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Aberdeen’s Sweet Adelines hit right notes as they prepare for Kansas trip

Barbershop choirs are an art form across the world and one north-east group is regularly acclaimed as the best in Britain.
Neil Drysdale
Sophie Radcliffe and Debbie Pern have steered the Sweet Adelines to UK glory. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Sophie Radcliffe and Debbie Pern have steered the Sweet Adelines to UK glory. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

It’s Monday night in the Granite City and there are two distinct sounds on display upstairs and downstairs at Curl Aberdeen.

On the ground floor, scores of participants are involved in the roaring game which has brought Scotland so much Olympic and World Championship success in recent years.

Above them, though, there’s less racket and more rhythm and a beautiful swell of  singing which indicates the Sweet Adelines are in the midst of another rehearsal – and here, too, are the signs of excellence you might expect from a group which has recently won the right to represent the UK at global level in Kansas City 12 months hence.

It’s a while – more than 40 years – since this barbershop group was launched by the wives of four Americans who were involved in the oil industry in the North Sea, but although the energy sector has gone through boom and bust periods, more than 100 women are now involved in creating high-standard a cappella (unaccompanied) performances, directed by Sophie Radcliffe with Debbie Pern as the choir’s coordinator.

The Sweet Adelines’ director Sophie Radcliffe first sang with the group at 14. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Both these redoubtable characters sat down to provide a brief history of what the ensemble has achieved and it’s a track record of which any Aberdeen organisation would be proud.

This is the sixth time they’ve triumphed at UK level and their members – whose ages range from the 20s to the 80s – have previously participated in global events in such different places as Florida, Nashville, Indianapolis and Salt Lake City.

Sophie, a former graduate in music and vocal performance at Aberdeen University, was clearly in her element as she and her colleagues worked throughout the rehearsal. And there was a glint in her eye when she explained how she had started in barbershop.

So many great things about it

She said: “I began in the chorus when I was 14 and they really taught me how to sing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time, but I loved it and it’s what inspired me to study music at university.

“We do have an audition process, but for the most part, as long as you can hold a tune against three other parts, then there are a lot of opportunities to be part of a group which sings together, travels together, competes together, has fun together.”

The Sweet Adelines were in fine voice at Curl Aberdeen. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Debbie spoke about the wide repertoire which the Adelines serve up at concerts and other events, ranging from pop songs and Scottish ballads, through the whole gamut of Broadway theatre shows and Disney musicals.

They will soon commence working on Titanium, a David Guetta song, which is about as far removed from traditional material as it would be possible to imagine, but the message is simple: “We’ll do anything and everything to keep audiences entertained”.

Above all, there is no sense of anybody being stuck in the past. On the contrary, the choir has plans for a craft fair, a fashion show, and they have also branded their own tipple – Aberdeen Chorus Gin, produced by the City of Aberdeen Gin Distillery – which should provide a nice tonic as they gear up fundraising efforts for the Kansas journey.

Stonehaven’s Rhona McConnell is a member of the Sweet Adeline”. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

One of their number, Rhona McConnell, from Stonehaven, recently featured in the TV programme Scotland Sings, which was fronted by P&J columnist Yvie Burnett, and her attitude encompasses why these women are such a potent force.

She said: “The thing that has struck me the most about the Sweet Adelines is their absolute professionalism and dedicated approach to the choir, as well as the sheer quality of the singers. I had never been part of an a cappella singing group before, and the sound that they produce is so intricate and simply stunning.

“There are break-out groups that entertain throughout the week at various events, care homes or just meet to practise, and I am currently singing with eight of the ladies to help a fellow member – Abby Twigger – out with a beautiful Christmas song that she has helped to write and compose called The Lamb.

“It’s not just a choir to many of the members, but a whole way of life.”

The Sweet Adelines are preparing for a busy festive period. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

A global movement

There’s one statistic which highlights the genre’s popularity: a little matter of 18,000 Sweet Adelines across the globe; while there is also a British Association of Barbershop Singers – and it’s widely recognised that the groups in Aberdeen and Forth Valley are at the summit of their craft in their homeland.

But this is about more than just prizes and competitions. As Debbie said: “All the numbers took a dip during Covid, but, in terms of wellbeing, mental health and being part of a team, the Sweet Adelines is a wonderful thing to be part of.

“We’ve got one lady who comes in from Turriff, there are others from Stonehaven, Banchory and Laurencekirk, and we have ladies from Germany, Venezuela, Spain and France who have moved to the Aberdeen area, so it’s a nice mix.”

They certainly won’t be afraid of singing their hearts out in the United States. Their “up tune” will be the Tin Pan Alley standard I Got Rhythm.

Nobody who has heard them would doubt that for an instant.

The Sweet Adelines have organised a crowdfunder to help them go to Kansas. Further details are at