Musical director John MacKay. Photo Blair Quax

The sold out sign greeted concertgoers to the V12 a capella choir’s 3pm show last Sunday at Artworks Theatre, as it had for the previous evening’s performance.

Titled A secret chord, the matinee session was largely a journey through the great American 1960s songbook. It was light and it was fun. They took nothing too seriously, so much so that they broke their own rules throughout and it was all the better for it.

Musical director and conductor John Mackay was quick to head off confusion by those who could count, over the presence of 14 singers on stage. He said ‘V12’ met the need for a short, masculine name for the choir but could not be allowed to limit a numerical surplus of talent.

Nor did the singers keep slavishly to the ‘unaccompanied’ element of their name. On occasions they had keyboard, whistle, ukelele or bongo drums providing a mostly slim backing.

Not even gender was sacred. A guest performer, classical singer and Royal New Zealand Navy reservist Rebecca Nelson, sang solo Bring Him Home, a track from her new CD Poppies and Pohutukawa and at the end joined in with the choir to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

But the concert was essentially about male voices: harmonies between tenors, baritones and basses; with soloists or a few choristers singing verses while the others performed the chorus or provided backing rhythms to create a rich sound. Think barbershop quartet multiplied by more than three.

The musical selection enabled the choir to showcase their individual talents and demonstrate their range. Josh Chappell led the group in for opener Shosholoza, a South African chant-like song evoking workers toiling in the hot sun.

Irish tenor Mark Russell, with strong support, sang Health to the Company, an amiable drinking song that returned later as the encore.

Beyond that it was largely stateside, starting with a strong, cohesive version of California Dreaming, The Rose, Paul Simon’s Rock of Ages, Billy Joel’s For the Longest Time, 60s do wapp song It Should Have Been Me, Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Viva Las Vegas, Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson and a localised version of Cover of the Rolling Stone – which became Cover of the old Gulf News.

Most of the credit for the light, slightly corny humour that was interspersed throughout the show must go to the 15th member of the ensemble, John Mackay. His influence was no more apparent than in the delivery of For the Longest Time. He explained, and the choir acted out, how it reflected the street corner singing tradition of Brooklyn in the 1950s.

At the end of the two hour show, the audience left happy and impressed by the depth of talent this home-grown group of singers possess. • Rob Brennan

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