In theory it should never have worked. Seven monks dressed in crushed velvet, performing songs by Madonna, U2 and Coldplay in a candle-lit church-like setting.
“Absurd”, “absolute stupidity” and “theatre suicide” was just some of the rather untactful initial feedback offered to German Frank Peterson when he announced his wacky idea.
However, for reasons maybe only a higher power will ever know, the singers of church-style chant-pop rang true with the majority.
Introducing... Gregorian and their catalogue of more than 200 rock and pop songs from the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Metallica and Coldplay in a Christian Gregorian chant. And with more than 15 albums under their robe-fastening belts, they are coming to Dubai for the first time.
Singing monk (although not really as all the members are English church choir singers rather than practicing monks) Richard Naxton said explaining what you do for a living can be tricky.
“You can imagine, you meet a beautiful girl in a bar and describe your job. ‘Well I dress up as a monk and sing AC/ DC songs,’ and then just to top it all off you throw in ‘Oh, all this while wearing crinkled velvet’.”
Fabulous voices and sense of humours to match, the members of the Gregorian choir group are Naxton (Naxos), yes they have nicknames too, Johnny Clucas (Johnny), Chris Tickner (Chris T.), Richard Collier (Rich), Gerry O’Beirne (Gerry), Lawrence White (Lorro) and Rob Fardell (Rob F).
Better still, the concept was so popular it attracted the vocal expertise of Sarah Brightman and her sister Amelia.
Under the pseudonyms Hepsibah or Sarah Hellmann, the Brightman sisters have recorded and performed with the monks for many years with Amelia booked for her first trip to the UAE for Thursday’s show at the Madinat Arena.
“It’s a place I have always wanted to visit,” said the UK-born singer. “The sunshine and lots to do, that’s what I’ve heard.”
Originally, Gregorian was conceived as a more pop-oriented group in the vein of Enigma, but by 1998 Peterson and his team re-invented the project to perform popular cover songs in the Gregorian style. The criteria for song selection meant a song needed to be translatable into the seven-tone Gregorian scale as opposed to the normal eight-tone musical octave.
“In terms of a live show it is really quite wonderful,” said Brightman. “We include so many genres and it’s exciting for an audience. It’s new but at the same time familiar for people. But there are many surprises too.”
Amelia and her sister got involved more than 12 years ago when Gregorian was recording in a studio next door. The guys needed a female vocalist and Amelia was perfect for the role.
“The music makes a lot of sense to both my sister and I,” added Brightman. “Sarah is an amazing person and I’m very lucky to have her in my life.”
Each Gregorian album is initially digitally tracked at Nemo Studios, Peterson’s Hamburg studio before the vocalists record their parts in a church atmosphere with dimmed lights and candles, in order to escape what Peterson calls a “cold and technical” studio.
On stage, it’s all candles and fire lanterns before the voices come and a Led Zepplin number is instantly recognisable.
Still a little cynical? We asked Naxo why anyone should not miss the opportunity to see Gregorian.
“When are you ever going to get the chance to see a bunch of grown-up men dressed as monks singing AC/DC with a fire-breathing drummer again?”
Enough said. That just has to be worth a look.
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• M Premiere and dudu.com present Gregorian at the Madinat Arena, Madinate Jumeirah on Thursday, November 1, with selections from their new album including hits like ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ and ‘Tears in Heaven’. Tickets, priced Dh295, Dh395, Dh550 and Dh950 are available on virginmegastore.me or at the Madinat Theatre. Go to mpremiere.com.