If we’re being honest, often the main reason you go to a concert by a university music society is because you feel a sense of duty. Your friend who plays in the orchestra or choir asks you to come along and you do so gladly, but only because you want to support them. More often than not you have a good evening anyway and see some pretty great music. But you probably wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t been asked. With EUJO and Soul Choir it’s a different matter. As the Exeter Phoenix filled its capacity last Thursday for their annual collaborative concert, the sense of anticipation was tangible; evidence of the fact that both have surely established a well-earned reputation for being freakin’ awesome. Forget any sense of duty or supporting your fellow students or whatever, they’re worth seeing regardless.
Soul Choir took to the stage first with a powerful A cappella rendition of The Storm Is Passing Over - one of those gospel choir songs which gives you shivers down your spine. I feel like it should have been punctuated with ecstatic cries of “PRAAISSEE THE LORRDD” but I’ll let that slide. It was a perfect opener, really showing off their vocal skills. Not only are they flawlessly talented, but they perform with such ease and confidence, side-stepping and fingers-clicking, that you almost forget that technically this is an amateur choir. Next, before the cheers and applause from the crowd had a chance to finish, the choir’s backing band segued them into a series of more contemporary songs, such as Outkast’s Hey Ya, Clean Bandit’s Rather Be and Beggin’ by Madcon. The arrangements of the songs translated brilliantly for the choir and not only retained, but added upon the soul-factor of the originals. The Soul Choir backing band is just as pro, performing, like the choir, as one tight unit. I must particularly congratulate the guitarist for his startling array of guitar faces: a truly impressive range of gurns. Joined by a few members of EUJO, Soul Choir’s set ended with a climatic version of Uptown Funk, complete with dance choreography. So far, so funky.
I must admit that I missed EUJO’s first song due to an urgent beer errand, but on returning things were already in full swing with the song Cheek To Cheek sung by Lucy Songi. Lucy is such a comfortable and natural performer and I have no doubt that she could boss any song she wanted. A few instrumental pieces followed, including Moanin’ by Charles Mingus, which is so catchy that it’s still lodged firmly in my head. The climax of this number was a solo from saxophonist Louis Masseron, who, like a man possessed, played faster than most would think possible. He produced shrieking noises from his sax like a dying animal in a really really good way and the shouts from the crowd and the grin on his face afterwards were fully justified.
The few songs sung by Joey Dale oozed cool and suave. Like those in Soul Choir, Joey doesn’t just sing, he performs. As he belts out Sinatra classics like The Best Is Yet To Come, rather than just parroting the voices of the greats who have sung it before him like some good karaoke. Instead, he makes the song his own and completely owns it. When it seemed like it couldn’t get any better, Lucy took to the stage again for EUJO’s last song, Respect by Aretha Franklin, which proved to be the best moment of the evening. If it wasn’t for the sheer level of entertainment Lucy brings, I’d be almost irritated by how good she is. On a particularly beefy top note towards the end of the song, one of my friends said, with the look of awe and respect that the song demands, “I think she just created a new note.” The last part of the evening, which saw EUJO and Soul Choir collaborate, was concluded by a killer performance of Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love, which included what I can only call the sassiest, most flamboyantly fabulous rap ever performed.
The excitement and buzz of EUJO and Soul Choir’s performances hung in the air as everyone shuffled out the venue. Those who knew it would be good from the beginning left satisfied; those that were initially sceptical, were converted. Both acts exceeded expectations, and left their audience feeling stoked to be alive. Believe the hype.