hint of ‘Lollipop’, and left the preview associating the Alternotives more with words like “entertaining”, “understated”, and “impressive”. Whether the music was fast and tricky or slow and luscious, they were always in control, and there were moments when their blend was breathtaking. This isn’t just some glee club concert for chronic shower-singers. This is Pop, Rock and RnB performed with style and ease by a group that has won awards for its arranging, performing, and soloists.
Were there problems? Certainly: occasionally the tuning slipped, the soloists could have smiled a bit more, and their sound sometimes lost cohesiveness in louder parts. But there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be gained from doing things the hard way – like making tea and throwing the teabag away without using a teaspoon – and watching a small group of guys and girls not just sing songs, but perform them entertainingly without the use of instruments or backing tracks, more than made up for tiny errors here and there. Not to say that the show only has gimmick-value – occasionally, you get to hear something truly magical that transcends anything you could ever do with instruments: their version of Bridge Over Troubled Water will leave you emotionally wrecked, tear-soaked, and smiling from ear to ear.