With the standard of a cappella at this year’s Edinburgh Festival higher than ever, it takes a great deal to stand out amongst the crowd year after year. The Alternotives always manage to do this, but this year they did so more through their gimmicks and (at times awkward) spoken interludes than their music, which was at times majestic but all too often a little underwhelming, leading to a rather inconsistent set.
The highlights, while sparse, were phenomenal and possibly the most memorable in the entire festival, and were spearheaded by two of the most angelic female soloists in UK collegiate a cappella right now. Heather Young sparkled on Noel Harrison’s Windmills of your Mind, backed up by Nick Barstow’s gorgeous choral descants, while Musical Director Jessie Reeves once again proved her ability to mesmerise an audience on a ballad, backing up her previous award-winning Samson rendition with a similarly brilliant version of Adele’s Make You Feel My Love. While Reeves doesn’t possess a conventional powerhouse voice that works so effectively on power ballads, her breathy tones are so well controlled and her voice rises and falls perfectly to fit the mood of the song. Even a month after the Festival, the goosebumps ellicited from the song still live long in the memory.
The real moment of comedy gold that the group struggled for a long while to achieve was a hilarious rendition of the Vengaboys’ Boom Boom Boom Boom during the blind date section of the show which they had reintroduced after much success last year, with the bass soloist blasting through the choral arrangement with creepy eyes galore amidst side-splitting laughter from the majority of the audience.
While the rest of the Blind Date section of the show, whereby a reduced section the group would perform amusing ‘romantic’ numbers to a blindfolded audience members, evoked titters from the rest of the crowd, musically it further exposed the deficiencies that were apparent when the entire group performed together. One thing lacking was a real strong tenor presence, both on the solos and in the group’s blend. The group’s opening number, I Shot The Sherriff was an intriguing opener with a real reggae/jazzy feel, especially when they segued into Superstition, but cried out for a real belter of a tenor solo, as well as a much tighter overall blend.
This sense of underwhelming inconsistency could be found throughout many of the numbers. Put Your Records On, led by the usually flawless Olivia Willis, wasn’t quite up to her usual standards, but ended on a very cool jazzy chord; Coldplay’s The Scientist showcased another unextraordinary solo but contained some controlled and effective falsetto ‘ooh’s towards the end; and Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror had a complex, interesting chorus, a phenomenal key change and some brilliantly controlled crescendos, but the verses were plain dull.
I really like the Alternotives: they always offer something quite different to all the other groups at the Festival, rather than just performing song after song without interlude. But they didn’t quite live up to the high standards they set themselves over the past year; indeed, at times they left a lot to be desired musically. Intertwined with some flashes of utter brilliance, though, and I left the show wondering what might have been had this magnificence been maintained throughout.