The Bristol Suspensions: Love Aca-tually (theSpace Triplex: 13-25 Aug: 16:00: 50 mins)

“A group at the top of their game”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Th Bristol Suspensions have been making waves on the a capella circuit in recent years, and having only formed four years ago, their rise to the top league has been remarkable. In Love Aca-tually they show us why.

Under Musical Director Eleanor Leaper’s leadership, the group display a stunning range of styles, mixing and layering, with their mashups being a real highlight in seamless blending from one song to another. The intricacy of their constantly-changing arrangements is something to behold as there’s always so much going on within one song to keep interest and wow-factor. There’s a quality and depth to these arrangements that really catches the ear.

In saying that, it feels like it takes the group a few songs to really get going performance-wise, and it’s only in Power (featuring breath-taking lead vocals by Leaper herself), that they really start to perform with the swagger and panache of a group at the top of their game. It would be great to see them truly ‘bring it’ from note one, song one.

For a show themed around the film Love Actually, the setlist is somewhat surprising – featuring interpretations of songs originally by artists such as Foo Fighters and Coheed & Cambria, as well as a Reggaeton medley and a rap medley. While I applaud the diversity of musical influences used to create this show (and indeed the creative arrangements in each case), a slightly more ‘on brand’ setlist would give a greater sense of completeness and cohesion to the performance.

What’s pleasing about this group, too, is the inventiveness and risks taken with choreography to create a visual drama that matches the stunning vocals. Rarely are the singers still for long and the performance as a whole feels like a fully staged show, making best use of the thrust stage, elevating the Bristol Suspensions above groups who are content with more simple staging.

As you’d expected from a much-plaudited group, it’s hard to spot a note wrong anywhere. There are moments, though, when lead vocals are overpowered by the backing singers, so perhaps there’s a little bit more balancing to be done, but in all other respects, this is a group that can clearly do it all with a fantastic display of range and dynamism. Aca-mazing.


Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 13 August)


+3 Review: Gobsmacked! (Underbelly George Square,

“These guys should be selling out arenas…the best show I’ve ever seen in Edinburgh.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars:  Outstanding

With their own set and taking the stage in individual black and white outfits to reflect their own personalities, Gobsmacked! look every inch the “cool” a capella group, and their opening number – an energetic rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now – shows just how much they mean business.

The group’s arrangements – all by former Sons of Pitches star Jack Blume – are quite poppy by nature, allowing each member of the group to have their moment as lead vocalist, with plenty of supporting lines and balance, despite there being just seven members. Throughout the show there are blends and mash-ups aplenty, especially the closing medley, which somehow managed to link over 20 pop songs into one cohesive number, and every arrangement is just as rousing and unique as the last. This is a show that just has quality at every level.

Many a capella choirs these days claim to have slick choreography to accompany their singing, but few I’ve seen have come close to this group’s overall visual presentation with movement, drama and tableau so effortlessly working alongside their singing. In particular, the mash-up between Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy with Adele’s Rolling in the Deep depicts a relationship break-down, jealousy and attempts to move on in a perfect combination between flawless singing and creative staging.

It’s almost impossible for me to pick any standout moments, as the show is all so polished in wow-factor, but award-winning beatboxer Ball-Zee’s solo section midway through the performance left me genuinely gobsmacked for about ten minutes, and in a sea of up tempo numbers I can’t not mention the beautifully stripped back rendition of I Will Wait. If, midway through the show, I was worried that Gobsmacked! might be leaning a bit too much towards the pop-dance genre, this song went a long way to demonstrating the variety and depth of music that this group can more than capably deliver.

I suppose I should attempt to highlight areas of the performance that didn’t work as well, but the only very slight blemishes I noticed were that a couple of the performers seemed a little less flamboyant and stage-aware than their choir-mates (though we can’t all be divas), and it was a shame that some live vocal looping was used in a couple of the songs (though only the really keen observer would notice this). Otherwise, for me this show is as close to perfection as you can get.

After this performance Gobsmacked! are now my absolute favourite a capella group in town – these guys should be selling out arenas. I honestly think this is the best show I’ve ever seen in Edinburgh.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)


+3 Review: Countermeasure: 14 Characters (theSpace @ Surgeons Hall: 5-13 Aug: 17.30: 55mins)

“Beautifully layered harmonies”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The Fringe always seems to be a breeding ground for a capella groups: so many of them pop up from all over the place, and this year is no exception. My first (of I’m sure, many) this year is Countermeasure all the way from Canada. Dressed smartly in coordinating outfits and taking the stage like they mean business, they certainly look the professional outfit.

Overall their style is very modern, and, dare I say it, trendy, with lots of complex layering, mixing, and blending of tones. I was a little disappointed in the use of vocal looping for a couple of the songs – despite being recorded live, it slightly detracted from the power of pure unadulterated a capella of the rest of the show.

