The Vocal Orchestra @ E4 Udderbelly – A Review

Last night I went along to the big purple cow on the Southbank to witness the aural talents of the Vocal Orchestra at this year’s E4 Udderbelly Festival.

The brainchild of human beatbox Shlomo, the Vocal Orchestra consists of four girls and three boys (two sopranos, an alto, two tenor and bass and a ‘beatboxer’). Their hour-long show includes some amazing vocal gymnastics – amongst the highlights were an amazing rendition of the Korgi”s ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’, a fun competition between two of the girls, one using a ‘human drumkit’ and another using two of the guys to do some ‘scratching’ (the scratcher won by a mile) and the really well executed ‘time machine’ sequence.

This involved members of the audience shouting out their favourite era, which the group then turned into a five minute megamix of hits. The 80s was first, and although it got off to a shaky start with David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ (surely one of the worst songs in the entire history of mankind) there were some lovely vocal versions of ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and even Dexy’s Midnight Runners got in on the act. The 60s were next with a great pick of music from the black American heroines of the era, but the crowning glory went to a truly beautiful version of a Dusty Springfield favourite, ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’, which had the audience gasping for air. Via a timeslip that saw an 18th century string quartet up against  drum ‘n bass crew, the set finally arrived in the early 90s with some remarkably faithful recreations of the floor-filling house and dance tunes from the beginning of the decade and finished off with a bit of Michael Jackson for good measure.

The official finale saw two of the girls taking on what are two of the most challenging songs I can think of; ‘Perfect Day’ and the song popularised by Jeff Buckley, ‘Hallelujah’. That wasn’t the end of the evening though, as the longest encore I’ve ever seen ensued, with another 10 minutes of tunes before the Vocal Orchestra finally left the stage.

It was a breathtaking evening – these guys have talent in spades, and I highly recommend catching one of their performances. They’re at the Udderbelly most nights until 27 May with some added matinees – you can see the full timetable for the Vocal Orchestra here.