Tuesday 30 July 2013

Prom 22: Naturally 7 @ The Royal Albert Hall

What is the Royal Albert Hall’s policy on bumping and grinding?

Whatever they might be, they were seriously violated at the Naturally 7 prom (largely by me).  With the organisers gradually diversifying more and more each year, the New York-based all-male a capella group brought sex appeal and effortless cool to this year’s event.

The proms are no longer solely for classical music as is traditional.  Naturally 7 fuse old school and new school in an irresistible concoction of soul, gospel, jazz, rap and R&B.  The performance included renditions of songs ranging from the negro spiritual Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho, to Seals & Croft’s Summer Breeze, Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Coldplay’s Fix You and Sting & The Police’s Englishman in New York, as well as some original pieces.  In each case, the songs were transformed, often combining different styles – jazz harmonies, soulful melodies and reggae beats, for example.  At no other prom would you find the audience dancing, swaying and shouting out in call and response.

The group’s mantra is to see how far they can take the human voice, resulting in an astonishing array of sounds.  What’s more, alongside amusing choreography, the group mimic each instrument they vocally imitate, whether drums, bass, trumpets or trombones, allowing the audience to visualise the full sound.  A couple of songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps especially, even included a vocal ‘guitar’ solo complete with distortion effects.  It’s almost impossible to imagine all the sounds coming from the human voice.  Individually their voices had impressive range and rich soulful tones; together, the harmonies blended with luscious warmth, whilst intricate riffs and licks were passed from singer to singer in a rhythmically tight display.  The only negative was a slight lack of volume from the bass end, but this was more a mic issue than anything – the bass singer’s voice certainly sent shivers through the audience.

Technology played a part in the set, with one song a solo tour de force using a loop pedal.  Yet the most arresting moment came when the group abandoned the mics to sing a medley of Simon and Garfunkel hits.  The audience hushed as the group began with (what else?) The Sound of Silence, revelling in the hall’s acoustics and revealing a sense of vulnerability in a performance that otherwise oozed cool.  The effect was spine-tingling.

Naturally 7 may be a bit ‘alternative’ for the proms, but judging by the raucous applause at the concert’s end, the group provided a much welcome (and quite frankly astounding) change of pace.


Listen: Naturally 7 have released a number of albums, most recently 2012’s ‘Live’ (listen to clips below).

Watch: They will be touring the United States in September and October.