The Idea of North turns 20 with a new CD and a national tour

L-R Nick Begbie, Naomi Crellin, Andrew Piper and Sally Cameron who together make up The Idea of North


For The Idea of North, 2013 marks 20 years since they began to compose, arrange and perform music in a style that is quintessentially ‘TION’ and which has taken them not just around the nation but around the world.

To mark this milestone, the ARIA award winning a capella quartet  is undertaking a national tour as well as recording a new album – their 10th – which they will launch on tour.

Classical choirs and orchestras apart, there are few ensembles which can claim 20 continuous years of successful music making. It is a time span long enough to see the turnover of at least one generation of fans and changing tastes in music. “TION keeps the spark alive with variety” says bass Andrew Piper, a founding member of the ensemble. “Our tastes in music are quite eclectic  and we like to draw on that in our concerts. Performing  a capella, there’s no band to add interest in the music, so one way we keep that interest is to provide variety in repertoire.”

TION kicks off its 2013 Sydney season with their show  Up Close and Personal  at the Blue Beat Bar and Grill in Double Bay on Saturday March 9th. It’s a perfect example of how they weave innovation into their performances. The evening buzzes with the frisson of the unknown as the audience calls out live requests. “It’s like Theatresports for singers” says Piper. ” We will have a song menu of our repertoire on the tables. There are all sorts of choices – light, hot, entrees, mains and desserts. The audience can make its requests through the night; they might come up on stage to participate and sometimes we open the floor to a Q and A.”

“What I really enjoy about this format” he continues, “is the unplugged, organic feel of the show. There is a real two way connection between the audience and us because they’re  involved with the direction of the performance. It has a chemistry that comes from building the show together along with the thrill of the unknown –  we walk on stage not knowing what we’re going to sing after a few ice-breakers! The Blue Beat is  terrific venue – it’s intimate, people can gather and have a drink and even a meal if they like.”

Talent, a commitment to their craft and a serious sense of professionalism have contributed to the extraordinary and enduring success of TION. The singers – soprano Sally Cameron, alto Naomi Crellin, tenor Nick Begbie and bass Andrew Piper – have an inimitable blend of sound which moves seamlessly through ballads, jazz, ‘scatting’, folk and traditional songs. Their onstage presence is engaging and their quick-witted patter soon embraces the audience.

The roots of the ensemble go back to when Andrew Piper and Nick Begbie were students at the Canberra School of Music. “We met when we all sang in the jazz choir. It started out as something we did for fun.  Nick and I have been there from the start although the female line up has changed over the years. Naomi has been with us for about 10 years and Sally for  a bit less. Over the years TION became increasingly successful and there came the time when we decided to put other aspects of our music careers on hold and we went out on a wing and a prayer to focus on building this career.”

Part of that focus has included studying and working with some of the best singers, arrangers and vocal groups in the field – amongst them, The New York Voices, Tuck and Patti, Gene Puerling (The Hi-Lo’s, Singers Unlimited), Mark Murphy and Cheryl Bentine from Manhattan Transfer.  Elsewhere they have worked and performed with Sweden’s The Real Group, Rajaton in Finland and M-Pact  in the USA. TION was the first non-US group ever to win The Harmony Sweepstakes, considered the largest international a cappella competition in the world.

Was there a defining moment when they realised they had ‘made it’? Piper says not. ” I don’t know that there’s ever a point where you think you’ve ‘made it’. It’s more a case of passing lots of milestones along the way, always working towards a golden carrot dangling in front of us – there’s always an interesting project that keeps us energised and moving on to new challenges.”

Last year saw TION perform at the Australian ambassador’s residence in Lao on Australia Day; in  Bangkok , to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Thailand;  as far afield as Sweden, at the Lund Choral festival, and in Doha for the American International School.

Like the god Janus, TION’s 20 year album will most likely revisit old favourites, perhaps in fresh arrangements, as well as new repertoire. What does the next double decade hold for TION? Piper says “We will continue to work on what we love – bringing quality music to as many people as we can. Our music has taken us everywhere – we’ve had the opportunity to travel to many different wonderful countries around the world and around Australia. We’d like to continue to travel, to make more recordings and to continue reinventing ourselves, always coming up with fresh ideas and fresh  ways of presenting songs.”

Click here for booking information for Up Close Personal and the link to a revire of TION’s CD Extraordinary Tale

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