When six recent Cambridge and Oxford undergraduates took to the stage at the Southbank in May 1968, few of them could have envisaged just what was to come.
Within a few years, the King’s Singers were appearing regularly on prime-time TV, touring globally and selling out major venues.
The group is still going strong today, though none of the current members were even born when that first concert took place. Over its 53 years in business, it has recorded many albums, ranging from Renaissance motets to six-part arrangements of Bowie and Billy Joel. Here are six of the very best…
King’s Singers best recordings
Original Debut Recording (1971)
The first ever King’s Singers album, recorded three years after the group came together, consists mainly of popular songs, a number of which are heard in deft arrangements by composer Gordon Langford, a regular partner whose Trio accompanies the group here. Originally released under the title By Appointment, the disc features the likes of Shenandoah and Scarborough Fair before rounding off with Ron Goodwin’s sublimely daft ‘What Kind of Things (Do the King’s Singers Sing)?’ party piece. Chandos CHAN6562
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Madrigal History Tour (1984)
This album, which followed the King’s Singers’ groundbreaking and immensely popular television series of the same name, presents a wide-ranging tour of Renaissance madrigals. Accompanied by The Consort of Musicke and lutenist Anthony Rooley, the tour takes us on a comprehensive musical journey of countries including Italy, England, France, Spain and Germany and incorporates masterpieces by 16th-century composers such as Byrd, Dowland, Gibbons, Morley, Lassus, Willaert and Flecha. Warner Classics 585 7142
The Beatles Connection (1986)
The great Hungarian composer György Ligeti, no less, was a major fan of the versions of ‘Honey Pie’ and ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’ on this disc of a cappella arrangements of Fab Four favourites – other songs include ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. Arrangers include Daryl Runswick, a regular collaborator with the group, plus Bob Chilcott, who had recently began as tenor with the King’s Singers at the time of the recording, and Bill Ives, the singer he had replaced. EMI 749 5561
Street Songs (1998)
The King’s Singers join forces with the world-famous Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie for this uniquely inspiring recording, which features commissions from composers based in Johannesburg and the Western Cape alongside British composer Steve Martland’s Street Songs, consisting of diverse settings of English children’s rhymes.
The recording of the disc was accompanied by a major international tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ensemble’s first ever major concert together. RCA G010000245012M
Landscape and Time (2006)
John McCabe, Peter Maxwell Davies and Richard Rodney Bennett are among the composers featured on this impeccably sung disc of modern masterpieces, recorded in the calm of a church in deepest rural Gloucestershire in the summer of 2006. With works by composers such as Sibelius, Kodály and Cyrillus Kreek also thrown into the mix, the singers’ language skills are to the fore as the disc takes us through texts in Finnish, Hungarian and Japanese among others. An example of choral craftmanship at its very finest. Signum SIGCD090
Recorded shortly before their golden anniversary, the King’s Singers celebrate the group’s 50 years over three discs that range from the Renaissance, through composers such as Saint-Saëns and Schubert, to songs specially commissioned for the occasion. Die-hard fans, meanwhile, will also want to invest in the GOLD book, edited and co-written by BBC Music Magazine‘s Jeremy Pound and charting five decades of King’s Singers history and including interviews with all 24 past-and-present members of the group up until 2017. Signum SIGCD500 (discs); KSB50 (book)