By Alix Norman
This is a capella four-part harmony. Yes, it may be based onbarbershop, but it’s a world away from a bowler-hatted quartet cooing ‘Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home’. This is incredible fun: light, bright and exceptionally entertaining; acapella at its best. And it’s all happening down in Limassol, where the 17 members of Island Blend are holding an Open Night at the UKCA in the hope of attracting new members.
Running for almost 14 years, Island Blend consists of a group of people who, in the words of its founder and Musical Director Kerry Mills “just love to sing”. “You make this sound that you know people will enjoy, and it’s a thrill. It really is. There’s something different about our type of singing,” she adds. “There’s nothing like it on the island; it’s very different, something that gets into your soul.”
It’s also one of the hardest genres to master: “The type of singing that we do – sometimes called barbershop – is the most difficult form of oral music that you can get,” says Kerry, explaining how the chorus works. “This type of harmony is usually all female or all male, but Island Blend is very, very unusual because we’re a mixed group and sing in both the male range and the female range. ”Thus the four different parts include the usual bass, tenor, baritone and lead, but are – most uncommonly – split between men and women to create a delicious, fulfilling, rounded sound that’s singularly captivating.”
It’s a sound that has earned Island Blend their outstanding reputation across Cyprus, a reputation for delighting audiences with a repertoire that takes in all ages and tastes: “Because we have a variety of groupings within the chorus, all sizes of venue and audience can be accommodated,” explains Kerry. The chorus, it emerges, not only sing as a whole, they also break down into different outfits such as the Female Quartet (called Mosaic), an eight-member Male ensemble (8 Shades of Grey), a Mixed Quartet (One Sound) and an all-female chorus, known as The Soundwaves. All of whom are accomplished across a vast range of genres.
“We have three or four different sets from the shows, the big West End musicals,” she expounds, “as well as a 60s, 70s and 80s package. Then there’s the Beach Boys selection” – particularly suitable for summer seaside events, one imagines – “and a number of oldies, from as far back as the World War II era.
“We’ve performed, literally, all over the island,” she adds, “Dhekelia, Paphos, Larnaca – you name it, we’ve sung there! We’ve done the Curium and Pissouri amphitheatres on countless occasions, the Pantiko Theatre in Limassol, a huge event in Paphos with the Orpheas Choir; we’ve even sung for the British High Commission.” In fact, Island Blend are so in demand that, sometimes, at Christmas, “We don’t’ even know where we’re going!” laughs Kerry, before adding that things clear up a bit by New Year, when the chorus invariably are engaged by Aphrodite Hills.
Although booked and paid on a regular basis, the group spend a great deal of their time in charity work, most recently performing in an event at the Limassol Catholic Church “for which the chorus,” says Kerry with an infectious grin “worked like stink! It was for Caritas” – a charity known for its exemplary work with the island’s poor, handicapped and vulnerable – “whom we often support; not just with our singing, but also by directly involving ourselves in their fund-raising events, supplying staff and gifts for their Christmas concert.
“We’re always very proud to be part of raising funds for those in need,” she adds. “We’ve probably raised over €10,000 for local charities in the past few years – ALMA, PASYKAF, Theotokos, the Friends’ Hospice. We never charge for these sort of events, and when we do get paid, the money goes into the pot, and is then divided out amongst our regular charities at the end of the year.”
This spirit of philanthropy is commonplace in acapella groups all around the world, she continues, mentioning that the genre is huge in the States where choirs often number in the hundreds. “We’re a global family. You can get off a plane anywhere in the world, and if there’s a four-part acapella chorus in the area – they’ll put you up, feed you and generally make you feel at home.” And here at the Open Night, Island Blend are certainly showing their aptitude for inclusivity: not only is the 60-strong audience enjoying an evening of musical enchantment, they’re also being fed, watered and offered a bed for the night if they hail from out of town. They’re even allowed to join in a round of ‘Hey Mr Miller’, which delights everyone from the two Russian teenagers in the front row, to the host of elderly gentlemen discreetly sipping wine at the back of the room.
By the end of the night, listeners have been treated to a poignant interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a rousing rendition of The Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and a jolly performance of Under the Boardwalk from the men’s chorus, before the show culminates in a rousing rock ’n roll medley, accompanied by many of their audience. “You should see the look on people’s faces when they walk in and see we’re a mixed choir!” Kerry says. “They really feel we’ve gone against the grain. But funnily enough, it works.”
She’s right: this has been a highly successful evening (during which several of the listeners have signed up to become part of the chorus!) of joy, friendship and – most memorably –wonderful singing. And, oddly enough, Kerry concludes, you don’t even have to be particularly musical to take part: “Many of our members had never sung in public before getting involved with Island Blend,” says Kerry. “You don’t have to be musical at all. You just have to love singing. That’s the key, really, a love of song.”
Acapella four-part harmony chorus, based in Limassol. For further information, including booking details or how to join, contact Kerry Mills on 99 558 743 or email [email protected]