Global language of harmony

The group that went “up the ladder to the roof,” wandered “in the jungle, the mighty jungle,” and kissed a certain someone goodbye is coming to Red Deer.

The Nylons have had a variety of incarnations

The Nylons have had a variety of incarnations

The group that went “up the ladder to the roof,” wandered “in the jungle, the mighty jungle,” and kissed a certain someone goodbye is coming to Red Deer.

Canada’s favourite a cappella singers, The Nylons, will perform a bevy of Christmas songs and other hits on Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Memorial Centre. These could include the group’s non-instrumental versions of The Supremes’ Up the Ladder to the Roof, The Vines’ In the Jungle and Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.

Many of these chestnuts from yesteryear have become so closely identified with The Nylons that some younger fans even think the singers originated the songs.

But the catchy covers were actually chosen for the group’s repertoire because of their staying power, their opportunities for vocal harmonizing and — most importantly — for their likability, said Claude Morrison, the group’s only remaining original member.

“We won’t pick a song unless we can all live with singing it night after night. We have to be, pretty much, on the same page with it, because we don’t want to have to drag somebody kicking and screaming up on stage,” he added with a chuckle.

Not that The Nylons just do covers. Morrison said about half the songs on any of the group’s 17 albums are original, including That Kind of Man, written by former group member Paul Cooper, which became a hit in the early ’80s.

But new songs face steep odds of getting noticed when they are on the same album with some of the greatest, most memorable tunes of all time, he added. “They are the hummable ear candy.”

After 31 years on the road, performing hasn’t gotten old for the Toronto-based group, which still gets a charge from enthusiastic audiences.

“Regardless of what tongue or dialect you speak, singing is the universal language for all of humanity,” added the singer, who believes this explains The Nylons’ lasting appeal.

“Everybody can sing — maybe not on key, but they can put their body and spirit into it. And when songs come from the heart and gut, that’s also where they hit people. Singing becomes a visceral, almost spiritual experience — not that we take ourselves too seriously.”

Morrison has heard that many fans appreciate The Nylons’ jokey stage camaraderie as much as the singing.

“We poke a lot of fun at ourselves.”

The group has gone through 12 singers in three decades, with most departing members tiring of the road and moving on to other pursuits (except original member Mark Connor, who died of AIDS in 1991).

Each time a member leaves, Morrison said the remaining ones do their darnedest to find a replacement who’s at least as good — or better. Personality also plays a big part in the choice because “this isn’t just someone you sing and dance with, you are practically living with these people.”

Morrison, a tenor, is very pleased with the current lineup: baritone Gavin Hope, fellow tenor Garth Mosbaugh and bass Tyrone Gabriel.

“I think, musically, we are better than we’ve ever been.”

So could the 57-year-old former church and school choir singer ever imagine, when The Nylons first started casually performing for friends on Toronto’s Queen Street in 1978, that the group would eventually produce seven gold and platinum recordings and sing all over the world — from Holland to Japan, Brazil to Australia?

“I never expected this would last for 31 years!” he admitted.

The Nylons Christmas is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $42.30 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.