All Angels have become a force to be reckoned with.
Working beautiful four part harmonies around classical, opera and pop tunes, the girls have crafted a unique and entrancing sound. After they signed a five-album deal with Decca in 2006, their first two discs built them an awesome reputation in the Classical Crossover market and sold half a million copies. Their success earned the Angels platinum discs, appearances at the Classical Brits and accolades from Sir Paul McCartney, and all this while they were still studying for their A-levels.
Fly Away finds the high-achieving quartet spreading their musical wings to explore folk songs, musicals, modern classics and spirituals. Tapping into the spirit of optimism triggered by the dazzling arrival of Barack Obama on the world stage, the common theme binding the material together is its American origins, from the Leonard Bernstein song Somewhere, to the 19th century Shaker song, Simple Gifts (which Aaron Copland adapted for his Appalachian Spring). As for Cucurrucucu Paloma, which group member Daisy Chute suggested to the group having performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Camerata Ritmata, the girls were delighted to record the famous Tomas Mendez song when they heard it on the soundtrack of Pedro Almodovar's film Talk To Her.
"The album takes you on a journey," explains Laura Wright, erstwhile hockey, tennis and athletics star at Framlingham School. A former Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year, she has sung Mozart and Purcell for the Pimlott Foundation (a charity founded in memory of opera director Steven Pimlott), entertained fans of Ipswich FC with pre-match performance of Amazing Grace, and is about to take up a scholarship at the Royal College of Music. "We listened to loads of CDs of classical and traditional music and folk tunes, and thought really hard about what would work best with our voices and which ones would fit the overall feel of the album. We might find a particular beautiful song, but we'd have to decide whether it would work with everything else."
Daisy Chute, a multi-faceted musician who studied at the Purcell School of Music and is now reading music at King’s College, London, didn't need much persuading to embrace the American theme because, despite her Edinburgh accent, she's half American by birth. Many of her relatives live across the Atlantic, and she has travelled to the States regularly since she was born. Even so, she wasn't quite prepared for the astounding revelation that she is distantly related to President Obama himself. "That is quite a big American connection, I suppose," she says, laughing. "My mum told me about it. She's American, and she knows everything about our family history. We'd already found out that I was related to George Washington. Now I've learned that President Obama and I share British emigrant grandparents from about twelve generations ago."
As Laura points out, "the arrival of Obama has affected everyone. For a lot of younger people especially, it gives them something to look up to and some real values they can admire. Michelle Obama as well I think, because obviously we're four girls and we really respect her values and opinions."
"I think we're a lot closer as a group now, friendship-wise," adds Laura. "I think we've really bonded as people, and that means our sound has really bonded too. We're able to criticise each other musically now without anyone getting offended and that means the music overall will be better. I think we've all grown up a lot and we see this as building towards a bigger future." Their growing confidence in their own skills paid dividends during the recording of Fly Away, on which they were assisted by their new producer (who also works as a jazz trumpeter and songwriter), James McMillan. On previous albums, the emphasis had been on capturing the ethereal, collective sound of the group, all the while including some solo tracks focusing on one or two individuals at a time. This time around, the celebrated All Angels ensemble work is still there, but there are more solo passages, while they've also moved the individual voices around in the harmony sections to create new tonalities and effects.
Indeed, time seems to be proving that the quartet's determination to maintain what could be described as their work-work balance was the most cunning plan they could have devised. While other groups can end up living on top of each other for months on end and driving each other mad, the Angels find that their various academic and musical activities leave them refreshed and raring to go when they come back together for a new project. When they played some outdoor concerts with Katherine Jenkins this summer, they tried out some of the new songs onstage, and were delighted to find them being eagerly embraced by the audience.
"I've just finished my first year studying French and Spanish at University College London, and it's been great, but I'm so happy that All Angels happened," says Melanie Nakhla. "It has changed my life completely, and I know it's for the better. It's just so much fun as well as hard work." Besides her linguistic skills and ongoing studies for her pilot's license, Melanie displayed precocious singing ability from the age of eight. She was a prizewinner at the Oswestry Eisteddfod at 10, and was head of the choir at Wycombe Abbey School in Buckinghamshire. She also appeared most recently at the opening of Shrewsbury's new theatre, Theatre Severn, at which she performed solo in the show created for the event.
"I feel I've discovered a completely new part of my voice during these recordings," declares Charlotte Ritchie, who has just completed her first year of studying Drama and English at Bristol University. Her pre-Angels experiences included joining the National Youth Music Theatre when she was 11, winning a much-fought-over screen role in Harry Potter: The Goblet Of Fire, acting opposite Michael Sheen and Cherie Lunghi in the short film The Open Doors, and most recently appearing with Caroline Quentin in Life Of Riley for the BBC.
Laura sees All Angels as a way of communicating her own musical passions to a wider, maybe even a cooler, audience. "A lot of my friends don't listen to classical music, but that's what we're trying to do - introduce it to younger people and show that it's not geeky or sad to listen to classical music. We don't think so!"Video