Review: Bristol Suspensions End of Year Show @ 1532 Performing Art Centre ★★★★★

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By Milan Perera, Second Year English Literature and Community Engagement

After putting on hold their live performances for two long years due to the pandemic, the Bristol Suspensions were back for the most adrenaline-pumping, high racing a cappella show of the year.

Founded in 2014, the university of Bristol based mixed a cappella ensemble, the Bristol Suspensions have been enthralling audiences with their slick renditions of popular songs and innovative vocal percussions. Their live shows became spectacles. Their song-arrangements became anthems bursting with unbridled energy. Even during the passage of dormition, the ensemble kept working on their new material. The highly anticipated showcase at the iconic 1532 Performing Arts Centre proved to be a rollercoaster ride with a medley of spellbinding deliveries of some popular tunes.

Credit: Milan Perera

The evening was also graced with guest appearances of the fellow a cappella ensemble Algorhythm and the aspiring singer-songwriter Hetta Falzon. The proceedings for the evening were led to a rollicking start by Algorhythm with a series of high octane renditions of vocal gems. Their spine-tingling arrangement of ‘Churchyard’ by AURORA went down a treat with the enthusiastic audience. Algorhythm is a 10-part ensemble of beat boxers from around the UK with three members from The Bristol Suspensions. Their hallmark sound is characterised by gritty vocal percussions and smooth silvery vocals.

Algorhythm were followed by the winner of the Young Songwriter 2021 awards, Hetta Falzon. The Bristol Suspensions first noticed Falzon at a performance at her Alma Mater, Wells Cathedral School. The performance swept them off their feet with its candour and ethereal beauty. The Bristol Suspensions felt that it was worth breaking the golden rule on a cappella shows: ‘No Instruments!’ by inviting her for their End of Year Show. Hetta Falzon is a rare amalgamation of a prophetess and a poet. Her lyrics are immediate and unburnished. She doesn’t try to conceal the simple lyrical beauty with a heap of incoherent lines. Accompanying herself on the piano, Falzon had the audience under a spell with a medley of her newly penned material which included ‘Man For Me’, ‘Meant To Know’ and the ballad ‘Song For Me’.

Following her thrilling performance, the headline act for the evening, the Bristol Suspensions walked into the stage amidst raucous applause and cheers from the expectant audience. The 17-part vocal ensemble launched their bill with a stirring version of ‘I’m Ready’ by Sam Smith and Demi Lovato featuring Ryan Blyth as the soloist. It was neatly segued into a spirited delivery of ‘Flying’ by Cody Fry with Cameron Brown and Alessia Doyle on the vocals while the rest of the ensemble accompanied them with elegantly phrased vocal percussions.

A duet featuring Aoife Beer and Rosa Witts of the boyband classic ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ by NSYNC had the crowd clapping vigorously to the frenetic tempo as Beer and Witts provided a flawless rendition. ‘Blame It On the Boogie’ by the Jackson Five has been the subject of numerous cover versions but the rendition by the Bristol Suspensions is in a league of on its own. What’s not to like about it? The high-octane soul dance routine to the hip-hop vibes with Aran Woodger, Rosa Witts and Alessia Doyle on the vocals had the audience on their feet joining the ensemble with rhythmic clapping.

Midway into the line up for the evening, the Bristol Suspensions brought the collective energy of the set one notch higher with a riveting rendition of ‘World On Fire’ by Dirty Loops. Oscar Andrusier and Connie Richards on the main vocals accompanied by a delightful scat trio by Alessia Doyle, Rosa Witts and Madeleine Morgan provided a burnished sheen to the track.

Credit: Milan Perera

‘Love (Sweet Love)’ by Little Mix was given a slick and sophisticated makeover when Ilona Hoffmann, Emily Hall and Niamh Higgins transposed it to a rapid cascade of silvery vocals with an unparalleled command.

The evening was brought to a reflective ambience with a poignant rendition of ‘In Case You Don’t Live Forever’ by Benn Platt, featuring Madeleine Morgan on the vocals. This highly acclaimed rendition by the Bristol Suspensions was originally released as a single on Mother’s Day, which prompted an appearance on BBC Radio Bristol. Morgan’s heartfelt delivery was beautifully matched by the soulful humming and vocal overlaps by the rest of the ensemble.

The penultimate piece for the evening captured the showbiz magic of ‘The Greatest Showman.’ The showstopper ‘Come Alive’ featured Sam Stocks, Michael Galvin, Ben Morris, Alisha Agarwal, Nathan Cave, Ilona Hofmann, Ryan Blyth, Sam Chimbwandira and Aran Woodger on the vocals. The spirited rendition was matched by a slick dance routine that brought the proceedings for the evening to a fever pitch.

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The final number for the evening, ‘Faith’ by Stevie Wonder ft. Ariana Grande, was arranged for the ensemble by the previous generation of the Bristol Suspensions. This clap-along, foot tapping number brought the evening to a satisfying end. But the thoroughly enthralled audience was demanding an encore which prompted the ensemble to regather on the stage for a sparkling performance of dance classic ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars.

The vocal arrangements for the show were a labour of love constructed by Rosa Witts and Nathan Cave, ably assisted by Alessia Doyle. The End of Year Show was sweetened into an evening of even more delight and delirium when it was announced that the ensemble had bagged four CARA awards, the equivalent of Grammys in the world of a cappella, including Best European Album.

Speaking to Epigram after their enchanting night, the group manager Alessia Doyle pointed out that the Bristol Suspensions were delighted to be performing to live audiences after a prolonged hiatus. She was beaming with pride when she mentioned that the ensemble will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Follow their Instagram for the latest updates on their Fringe showcase. You do not want to miss that.

Featured image: Milan Perera


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