Perfectly passable vocal jazz group The Oxford Gargoyles are becoming something of a Fringe institution, celebrating their eighth Festival and fifteenth anniversary this year. The queue, snaking up three sets of stairs of C Venues, is a testament to their popularity or their PR machine. However, I have to say the set of jazz standards, pop mash-ups and Disney left me cold. A cappella singing relies on unity in the group and there was a particularly shrill soprano who overpowered her fellow vocalists. One number which did touch me was L.O.V.E., sung by one of the more soulful members. That said, her voice lacked power and made me want to put a microphone on stage to better hear her smoky tones.
Technically, the singers were spot on, but there was a general lack of finish in the show. They had a few moves to liven up an otherwise staid performance, but these unfortunately lacked precision. Nonetheless, with vocal jazz there is much room for a bit of scatting and to my delight a few of the ‘Goyles’ (as they refer to themselves) obliged.
The stand-out moment in the play-it-safe set was the arrangement of Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’, apparently the brain-child of a previous set of Goyles. It was in this arrangement that the group gelled, their voices moulding into harmonic perfection and haunting the room. Otherwise, the jazzy elements were light-weight, edging towards talent show crooning. Considering this is their fifteenth anniversary, as well as the fact they won a BBC choir of the year award, I expected a bit more polish and certainly a lot more danger in the choices of their vocal arrangements. Perhaps with their continued success they have become complacent. A cappella groups may be riding high in the Fringe thanks to successful TV series like Glee and films like ‘Pitch Perfect’, but the Festival can be fickle. If they are aiming for middle-of-the-road entertainment,The Oxford Gargoyles have certainly excelled, but I would expect more creativity from some of the top musical minds in the country.