The Alington Hall was set for the annual spectacle, the swirling stencilled light show was in force and the video feed through to the Ashton Theatre seemed to be working…
First up were Oldham’s Hall with their take on the Tremeloes’ hit ‘Silence is Golden’. That it might be, but we still had 25 songs to go. Ed Shawe-Taylor commanded his duodecet of white-shirt-and-jeans-clad Oldhamites with a well worked piece using a good range of voices. The rest of the House congregated for a blast of Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’, then made way for Ridgemount.
Ridgemount played the unison card first with a heartfelt tribute to Mr Knox (Tutor in Ridgemount for a great number of years, who left this year) with a version of Abba’s ‘SOS’ with lyrics by the new addition to the tutor team, Mr Bell. The possibility of emotion being shown by the judges was pre-empted with a presentation of a box of tissues. Their part song may have started as a football chant but the harmonies put together by Tom Lloyd came together for a very enjoyable few minutes of South African music with a comic moment; it was one of the few pieces of the evening that made good use of a treble voice.
Up to this point, 25 people had taken to the stage for part songs; the next House up could only add another six – but this did represent over the half the House, as this was The Grove’s last stand in its current guise. The sextet produced a good rendition of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ with three of them putting themselves forward for a solo skit. The other five House members joined them to start an emerging theme for the evening: how many songs can one House sing under the banner of one entry? The Grove aptly went for 25, one for each year of the House’s existence. This was a truncated version of Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords ‘ which contains 36 well-known songs with the same four-chord progression, ranging from Alphaville to U2 via Maroon 5 and Lady Gaga (twice). The successful attempt of the high note in A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ deserves a special mention.
The Grove - unison
Next on stage were The Grove’s neighbours, Mary Sidney Hall, with a mash compiled by Imogen Richardson, including ‘Season of Love’ from Rent (thankfully we are not in a leap year, as 527,040 minutes does not scan as well), a bit of Mumford and Sons and another nod to Maroon 5. After her Eurovision comeback, Bonnie Tyler was the choice for the unison with some energetic bopping on the front row, as the House ‘Held out for a Hero’ and then cleared the stage for Severn Hill.
MSH - unison
Severn Hill merged two songs – ‘Embers’ by Just Jack dowsed with Coldplay’s ‘Charlie Brown’. The uniform was well thought out as they represented “embers from the same fire” with black T-shirt and flame logo; it was also a very active performance, with something resembling a dance routine. The remainder of the House joined them in dark trousers held up by fluorescent coloured braces and, with the support from their backing band, gave a fun rendition of Mika’s ‘Big Girls’.
Severn Hill - part song
School House then inserted the coin into George Fowler’s ‘Juke Box’ for a smart octet in black with maroon pocket squares, performing a range of exciting numbers from ‘Blame it on the Boogie’ to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with some neat bridges in between. It was a very ambitious piece with exemplary execution. There were solos from a number of them, but the total number of songs covered did not usurp The Grove’s 25. The unison was dedicated to two of their housemates, who tragically lost their father and step-brother three weeks ago in a plane crash. The choice of ‘A Little Help from my Friends’ – selected weeks earlier – was poignant in its aptness. Miss Eglinton (now Mrs McKenzie) accompanied on saxophone with other musically minded members of the House.
School House - part song
Eight Ingramites adopted the familiar uniform of white shirt and dark trousers with a quiet yet close harmonised version of ‘Free Fallin’. (The programme attributes this to John Major, but I believe it was John Mayer, or possibly Tom Petty, who should be credited.) The remainder of the House joined in suits and in some cases with paper plates in hand for a bit of Bugsy Malone’s ‘Bad Guys’. The stage was soiled in a pie-flinging finale, which may also have resulted in the need for a bit of dry-cleaning; it is a good thing that they had two weeks until they were due in School again.
