There’s something deeply familiar about the music of choral group Albion, as Rob Hollingworth found out.
A unique take on tradition
www.etcmag.net Twitter@etcmag_south magazine - April 2014
With a repertoire consisting of new choral pieces, all written in the two years since they were formed, Albion sound like new kids on the block. But the familiarity comes from the pieces being based on traditional songs from Britain and Ireland, many of which have existed for centuries.
The group describe what they do as “unique but universal”. Most people will know one or more of their catalogue of songs “reimagined” by composer Fraser Wilson. But new and interesting harmonies and textures surround the original tune. It’s a formula that has won them many fans and that is putting them on the musical map. It’s been a quick rise.
Formed in February 2012 by a group of friends, the choir has established itself as a firm favourite with local audiences. Founder member Chris Hughes says that “it’s wonderful to see how we’ve developed as a group. It’s not like any other choir I’m involved in.We’ve had some amazing experiences.”
It’s true that they’re somewhat different from your average choir.They don’t use sheet music or follow a conductor, and spread themselves around a venue so their singing is heard on every side.
Audience member Carol Bowns says that “this is pretty unusual, and it means that the audience really feels part of the performance. It becomes a special experience for us all!” Watching Albion perform, you can sense their togetherness and shared responsibility. Singers
listen to and feed off each other, keeping the music flowing through exchanged glances, synchronised breathing, and awareness.
Bass AndyThrossell says that this cooperative approach extends to nonmusical matters too.“We all value each other. In rehearsal, everyone listens to what the others have to say.There’s an openness which means that you can use non-technical language without feeling inferior. Listening to Albion before I joined the group, it was such a beautiful sound,I would have given up various body parts to be a part of it!”
This spring sees the launch of their first album,‘These Islands’, a collection of songs from their first two years. Stand-out tracks include new versions of Scarborough Fair and The Skye Boat Song, alongside Wilson’s settings of Yeats’ ‘He wishes for the cloths of heaven’ and Robert Burns’ ‘My love is like a red rose’.
But perhaps the best-known song in the group’s repertoire is Jerusalem. Soprano Jennifer Atkinson explains that “this song is famous
through the Last Night of the Proms and the rugby, and of course it was used at the Olympics opening ceremony to represent ‘traditional’ England. So it sums up a lot of what we’re exploring, the essence of the musical tradition that we want to bring to people.”
Although members of the group, including Fraser himself, hail from far and wide, it’s clear that the group has our region at its core. They’ve notably sung atTideswell Food Festival, in Castleton’s Peak Cavern, and on horseback in the High Peak.Their ‘home venue’ and rehearsal space is the warm, modern church of HolyTrinity, Millhouses, Sheffield.
And many of their publicity photos were taken out in the Peaks, often at Stanage Edge. Recently, the group attracted the attention
of many a Sunday afternoon walker when conducting an album photoshoot with their distinctive Celtic rings!
So what next? Wilson has grand plans.“Our album will be good for us. It’s already been played internationally.We’ll be at the Buxton
Fringe Festival this July.
“Next year we’ll be at the English Music Festival, and we’ll go on tour. It’s all about sharing this wonderful music as widely as we can.”
And with their unique sound and fresh angle,Albion might just be the next big musical discovery to do the Steel City proud.
For more information log on to www.albionchoir.org.uk