The Naked Choir with Gareth Malone review – Exciting, inspiring, and a teeny bit annoying

It’s not the singers but the singing that’s stripped down, a cappella. Still, Gareth is thrilled to be making choirs, who are already good, a bit better

What?! They’re not even naked in The Naked Choir With Gareth Malone (BBC1). All fully clothed. It’s the singing that’s stripped down, unaccompanied, a cappella. Nothing to do with a former England manager or expensive apple juice. It means in the style of the chapel, says Gareth. “It makes my blood pump,” he says. Oh Gareth, I know a few people who wouldn’t mind seeing you in the nude.

The ginger beard’s gone, the wardrobe expanded – crisp buttoned-up-to-the-top shirts, checked and purple, yellow trousers, smart man-bags, creative eyewear. And his profile is higher still. He did Who Do You Think You Are? the other day, he’s now officially the Jamie Oliver (who was also Naked once) of the voice. Now he just needs to walk into a room and people – women especially – applaud, and whoop, stand up and applaud some more. No one’s calling him Gareth “he goes ho” Malone now (if they ever did). Ho Malone, home alone … never mind.

In episode one, four a cappella groups are up against each other, singing pop songs chosen by Gareth. At the end, one will be sent home. “I’m absolutely thrilled; there’s a kind of excitement and a crackle about this bunch that I’m just overwhelmed by,” he says. (To be honest, I think Gareth’s default position is thrilled and excited; I don’t believe he ever wakes up feeling he just can’t be arsed.) “I think everyone’s going to take it very seriously but they’re also going to have fun.” Fun will turn out to be very important; crackle is important too, but the key to life on Planet Gareth is fun.

Restless Symphony are a bunch of students studying performance art in Southampton. Hampshire’s Glee, basically. Gareth gives them One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. Trouble is they’re Six Directions right now – all doing their own thing, all wanting to be the lead. They need to tune in to each other. That means having “FUN together”, says Gareth.

The Stratford East Singers, who have She Said by Plan B, are a London community choir. Anyone can join, even you; there are no auditions. That might be their problem – too much fun, not enough talent. Up the road in Romford, doing En Vogue’s My Lovin’, Gospel Essence have the voices but not the moves. They’re like a bunch of bank managers and accountants, Gareth tells them – “I’m not getting crackle from you yet.”

Then there’s the Spinnaker Chorus – an all-lady choir from Portsmouth, brought together by a love of music, cake and community. Gareth is excited. “I think Spinnaker Chorus are warm and they seem to be really close, and they’ve a sense of FUN, that’s what I like,” he says, inevitably. He has given them Tina Turner’s Simply the Best, which will turn out to be ironic. There’s a warning of what’s going to happen when Gareth visits them rehearsing, bearing cake. They’re polished, but staid and safe. “I worry that it’s not setting the world on fire,” he says. “You need to throw caution to the  wind and be FUN.”

The sing-off takes place in front of a live audience in Greenwich. That’s like a home fixture for the Stratford East Singers, isn’t it? Isn’t it just over the river for them? Anyway, the show means a lot more clapping and whooping for Gareth. Judging is done by the nation’s top experts – in gospel a cappella, university a cappella, barbershop, plus beatbox, voice, performance. There’s a lot to this, evidently.

And the group going home is … Spinnaker Chorus. The ladies from Portsmouth just didn’t take enough risks and stayed in their comfort zone. Simply the worst. Certainly the least fun. At least, elimination means they can do what they’ve clearly been itching to do all along, and that’s get their hands on Gareth, which they do collectively, enveloping him and swallowing him in a vortex of love.

There’s some nice singing, and the X Factor factor, with all the competition and eliminations – plus Malone. So it’s fantastically exciting and inspiring and all that (and possibly a teeny bit annoying if you’re a miserable slob who finds his relentless energy and positivity tiring). They’ve tried to add tears too – with a Spinnakette with cancer, and a mum who can’t be there at the concert. But it’s not as moving as The Choir, in which Gareth made choirs from scratch. This is about making singers, who are already good, a bit better, so the journey is a less spectacular one. Fun then, but not the most fun.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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