Naturally 7 were at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight bringing to stage their unique sound of tight harmony vocals and "vocal play," (the art of becoming an instrument using the human voice to create the sound) to an audience of old and hopefully new fans. If you have not yet heard of Naturally 7 then try and catch them when they come to anywhere near you as this vocal group is definitely amongst the very best of vocal groups out there at the moment, and their effortless skill in moving across musical genres is impressive to watch and listen to.
A brief introduction to Naturally 7 is probably best summed up by this promo snippet -The group was formed in 1999 in New York City. It currently consists of the Thomas brothers Roger (musical director, arranger, first baritone, rapping) and Warren (drums, guitar, third tenor), Rod Eldridge (first tenor, scratching, trumpet), Rickey Cort (fourth tenor, guitar), Dwight Stewart (second baritone, vocals, trombone), Garfield Buckley (second tenor, harmonica), and Kelvin "Kelz" Mitchel (bass guitar, trumpet). All of the band are of Jamaican heritage too and, here, this musical tradition blends seamlessly with a life-long church and gospel upbringing and, for me, their work on traditional Jamaican songs and Reggae was one of the highlights of the evening. All too readily do we forget that “Rivers of Babylon” and “Redemption Song” (always two of my favourite songs) are traditional songs, even if this “Redemption Song” was one we probably know best, the Bob Marley version with the Marcus Garvey quotes in its words. Bob Marley’s “One Love” seems to have also become Naturally 7’s identification song on their global tours, even if the chorus does for me take away from the whole song, which is basically a hymn to Jah.
Naturally 7 are an amazing vocal group, and it is easy to see why they have been the band of choice to tour globally with so many huge names in the music business, and although The Queen’s Hall must have seemed very small compared to some of the huge stadium concerts they have performed in, Naturally 7 still gave this show the full 100% plus treatment. Everyone in this band can not only sing, they have learned that elusive art of connecting with and working their audience.
There was a huge array of music here tonight, but great arrangements here on Ewan Macoll’s timeless “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (even if this one did owe more to Roberta Flack’s classic interpretation) and George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effortlessly displayed the group’s enormous vocal talents. Nice too to hear these voices approach classical music with a very good version of “Going Home” based on music by Antonin Dvorak. Perhaps just as important as this though, the sheer pleasure that everyone in the group takes from not just singing songs, but sharing songs with their audiences worldwide. Naturally 7 also so obviously understand that the human voice is still the most beautiful and adaptive of all the instruments that we have at our disposal.
Naturally 7 can sing any music in any style that they want, but given the opportunity I would love to hear these wonderful voices again on stripped back gospel songs and they are also one of the few groups out there with the vocal purity to do one of my favourite types of music, Medieval Plainsong, properly.
Support for Naturally 7 was The Edinburgh Schools Jazz Orchestra directed by Dan Hallam. Along with taking us on a journey of many different musical styles and rhythms from around the world, we were treated to a specially commissioned piece from the Queen’s Hall, “Song for Okoe” by Tom Bancroft. Also sharing the stage tonight, specially featured guests of ESJO, The Queensferry High School Choir, and sharing the event with Naturally 7 must be an unforgettable event for everyone here.
Music for schools is vital and we are fortunate in Edinburgh that, unlike many other regions, funding for music is still available and everyone involved here clearly demonstrated why that should always be so. To be honest, it did not matter to me what type of music these young people were playing on-stage, the important thing was that they were playing music and learning that music has bonds between people far beyond notes played on any instrument.
Closing this review, I think that we need to recognise too just what a special place we have in The Queen’s Hall and the ongoing efforts of everyone involved with it to feature and often promote a huge variety of music all year round and to always be supporting musicians from school-ages upwards.
Review by Tom King