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a cappella magic

The art of unaccompanied singing – a cappella – is perhaps one whose moment in the spotlight of popular culture has been and gone.

I say this after reading an obit for the Flying Pickets singer Brian Hibbard, who was also a familiar face in tv dramas and serials like Coronation Street.

The Pickets had their moment in the sun courtesy of a Number 1 cover of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ around Christmas 1983 – a seasonal novelty hit you might say.

But the obit by Spencer Leigh in The Independent, who writes with accuracy and insight on the recent ‘musical’ departed, highlighted other a cappella hits.

Interestingly, the 70s and 80s seem to have been a golden era for the genre in the UK pop charts.

Starting with Judy Collins ‘Amazing Grace’ in 1970, through ‘Gaudete’ (Steeleye Span, 1973) and ‘After The Goldrush’ (Prelude, 1974) to ‘Caravan Of Love’ (The Housemartins. 1986), ‘Tom’s Diner’ (Suzanne Vega, 1987) and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ (Bobby McFerrin, 1988), it’s an impressive list.

If you sing, or you’ve ever tried to, you’ll know the pleasing effect to be enjoyed from singing alone or harmonising with just other human voices.

It’s particularly satisfying when you achieve it without the help of instruments to maintain the tuning.

However, losing pitch in an a cappella section and then being rejoined afterwards by an orchestra or band can be equally painful – for both performers and audience.

I speak from experience – of both.

Flying Pickets – Only You

Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner

Prelude – After The Goldrush

The Housemartins – Caravan Of Love

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