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King's Singers,The

It hardly seems possible that more than thirty years have passed since the fledgling King’s Singers spent several days at the Olympic Studios, putting together our first recording. The official London debut concert had taken place on 1 May 1968, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, when, all too fresh from university (as Choral Scholars at King’s College, Cambridge), we had the nerve to share the platform with a hand-picked assembly of instrumentalists also keen to make a name for themselves – early days, too, for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, no less! The reviews were encouraging, and there was a definite feeling that it might be worth trying to pursue a career as a group. Foolhardy perhaps, but when we see the current King’s Singers (the Grandchildren, as we call them!) going from strength to strength thirty-five years and well over three thousand worldwide concerts later, then maybe it was worth the effort.

The early repertoire had brought together various strands from our student singing days – a wealth of sacred music from our work as Choral Scholars, pop arrangements from our experiences in the Cambridge Footlights Club and on university Rag Days, and whatever we could lay our hands on from America, most famously a publication from kindred spirits across the pond, the Yale University Song Book. Our idols were the harmony groups of the immediate past – the HiLos, the Four Freshmen, and so on. This fairly standard approach would never have been enough to make a full-time career, so two vital ingredients were added: the commissioning of major ‘serious’ works from such notables as Penderecki, Berio, Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Williamson, and literally hundreds since; and whole host of ‘arrangements in close harmony’ from a variety of friends in the business.

The biggest turning point was a day when we were rehearsing in a flat in Islington, right at the end of the ‘swinging sixties’. A messenger arrived with a new arrangement by a man named Gordon Langford, unknown to us at the time but about to become an absolute lynch-pin in the fortunes of the group. That arrangement, of Blow Away the Morning Dew, blew away far more than the title implied. It scattered our musical inheritance more or less out of the window, or at least onto the back burner. Here was an arranger and composer who instinctively and brilliantly understood how to tailor the music to what was then an unusual, and virtually unknown, combination of voices: two counter-tenors, one tenor, two baritones, and one bass. Gordon’s masterly arrangements of five tracks on our first recording speak volumes for that brilliance, and remain to this day the very essence of what quickly became recognised as The King’s Singers sound – in Gordon’s hands, the perfect blending of voices into the most adjacent of close harmony.

Over the many years since that album first appeared, styles have changed all over the musical world, and equally so in the lives of The King’s Singers. The sort of music heard on our first album is what really made audiences in the seventies and early eighties sit up and listen. It is the sort of music that created for the group so many television opportunities, back in the good old days when there were endless light entertainment programmes to choose from.

If you have ever wanted to answer the question, ‘What kind of things do The King’s Singers sing?’, then you might like to listen to ‘What Kind of Things’ first – a music CV with words and music kindly provided for us by Ron Goodwin! The King’s Singers have made well over fifty albums, covering the wide range of their massive repertoire. But the very first one takes us right back to the start and should serve as a bit of a nostalgia trip for any who remember, as well as giving newcomers an idea of what we were all about.  

© 1992 Brian Kay

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