Most of the repertoire performed in 14 Characters I was unfamiliar with, which in some ways was nice as I got hear completely new songs, while I would have liked a couple more songs that I knew to really appreciate the group’s originality and quality of arrangement to suit their style. Under My Skin was given a very fresh and electro swing vibe, and All Aboard the A Train underwent a thoroughly modern makeover to accompany an original animation (shown on screen during the song).

In general, the group’s arrangements are quite electro and upbeat, and while this worked for many of their songs, I would have perhaps preferred a bit more variety to show the group’s depth. Midway through the set the male members of the choir were left alone on stage to sing Fox in the Field – a beautifully stripped back song with simple harmony and a real focus on the lyrics, and for me, this was the real highlight of the show. Later on, a slightly more traditional rendition of The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles gave a glimpse of different styles the group can turn their voices to, and this was a very enjoyable and intelligent song choice for their run in Edinburgh.

It’s not just the prepared and rehearsed numbers that Countermeasure excel at. Partway through the show they venture into the audience to find out more about who’s at their show, before constructing songs on the spot about what they’ve learned – impressive stuff. Add that to the substantial choreography the group deliver and this really is a show with everything.

Countermeasure are a very likeable group with great personality and beautifully layered harmonies, they deserve to do well in Edinburgh.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)


The Oxford Gargoyles (C : 5-15 August : 13.00 : 50 mins)

“A flawless vocal performance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

It seems somewhat incredulous that I last saw the Oxford Gargoyles at the Fringe nine years ago. And I guess what’s most pleasing is the evolution in style since then – from what was previously a supremely talented but somewhat serious choir, to a much more risky and fun-loving bunch, with the same level of musical talent.

After a slightly bizarre introduction, the show opened with gospel number from Disney’s Hercules: That’s the Gospel Truth, which although impressive, perhaps had a slightly too complex arrangement that to the average punter would probably have sounded quite chaotic. Indeed, this was a theme that, being harsh, was true throughout their 50-minute set: amazing vocal talent that was sometimes lost behind some very complex arrangements.

What I imagine the group would hail as their “money song” was the most bizarre mash-up that I have ever heard including (among others): Stanford’s Evening Canticles in C, G and B flat; Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed Delivered; Bach’s Magnificat; and even some 90s rock thrown in for good measure. Again, vocally very impressive, and I’m sure music geeks will go nuts for it, but for the layman it is quite difficult to enjoy properly with so much going on.

In saying that, this is a vocal group that absolutely knows is niche in the a capella market, and their songs were in the most part performed in their very individual style. A beautiful, soulful rendition of Let It Be, and a much simpler mash-up of jazz classics including Beyond the Sea were very distinctive to the Gargoyle’s sound. The haunting and simple Blame it on my Youth was perhaps my favourite of the evening though, going to show that they’ve still got all their old tricks, as well as having learnt some new.

The show closed with a song that I never thought I would hear from an acapella, especially a jazz acapella: Shania Twain’s Man, I feel Like a Woman. This number perhaps most evidently summed up the gutsiness this group now has, incorporating humour, original arrangement and a flawless vocal performance. It was delivered with real panache and was a great way to close the show.

For me it’s great to see so much freshness and originality alive and well in university a capella groups, and I hope the Oxford Gargoyles keep up their good work.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)


The Sons of Pitches (Gilded Balloon, 7-13 Aug : 22.30 : 1hr)

“Their energy and stage presence was infectious”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

This is a Fringe show that has brought its own warm-up act. It may be a little arrogant, but once the real deal gets going it’s easy to see why – the sounds made by these lads with just their mouths was simply astonishing.

I’ve seen a lot of a capella groups, especially at the Fringe, and what I liked about these guys is that at just five members, compared to the usual twelve or so one might normally expect, they easily made it sound like there were several more of them on stage creating multiple levels. The layering and blend of voices in different parts is so on point that you can’t really tell who is singing what, while their energy and stage presence was infectious.

From one of the top vocal groups on the circuit, their basic “party pieces” were flawless, but this show attempted to combine a capella with comedy. Support act Love Heart came back on stage half way through to introduce a section where the group would improvise songs around a genre and subject. The improvisation itself delivered incredible attempts at traditional Irish, country and calypso music (all from audience suggestions), and I was desperate to have seen these developed further.

For me there was too much chat and not enough singing in this show, and although the interludes were enjoyable, that’s not what the majority of the audience were there to see.

While I won’t linger on some of the unfortunate vocal cracking from the singers at the higher end, the standout Son from this performance was undoubtedly Midé Adenaike. His beatboxing skills were jaw-droppingly fantastic, and particularly in the night’s closing number he stole the show.

For the most part this was an upbeat vocal party, but for me the real proof of an a capella group’s mettle is in their stripped back numbers. The Sons’ penultimate song was the self-penned Foundations, a ballad about stability within a relationship. Unfortunately without Adenaike on beats the group seemed a little lost, and although delivering a good performance, it wasn’t to the standard of their earlier tunes.

While this is a very impressive troupe with a lot to offer the world of a capella, in this performance they didn’t quite blow me away as much as perhaps they should have done, but it was still an incredibly enjoyable hour.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 7 August)

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