Oxford Belles Charm at Christmas Concert

by John Lau

The shops are all stocking up on Christmassy stuff, the Christmas lights are going up already all over the high streets and, most importantly of course, a cappella groups are holding their Christmas gigs. So I was pleased to partake in my first ever weekend visit to Oxford, to witness the Oxford Belles’ Christmas Concert on Saturday 19th November.

To my horror, I suffered the ignominy of arriving late at the gig at the Bernard Sunley Theatre of Oxford’s St Catherine’s College, to the extent that I missed the 7.40pm start – despite being advertised as commencing at 7pm I still managed to think that 8pm was a better time to arrive. In any case, I only missed the relative campness of “It’s Raining Men”, so every cloud does have its silver lining, though I’m sure that the 14-strong class of 2011 managed to make it sound better than Martha Wash or even Geri Halliwell.

As it turned out, there was only one Belle participating in this gig who I managed to recall by sight from the group that I seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Show, due to the ‘Annual Revolving Door’ act that results in many ins and outs in these groups at the start of the academic year – but more about that later.

The Belles repertoire is easily recalled as they tend to stick to mainstream pop for their arrangements, but considering that this concert was advertised as their Christmas gig, I thought it unfortunate that there were no pieces in their playlist that could be regarded as “Christmassy” music. However, I am sure the girls will address this nearer the time – perhaps during one of their charming busking sets that could be heard on Cornmarket in the middle of Oxford during my visit to the historical town.

The rest of the first half was filled with the likes of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and a mash-up of Cascada’s “Evacuate the Dancefloor” against Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive”. And it was all received positively by everyone present in the large venue.

In the second half of the gig after a 15-minute interval, the Belles rendition of Britney’s “Toxic” sounded a lot smoother here than it did when I saw them for the first time at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but whether that was because I saw them after three voice-punishing weeks of Fringe madness rather than at the start of their run remains to be seen. Putting that to one side, my undoubted highlights of this particular gig were probably the medley of three soulful tunes containing Duffy’s “Mercy” and “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston, and their silky rendition of
“Run” by Snow Patrol.

Their last piece was another rap mash up between another Rihanna piece “Love The Way You Lie” against Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which wrapped the concert up (excuse the Christmas pun) in a rather cool fashion.

So all in all, it was a pretty gig to go to, and one which was enjoyed by everyone present, despite the lack of a real Christmas feel to it. The Belles expressed their thanks and gratitude to everyone who attended, especially some of their own parents who were sat on the front row, and this really emphasised how charming and genuinely friendly each and every Belle is.

On a closing note, I hope that any future arrangements will not be too much of a problem for the Belles, as I found out in talking after the gig that their former Business Manager who had arranged all of the tunes sung at this gig has jumped ship to another a cappella group at Oxford University. This will no doubt help to continue the healthy rivalry between the Oxford groups, which will be displayed in its entirety in the Oxford Regional Round of the Voice Festival UK, which is just over four months away. I wish the Belles the best of luck with the competition and the rest of the year ahead.

Follow the Belles on Facebook here.

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