The full house at the Independent Theatre indicated that an enthusiastic crowd knew it would be a great idea to see The Idea of North in North Sydney this sunny Sunday afternoon.
After coffee and cake in the foyer, we were treated to an “afternoon tea” on stage with The Idea of North singing an Australian dance medley, based on tunes by Jack O’Hagan. They augmented their singing with vocalised sounds of percussion (beatbox), trombones and a muted trumpet solo by Nick Begbie, the group’s tenor and remaining founding member.
Nick had introduced the concert, encouraging us to participate as if in a rock concert, by whistling, shouting and generally having fun. There were no programs, which contributed to the impromptu atmosphere. He introduced the other members of The Idea of North: Emma Rule, soprano; Naomi Crellin, alto; Luke Thompson, bass; and Kai Kitamura, vocal percussionist, who is a frequent addition, but not yet a full-time member. They describe themselves as “a quintet of musicians, serious about music without taking themselves seriously”. It was evident that they all enjoyed each others’ company and were forever having fun.
From “afternoon tea” we were taken on a “picnic”, where Kai gave a stimulating “percussion” solo to be followed by Emma singing A-Tisket, A-Tasket inspired by Ella Fitzgerald’s recording, with Andrews Sisters-style backing and wah-wah trombone accompaniment.
More banter followed to introduce Schubert’s Heidenröslein, which they learned in German for their European tour. Naomi sang the lead, while the others accompanied with close harmonies.
Never taking themselves too seriously, they pretended to make a mistake during the whistling introduction to John Mayer’s song You’re gonna live forever in me, but of course they sang it flawlessly.
More pretended problems arrived with the failure of Luke’s mic. It seemed to work for Grant, the sound engineer, who then took over the role of singing the 1930’s advertising jingle Don’t say gin, say Gilbey’s, while Luke walked off in pantomime tears.
Kai then took the stage with a beatbox solo, demonstrating the full range of his “drum kit”. He asked the audience to sing the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boy while he voiced the percussion. He then finished off with some vacuum cleaning, a passing Japanese bullet train and a JAL flight from Sydney to Tokyo, complete with incomprehensible air hostess.
The Idea of North returned to the stage and Emma sang Joni Mitchell’s Both sides now in her sweet, pure voice with harmonious accompaniment from the crew. Next there was a staged argument about pitch, leading into the Tim Minchin song F sharp, performed humorously by Nick singing F#, while the others sang in F major. They displayed their perfect pitch by competing in singing their preferred note.
A more “classical” agenda was introduced with Luke singing the romantic Vaudeville song I’m always chasing rainbows, using Chopin’s melody from his Fantasie Impromptu. This was followed with the group performing Bach’s Fugue No. 2 in C minor from Book 1 of the Well-tempered Clavier with a few jazzy digressions.
More audience participation was requested – this time for a “controller” (conductor). They asked for a “control freak” and a suitable young man leaped onto the stage. There was instant rapport between them and I wasn’t sure if he was a “plant”. He (Marco) said he was a choral conductor and certainly did a praiseworthy job of controlling them.
The Idea of North resumed total control when Emma introduced Beyond the City, a song written by Luke. Naomi sang the lyrics while the others accompanied her in close, tight harmonies.
Nick then introduced a very American “Doo-wop” song There ain’t no-one like her full of misogyny, corny rhymes and poor grammar. He sang in an exaggerated American accent and the over-dramatising chorus enthusiastically corrected his poor English between Doo-wops. The audience responded with delighted laughter.
Their last official song required more audience participation – singing different voice parts in Shower the people you love with love by James Taylor. The warm rapport between the audience and The Idea of North resulted in a great performance by all. It was a joy to be part of this!
As the show drew to a close, I was pleased when they chose Tim Minchin’s Not Perfect for their promised encore. This is a wise song about being happy with your lot. They related how they tried to get permission to change some of the words, and when they emailed the proposed changes to Tim Minchin, he replied “Perfect” (although Luke quipped there was more to the email). In this song each member described a different aspect of ownership that wasn’t perfect but was theirs.
It was hard to say goodbye to such a thoroughly entertaining afternoon, which flowed so seamlessly from one item to the next. It felt like we were saying goodbye to newly acquired friends in Nick, Emma, Naomi, Luke and Kai, hoping to meet again soon (although the next show in Sydney is already sold out).