Christmas Cheer

20 Dec 2012 in Community Reviews, Highland, Music, Showcase

Bishop’s Palace, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 13 December 2012

FROM a snow covered Eden Court and with the night air sharp with frost, the intimate venue of the Bishop’s Palace provided a haven of warmth and a grandiose setting for an eclectic mix of ‘feel good’ musicality produced almost entirely from in and around the Highland capital, writes Ed Ley-Wilson.

THIS was a treat of Scottish and World ‘a cappella’, classical opera, jazz and blues, ‘swing’ string quartet, and sea shanties. How on earth would such a varied mix of music work together in one concert? Well the answer was, “Just perfectly” and was perhaps best summed up by one of the sell-out audience who enthused, “it all just makes me want to get out there and learn to sing.”

In Cahoots at the Perthshire Amber Festival

In Cahoots at the Perthshire Amber Festival

This is the first time that In Cahoots, directed by the formidable Margaret Rae, has brought together such a program and, judging by the quality of performance and the clear audience appreciation, it will not be the last.

The young tenor, Glen Cunningham, sang Handel, Schubert, Gluck and others with an emotional maturity way beyond his seventeen years. Clearly destined for great things, this Culloden Academy pupil ended his set with an emotional rendition of ‘Bring him home’ from Les Miserables…….hardly a dry eye in the house.

Laura Stewart travelled up from Fife and brought with her all the sophistication of two wonderful jazz blues numbers. She enhanced her sassy rendition of ‘Ain’t misbehavin’ with a clear touch of Marilyn Munro….booboobidoo’s to die for……..and, as the notes of ‘Cry me a river’ fell achingly about us, my eyes were drawn to a lonely couple strolling hand in hand in the snow under the lighted trees down by the river Ness. Perfect.

Animato String Quartet simply blew us away with an unbridled and highly ‘animated’ selection of jazz, blues and light classical. Their tango, fizzing with energy and passion, contrasted well with the softer classical arrangements for Saint Saens’ ‘The Swan’ and ‘The Elephant’ and then, after the interval, they ‘Put on the Ritz’ big time with three swinging numbers from Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Joe Garland. Bows and fingers flying over the strings, these four Highland lassies had the audience heads bobbing and feet tapping and, in the end, left us ‘In the Mood’ for more.

Another young team, Seumas, Donald and Peigi Barker, added a touch of Hollywood glamour to the evening. Springsteen’s ‘Hungry heart’ warmed us up, with Seamus on guitar and some lovely harmonies by Donald and Peigi. Then Peigi, only ten years old, sang the ‘lullaby’ she shared as a duet with Emma Thompson in the recently released Disney blockbuster ‘Brave’. A diminutive figure on stage, her voice belies her size and, for a few short minutes, time stood still. At the finish, we raised the roof.

In amongst all this carefully crafted talent, launched The Deep Cs. If anyone wanted some contrast to the proceedings then this was it! A more colourful, anarchic, enthusiastic and ‘manly’ bunch of singing mariners, one cannot imagine. Variously clad as seamen/pirates and dressed with all the paraphernalia of the sea, including a lobster pot, ropes, buoys, a bottle and some fish, they threw sea shanties out at the audience with gusto. A testosterone filled ‘Way, haul away’ and ‘The Drunken Sailor’ proved that these guys could sing and, with a humour and sense of fun that only a group of close friends who have been round the Horn together can create, their ‘Amsterdam Maid’ and ‘Doon by the Broomilaw’ had the audience rolling with laughter (or was it seasickness) and cheering to the not insubstantial rafters of the Bishop’s Palace itself.

And finally of course, the main act themselves, In Cahoots, an eleven strong group of Invernessian women, filled the intimate hall with four part harmonies and delivered a wonderful range of pieces from the traditional Scottish ‘Rousay Lullaby’, an exquisite ‘Amazing Grace’, through seasonal Christmas ‘partner’ songs, to the medieval ‘Gaudete’ (‘Rejoice’)…….and rejoice we did. Delicate harmonies executed with exquisite precision and a lightness of touch that perhaps only an all-ladies team can achieve. Their finale, ‘May your Cup Always Be Full’, sung on behalf of all the performers that night, wished us all health and peace and we left with our cups not only full but brimming over with the thrill of an evening well spent.

Unflappable piano accompaniment was provided by Aileen Fraser and interval champagne and canapés, flowers and stage graphics were all sponsored by Mackenzie Investment Strategies Ltd., Munro Nurseries and Dynam Graphics. This concert was clearly a collaboration of people who like to do things well.

Rarely these days, does this correspondent get gooey-eyed about Christmas and all that ‘good will’ stuff, but this sell-out night of musical “Christmas Cheer”, organised and directed by Margaret and her ‘In Cahoots’ team, has changed me for life. And as for ‘good will’, did I mention that the concert raised £2000 for the charity, ‘Dancing Eye Syndrome’, which provides support and information to the families of affected children as well as funding for research into treatment for this debilitating condition.

The Christmas spirit of ‘giving’ and good cheer is alive and well.

© Ed Ley-Wilson, 2012