Forth Valley Chorus presents “Flyin’ High” with special guests Jazz and Swing singer Todd Gordon and Jazz Pianist David Patrick on piano was an event I had been looking forward to for a while, and the classic setting of Greyfriars Kirk was promising to be a perfect space for all to perform in.
If you are not familiar with Forth Valley Chorus, at over 100 members when the full chorus is assembled, they are one of the largest all female choirs in the UK. Not only that, but they are a competition choir and members of Sweet Adelines International (SAI). Having just won their UK competition , FVC are soon on their way to compete in the international finals in Las Vegas in October this year, so we wish them every success in that endeavour.
This evening was split into two sets, FVC and guests. Our FVC set consisted of a mixture of carefully arranged “free songs” and competition songs (including the ones that won FVC the UK regional competition). Everyone who takes part in FVC (and not only the vocalists) should be rightfully proud of being part of a world class choir like this, but a large part of the driving force and competition success of FVC is of course musical director David Sangster.
I have heard FVC perform a few times now, and you always know that you are in for something special at one of their performances, and tonight’s arrangement that included “Maybe this Time”, “Stray Cat Strut”, “Yesterday I heard the Rain” and “Rolling in The Deep” were great showcases for their vocal talents and tight arrangements. I have to admit that I always prefer “Maybe This Time” in its original sad and reflective version from Cabaret rather than the upbeat song that it seems to have become over the years, but FVC did a great vocal harmony job here, and anyone who has ever tried to arrange vocal harmonies for three or four singers will recognise just how difficult doing this for over 100 people must be, let alone meeting the rigorous separate performance elements that competition judges are looking for at the same time.
The space inside Greyfriars Church was a classic setting for a classic vocal chorus, and when combined over 100 voices only need little (if any) sound systems in a place like this.
Our second half featured two performers that I have again heard perform in many venues over the last few years, and no matter whether the space be small and intimate or large theatres they both are always a pleasure to spend an evening with. Todd Gordon is one of the best jazz vocalists that Scotland has produced in many years and always effortlessly gets those laid back songs of the classic American song-book just right in a style reminiscent of legendary vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. David Patrick is one of the best jazz pianists around at the moment and is also a gifted composer. Put both David and Todd together and they are always a great duo.
Like the lines from a song, Todd Gordon had just flown in from his last show, and taken the Edinburgh Tram to be with us tonight. It’s been nearly a year since I last heard Todd Gordon perform, and it was as always a pleasure to hear him effortlessly glide through classics songs like “The Summer Breeze”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”, and “Smile”. As well as the songs, we had of course that gentle ease with an audience that Todd Gordon always has as he shares his love of these songs with everyone.
When you go to any performance there are always some background things that you take for granted (even if you should not) and one of those is the technical sound system at a venue. Normally everything is as it should be, and the sound is as it should be – presenting any performer to their best. Sadly, that was not the case tonight and normally I would not comment on the sound quality of a show, but this time I have to for two reasons. One, anyone sitting at this show will wonder if I was at a different show to them if I do not, and most importantly, two, to defend the performers Todd Gordon and David Patrick. I have no idea how Greyfriars Kirk is set up for professional sound systems, so some of this may be a bit unfair to comment on, but from where I was sitting at the back of the hall something went seriously wrong with the sound and the mixing of that sound. There seemed to be no amplification in the back of the hall, in fact, I don't think the speakers were even switched on (and Greyfriars is a large interior space), and people were commenting on it as it made Todd’s vocals and spoken introductions to songs very hard to hear at times. Judging from the audience at the front of the hall, sound was a lot better there. Someone beside me even got up to go over to the sound desk and complain. This complaint did result in a louder volume, but so badly mixed for sound balance that David Patrick’s usually wonderful piano skills sounded at times harsh and were sometimes drowning out Todd’s vocals. When you have gifted performers and musicians of this standard (well of any standard actually) in a venue, the least you owe them is the courtesy of getting their sound right and that did not happen tonight. I can only urge anyone in the hall tonight to catch up with either Todd Gordon or David Patrick at a venue where the sound system and sound mixing are done to a professional standard. I know from speaking to Todd after the show that he was working without a sound monitor tonight and would have been unaware of the issues that we were facing at the back of the hall. The audio set up here may have been good for a large vocal choir, but not a performance duo like Todd and David…simply put both deserved far better back up from the venue. Sorry to make such a long issue of the sound quality tonight, but something was very wrong with it and I do not want two very gifted performers to be taking any part of the responsibility for this issue, particularly as Todd Gordon had just arrived in Edinburgh and had no time for sound checks.
Despite all the sound issues though, a great ending to the show with Forth Valley Chorus, David Patrick and Todd Gordon performing the timeless classic “New York, New York” together.
Review by Tom King