As the nights get progressively darker and colder, taking refuge in the Old Firehouse becomes more and more appealing, especially with the live music on a Sunday night. This week there was a veritable feast for the ears (and the mouth, thanks to the BBQ Pulled Pork pizza): Acoustic sets! Musical Theatre! Acapella! There was something for everyone (barring heavy metal fans) at this week’s ExTunes Live.
Opening the night was Geography graduate George Bell, who took on various indie and acoustic covers, as well as performing original tracks. Bell (who I was told lives in Totnes but travels back for the music scene here in Exeter) was extremely proficient on guitar, taking us from more stripped back acoustic tunes to some hearty strumming (accompanied by a strong effort on the harmonica) which filled the bottom floor, drawing in even those at the back. His set included covers of artists such as Will Varley and Iron and Wine, and included songs about, as he told us, “How great love is.” Thanks to some enthusiastic audience members in the front row, George got some backing vocals for some of his performances, taking the time to engage in some classic stage banter to perfect the arrangement. His upbeat covers and clear voice were the perfect combination to get the evening going.
who can honestly say they don’t like ‘Defying Gravity’?
Up next, University Musical Theatre Choir – and part of Footlights Society – Spotlights were serving us some endearingly cheesy numbers from everyone’s favourite musicals. With a setlist featuring tracks from Wicked! (seriously who can honestly say they don’t like ‘Defying Gravity’?), Matilda and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spotlights’ set picked up from the high George had left and kept it going. A highlight for me was their excellent rendition of ‘Timewarp’, which I was assured would have had a dance routine if it wasn’t for the tiny stage they performed on. As someone who is – dare I say it – not the biggest fan of musical theatre, I was a little apprehensive, but I didn’t need to be. The choir worked perfectly together, but even when the boys and girls did separate songs, their voices were strong and their stage presence impressive (especially considering how cramped they were). They also had excellent soloists in most of their songs.
As a nice interlude before another large University group, Alex Donner was joined by Catherine Heffner for another acoustic set. Listening to the two of them, I assumed that they’d been singing together for a while. To my surprise, apparently they’d been practicing for less than a week after Alex asked Catherine to join him for a few songs. This is all a testament to their talent (and Catherine’s amazing ability to harmonize seemingly off the cuff). Alex worked his way through a small sample of indie pop records from the last few years (as well as a stripped back version of ‘All These Things That I Have Done’) including some Hozier, Vance Joy and personal favourite Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, in which the whistling was on point. Watching Alex perform (to a room full of his friends from Illuminations) was the first time I’d heard an audience flawlessly harmonize with the performer. As an impartial third party to this collaboration, I was greatly impressed and incredibly jealous that I can’t sing like that.
To finish up the evening of music, Alex and Catherine were back on stage with Illuminations, one of the University’s mixed acapella groups. Featuring a stunning solo by the group’s beatboxer Mateus, Illuminations’ set brought a perfect modern outlook to the rustic setting. Starting with an ingenious rework of American boy, and continuing with mash ups- galore (Meghan Trainor and Ceelo Green sound surprisingly good together), the group had fun with their set, pinning guys against girls, and asking the audience to pick a side. Special mention to Emily Adams who performed an excellent solo. More than anything, Illuminations looked like they were having a good time, and they drew the whole pub in with their infectious energy, which was the perfect way to end the evening on a high note.
The ExTunes Christmas Party kicks off tonight at the Old Firehouse from 9 o’clock, featuring Sam England, Semi-Toned and carols in the courtyard from Exeter University Brass Ensemble (EUBE). Full event details can be found here.