Rob Homden left Radbrook to perform his arrangements without him, as he was in Boston, USA with fellow members of the RSSBC, getting ready for the Head of the Charles Regatta. With the Classics trip leaving for Rome and the Bay of Naples the next day, the choice of ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille for the part song was inspired. They made very good use of the stage and held the tune together as they shifted around their arena. The unison gave credit to Shrek as their inspiration for the choice of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. The front row were on their knees, their Housemaster was backing them up on bass and the hand gesture choreography was pulled off with great aplomb.
Radbrook - part song
The novelty of having the Housemaster performing was then trumped by Churchill’s, who had both their Housemaster and Assistant Housemaster (in shades) in their backing band. A second extended reprise of ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang echoed the finale of School House’s montage earlier. Most of the House managed to dance, with a few tiring towards the end after their exertions in the Tucks earlier in the day. The part song was certainly not as two-tone as their choice of dress. A very slick and accurate merge of the Beatles’ ‘If I Fell’ and ‘Help’ had a well delivered melody, and the harmonies shone through.
Churchill's - part song
Port Hill fielded ten voices for the most modern of the songs on offer – ‘Counting Stars’ by OneRepublic. It was very well engineered with good diction and a subtle interlude of ‘Wonderwall’ by George Birt. The white shirts were again employed and ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ was a good choice for their unison and they managed to keep the energy right up to the last bar.
Emma Darwin then went for a two-song combination for their part song: ‘Dog Days are Over’ by Florence and the Machine and ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry, with their seemingly traditional round of thigh slapping. As they did last year, they went for the two-row formation for their Unison and, like MSH before them, used a song by a Eurovision group, this time the 1997 victors, Katrina and Waves. The front-row dip and side-stepping saved them from burning feet in their interpretation of ‘Walking on the Sunshine’; a song that brings back memories of summer holidays of days gone by.
Two more Houses remained and all that separated them was a small segment of Ashton Road. Rigg’s were up with a bit of Gospel music – the spiritual ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho’ – and then paid their respect to the old Riggite, Michael Palin with the comic touch in ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. Whistlers were carefully selected and the expletive well covered up. The exit of a row after every key change at the end worked well.
The stage was then left for Moser’s to give us the most entertaining finale to the evening. Andrew Spicer’s ‘Brief History of Song’ went from monastic chants to Korean rap in reasonable chronological order (‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ were slightly out of place but ‘Billie Jean’ was correctly placed before ‘Thriller’ even if they are on the same album). They eclipsed the record of 25 songs set by the Grove. I have counted 31, but I am sure I missed a couple. Then came the Blues Brothers (Tim Atkins and Lawrence Arnold) with a fantastic finish to the evening with ‘Mini the Moocher’, which enticed a bit of audience participation towards the end. They thoroughly deserved the Entertainment Award.
Moser's - unison
There were five more awards up for grabs. The Best Arrangement Award was given to George Bates of Severn Hill for his excellent Just Jack/Coldplay composition. Port Hill gained Most Improved and were placed second in the Unison behind School House (Churchill’s, Emma Darwin and The Grove were also placed). Coincidently, the other song to feature Maroon 5, Mary Sidney, was placed 5th in the Part Song category behind, Radbrook, Moser’s, School House and winners Churchill’s.
A quick analysis of those results would suggest it would take a scoring system to rival the one employed in the figure skating at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 for anyone other than School House to be worthy overall victors.
Thanks go to all the music staff who gave up their time to help with the rehearsals and the technical crew who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make the evening such an entertaining spectacle.
More than £700 was raised during the evening for Cure Leukaemia and the diabetes research charity JDRF – the two charities for whom Old Salopians Alex Bland and Harry Martin-Dreyer will shortly be rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. They will be embarking on their epic and entirely unsupported challenge on 1st December – see www.rowing4research.com.
DVDs of the event will be available to order soon.
School House, the morning after... George Fowler and proud Housemaster Hugo Besterman
Diary Note: George will also be starring in the next major event in the School's musical calendar - playing the first movement of Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto in the St Cecilia Concerts, Sat 16th and Sun 17th November. Tickets on sale now and selling fast!