By Milan Perera, Year Two English Literature and Community Involvement
After suspending their live performances for two long years due to the pandemic, the Bristol Suspensions were back for the most adrenaline pumping a cappella show of the year.
Founded in 2014, the mixed a cappella ensemble based at the University of Bristol, the Bristol Suspensions have captivated audiences with their skillful renditions of popular songs and innovative vocal percussion. Their live shows became shows. Their song arrangements became anthems brimming with unbridled energy. Even during the passage of dormition, the ensemble continued to work on their new material. The highly anticipated showcase at the iconic 1532 Performing Arts Center turned out to be a rollercoaster ride with a mix of haunting deliveries of some popular tunes.
The evening also featured guest appearances by a cappella ensemble Algorhythm and aspiring singer-songwriter Hetta Falzon. The evening’s proceedings were brought to life by Algorhythm with a series of high-octane renditions of vocal gems. Their stunning arrangement of AURORA’s ‘Churchyard’ was a treat for the enthusiastic audience. Algorhythm is a 10-part set of beat boxers from the UK with three members of The Bristol Suspensions. Their signature sound is characterized by gritty vocal percussion and soft, silver vocals.
Algorhythm was tracked by 2021 Young Songwriter Award winner Hetta Falzon. The Bristol Suspensions first noticed Falzon during a performance at his Alma Mater, Wells Cathedral School. The performance swept them away with its candor and ethereal beauty. Bristol Suspensions felt it was worth breaking the golden rule of a cappella performances: “No instruments!” by inviting him for their end-of-year show. Hetta Falzon is a rare fusion of a prophetess and a poet. His words are immediate and immaculate. She doesn’t try to cover up simple lyrical beauty with a bunch of inconsistent lines. Accompanying himself on the piano, Falzon wowed the audience with a medley of his new material which included “Man For Me”, “Meant To Know” and the ballad “Song For Me”.
Following his thrilling performance, the evening’s headliner, Bristol Suspensions took the stage amid applause and cheers from the awaiting audience. The 17-voice vocal ensemble kicked off their program with a moving version of “I’m Ready” by Sam Smith and Demi Lovato with soloist Ryan Blyth. It was neatly chained into a fiery delivery of Cody Fry’s “Flying” with Cameron Brown and Alessia Doyle on vocals while the rest of the ensemble accompanied them with elegantly phrased vocal percussion.
A duet with Aoife Beer and Rosa Witts of NSYNC’s boy band classic “It’s Gonna Be Me” had the frenzied crowd cheering vigorously as Beer and Witts delivered a flawless rendition. The Jackson Five’s “Blame It On the Boogie” has been covered many times, but Bristol Suspensions’ rendition is one of a kind. What’s not to love? The high-octane soul dance routine with hip-hop vibes with Aran Woodger, Rosa Witts and Alessia Doyle on vocals had the audience joining in with rhythmic applause.
Midway through the night’s lineup, Bristol Suspensions kicked up the collective energy of the set with a gripping rendition of Dirty Loops’ “World On Fire.” Oscar Andrusier and Connie Richards on lead vocals accompanied by a delightful scat trio of Alessia Doyle, Rosa Witts and Madeleine Morgan gave the track a brilliant shine.
Little Mix’s “Love (Sweet Love)” was given a sleek and sophisticated makeover when Ilona Hoffmann, Emily Hall and Niamh Higgins transposed it into a rapid cascade of silvery vocals with unparalleled mastery.
The evening unfolded in an atmosphere of reflection with a poignant interpretation of “In Case You Don’t Live Forever” by Benn Platt, with Madeleine Morgan on vocals. This highly acclaimed rendition by the Bristol Suspensions was originally released as a single on Mother’s Day, prompting an appearance on BBC Radio Bristol. Morgan’s heartfelt delivery was beautifully matched by the soulful buzz and vocal overlap of the rest of the ensemble.
The penultimate piece of the evening captured the showbiz magic of “The Greatest Showman.” The ‘Come Alive’ showstopper featured Sam Stocks, Michael Galvin, Ben Morris, Alisha Agarwal, Nathan Cave, Ilona Hofmann, Ryan Blyth, Sam Chimbwandira and Aran Woodger on vocals. The lively performance was accompanied by a clever dance routine that brought the evening to a climax.
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The last number of the evening, “Faith” by Stevie Wonder ft. Ariana Grande, was arranged for the set by the previous generation of Bristol Suspensions. This number of applause and foot tapping ended the evening satisfyingly. But the utterly captivated audience clamored for an encore, prompting the ensemble to gather on stage for a bubbly performance of Mark Ronson’s dance classic “Uptown Funk” ft. Bruno March.
The vocal arrangements for the show were a labor of love constructed by Rosa Witts and Nathan Cave, ably assisted by Alessia Doyle. The year-end show turned into an evening of even more fun and delirium when it was announced that the ensemble had won four CARA awards, the equivalent of the Grammys in the world of music. a cappella, including Best European Album.
Speaking to Epigram after their enchanting evening, band manager Alessia Doyle stressed that the Bristol Suspensions were delighted to perform in front of a live audience after an extended hiatus. She beamed with pride when she mentioned the ensemble would be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Follow their Instagram for the latest updates on their Fringe showcase. You don’t want to miss this.
Featured Image: Milan Perera
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