Since their inception back in the late 1960s at King’s College, Cambridge, The King’s Singers have maintained their quality six-part male a cappella sound with a stack of awards over the years and over 150 recordings. For the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, The King’s Singers will perform Great American Songbook, which has already achieved great success in Europe, Asia and America.
The Clothesline spoke on Skype to the friendly Chris Bruerton. Originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, he moved to England in 2010 where after a year he was asked to audition for The King’s Singers and became their new baritone. He wasn’t in the Northern Hemisphere with the group long though as his first tour was ofNew Zealand and Australia, including their 2012 performances with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
We begin by asking what Adelaide Cabaret Festival audiences can expect from the Australian premier of Great American Songbook?
“It’s an exciting project that we envisaged a few years ago and started to record,” Bruerton says, explaining some of the background behind the show. “In the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s in American history, the radio was the common form of home entertainment and that meant that people listened to these fantastic old school melodies and fell in love with certain voices artists like Ella Fitzgerald, and The Rat Pack. The there were all those favourite melodies like The Lady Is A Tramp, My Funny Valentine and When I Fall In Love. I wouldn’t say these songs have had resurgence with their popularity, because I don’t think they ever became unpopular.
“It’s just taken us a long time to feel that we can put our own spin on these songs with six-part,” he adds. “We have all got our favourites and certainly for me whenever I sing some of these songs in concert I always have in the back of my mind all the versions that I like listening to. But it is nice to put a different spin on them and I think people will really enjoy The King’s Singers sound with some of their favourite melodies.”
Bruerton explains that Great American Songbook is very different in its staging for The King’s Singers.
“I think people who are used to us standing in our semi-circle and being still and very English will enjoy this break out. This time we are wearing head microphones which will allow us to use the whole stage. There are some really nice moments, like Cry Me A River, and the way in which we have choreographed it is really beautiful”.
Do you have a favourite song at all?
“I do like Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered. I guess I am a bit biased because the arranger gave me a bit of a solo in that one!” he laughs. “But it is a beautiful song. I think as well you can’t go past My Funny Valentine in terms of its beautiful melody and the way it has been arranged by Alexander L’estrange, a London based arranger and composer. It is so beautiful and captures the sentiment perfectly, even though there is no band, but just singers,”
Bruerton explains that Cole Porter’s Let’s Misbehave and Cheek To Cheek (by Irving Berlin) are big audience favourites, with the latter especially liked by the musical aficionados due to its clever arrangement. He also tell us that, after 17 years with the group, Paul Phoenix is leaving to spend some quality time with his wife and teenage family. We ask about the process of his replacement.
“We started our search for candidates and of those that we contacted most wanted to audition,” he says. “Being in The King’s Singers requires a huge amount of commitment; we all have a hand in the business and have certain jobs to perform. We are looking for someone who doesn’t just fit the mould on stage, but a person with a very specific skills set is also capable of being a good business partner and we can all get along with You are also looking for someone who you get along with because we spend more time with these people than we do our own families so you have to get on.”
The final announcement of the new tenor is only a week or so away, with two people left in the race, Bruerton recalls his own experience of being chosen to audition and gives advice to other singers wanting to pursue similar professional careers.
“You are only as good as your last gig and you never know who is in the audience,” he declares. “Just to give an example, I had just arrived in England, this little guy from New Zealand, and had been there just under a year when I got recommended for The King’s Singers. At the time I had no idea who recommended, but I look back now and I can think of about three occasions that I’d have sung with that person, so you never know just who is listening. Some people say that it is all just luck, but I think you make your own luck in a sense and put in the hard yards so that when an opportunity does come up you can take advantage of it.
“When I applied for this job, they weren’t necessarily looking for the six best singers in the country, but the six voices that work incredibly well together,” Bruerton suggests. “The sound is what needs to work, so I knew that if I wasn’t chosen it wouldn’t be because I am not a good singer, but because it needs fit with the five existing members. But if a guy from Christchurch can break into an establishment that has been going for over 40 years, then there is hope for everyone! Even an Australian [chuckles!]”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
“We are really excited to have the opportunity to come back to Australia,” Bruerton enthuses. “It has been two years since we travelled there, although it was thirty years before that, so it is nice to have a core group of fans in Adelaide that would like us to come back so soon after our last visit. The guys are really looking forward to coming and being part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. It’s going to be a lot of fun and there are some great acts; the festival looks varied and exciting and I hope people enjoy our offering of some of the most beautiful music of the last 100 years.”
The King’s Singers perform Great American Songbook at Festival Theatre from 6.30pm on Fri Jun 20.