ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Music ED2013 Week1 Edition

The Magnets: A Cappella n Rock n Roll

By | Published on Tuesday 6 August 2013

The Magnets

Six man musical outfit The Magnets have been performing top class a cappella at the Edinburgh Fringe for as long as we can remember. Well, go on then, maybe not quite that long.
But they are certainly veterans, of both the Fringe and the a cappella scene, providing a model of success that similar groups must surely aspire to. With all that in mind, we sent a few questions over to group member Michael Welton.

CM: You’ve been coming to the Fringe for quite some time now – what keeps you coming back?
MW: Like most blokes we’re naturally lazy, but the threat of coming to the Edinburgh Festival each August drives us to be creative. Nothing gets our egos going more than the prospect of playing to hordes of returning punters and reviewers, as well as the extraordinary amount of competition we suddenly face from other acts. We always want to be bigger and better. So far we feel like we’ve managed it, but we know that the Fringe will swiftly let us know when we’ve outstayed our welcome.

CM: You’ve released a new album this year – what kind of material is on it? I heard you’ve been writing original material as well as doing covers.
MW: ‘All This Time’ was born out of our 2012 Edinburgh show and features songs by great British songwriters from our lifetimes. With all that delving into our roots it seemed only natural that we should add our own voice, in song-writing terms, which has been silent for the best part of a decade. Though we’ve had a lot of success presenting radically reworked cover versions, it’s kind of an easy victory, and we know the audience want to see into our souls a little bit more – only original material can do that.

CM: What is your recording process like? Does the fact that you only have to use your voices make things different?
MW: You’d think that recording a cappella would be really quick, just standing around the mic and singing with no equipment to set up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Imagine recording a guitar part, one string at a time, using six different guitars, each tuned fractionally differently!

CM: Tell us about the ‘History Of British Pop’ medley you do in the show – I hear there’s a bit of audience participation?
MW: Our mega-medleys have become such a feature of our Fringe shows that it would be hard to imagine not doing one. They generally survive more than one Fringe season, not least because in the first year of each one we’re still learning how to sing it! It’s nice to be able to come back and do them again when they are actually good. ‘History Of British Pop’ has evolved since last year, and now features a large number of audience members coming up on stage to choose the songs. It’s a lovely pantomime-style climax to the show and it stays fresh because the reaction of the participants is so different every night.

CM: A cappella seems to have become very popular in recent years, certainly at the Festival. What do you think accounts for this growth in popularity?
MW: A cappella is perfect for the Fringe. It’s immediate, accessible and portable, and it’s so much easier for a vocal group to busk up an audience on the Royal Mile than a drama group. That’s how we built our audience in our early years here, just like the popular Oxford University group Out Of The Blue did. Now other groups are saying ‘we can do that’ and the Fringe is suddenly the world’s biggest a cappella festival. In wider terms, a cappella is becoming more popular, helped by the revival of live singing in general and everything from Gareth Malone to ‘X-Factor’. It would help if there was more media recognition though. We’ve been told by Radio 2, along with several of the leading commercial stations, that they will never playlist an a cappella group; so maybe a cappella is actually the new punk!

CM: You’ve supported some big names in recent years – the likes of Blondie, Tom Jones and Bryan Adams. So do you have any exciting rock and roll anecdotes to tell us?
MW: Bryan Adams made us sing for Rita Ora when we ran into her in the airport departure lounge, though he had no idea who she was until we pointed it out. Debbie Harry gave us gardening tips, which was appropriate given that we were supporting her at Kew. Though my favourite memory is from the Tom Jones tour. We supported him at Edinburgh Castle on my 30th birthday; the boys had given me a £100 bottle of whiskey, and I plucked up the courage to knock on his dressing room door and share a dram with him.

CM: Of all the songs you perform, do you have a favourite?
MW: My favourite song from our new show is our mash-up of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ with the riff from ‘The Joker’. There’s a fair bit of 80s rock in our song choices this year, which I love because that’s what I was listening to in my early teens. I think we’ve suddenly got too old to worry too much about being cool. Dad rock rules!

CM: Will you be checking out your rival a cappella groups at the Fringe? Which ones?
MW: A cappella is too small a community to allow for serious rivalries, and most of our immediate contemporaries are based in the US and rarely make it over this way. We do support lots of the student groups at the Fringe though. That is where we came from, and we’ll be trying to get to as many of their shows as possible. They are all so much better than we were at the same stage and that keeps me amazed that we made it this far!

‘The Magnets: All This Time’ was performed at Underbelly Bristo Square at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.themagnets.com/ | twitter.com/themagnets

Photo: Natalia Equihua