Something odd is happening to the Alleycats. For years, they played to their strengths, both competitively and in Fringe sets – that strength being an ability to provide an energetic, enthusiastic performance combined with some slick and emphatic choreography, occasionally (but less so recently) at the expense of musicality. Indeed, having won an award for Outstanding Choreography or Performance in three of the last five Voice Festival UK seasons, the Alleycats are renowned across the a cappella scene for their vivacious performances.
It seems, though, that times, they are a-changin’. While the ‘Cats put just as much tireless energy as ever into their Fringe performance, the mixed results demonstrated the continued emergence of a new, tightly blended and musically precise group, while casting question marks over the relevance of their choreography.
It wasn’t that their choreography was bad; on the contrary, it established each and every member of the group, at the very least, as a competent dancer, and was performed with vigorous energy and beaming smiles the whole way through. It was more the fact that it was irrelevant and, at times, unnecessary. This was evident from the very first number, As Long As You Love Me, in which the choreography, while not affecting the music at all, ended up being more of a distraction than an addition to the number. It looked fun, don’t get me wrong, but as an audience member, it didn’t do anything for me.
Choreography aside, the Alleycats were really impressive, and demonstrated a great deal of musical variety throughout the set, with some real gems, both individually and collectively. The standout performer of the afternoon was undoubtedly Ollie Hayes, who took on most of the male lead vocals with great proficiency, but was really in his element during the sole jazz number of the set, Moondance, displaying some Michael Buble-esque vocals in a tight and compelling arrangement that made me feel like I was still in the Gargoyles concert I had just left.
Highlights were plentiful throughout the set: Steph Bown delivered a gorgeous soprano solo on Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, although the backing did seem a little murky at times; Ayanna Coleman impressed as always with her soulful rendition of Dancing On My Own, who despite having a tired voice, was still able to bring a tear to my eye through the sheer emotion she brought to the number; and the powerful finale, Shake It Out, remains my favourite Alleycat track of the year, so I was delighted that they chose it for the audience participation number of the set. I heartily joined in.
There were a couple of musical issues, however – the lack of amplification has caused soloists Festival-wide to struggle to be heard over the rest of the group, but this seemed to be a particular issue in this performance, with a lot of the up-tempo numbers remaining firmly at mezzo-forte throughout and drowning out the talented soloist. The group did seem to be lacking tenors too, especially when Hayes or MD Brendan Macdonald took lead vocals, leaving the middle of the chord sometimes a little empty. And bizarrely, despite it being a firm Alleycat classic year after year, there were tuning issues in Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I’m pretty sure that was just a one-off.
All-in-all, I really like what seems to be happening in the Alleycat rehearsal room. The group sound better than I have ever heard them, and if they were to tone down or simplify the choreography slightly, or even make it vaguely relate to the song, then they’re not far away from being the complete package.