‘Groups absolutely blew us away with their energy. It was fantastic.’ – Jo Marshall
Just a quick blog post from us this evening to let all you aca fans out there know that the five university groups performing in the final tomorrow will be:
– Sweet Nothings
– The Rolling Tones
– In The Pink
– The Songsmiths
– Tone Up
There were also certificates awarded in several categories:
– Outstanding Soloist: Beth Chalmers of the Sweet Nothings for ‘Chandelier’
– Outstanding Arrangement: David Culpin, friend of RadioOctave, for ‘Space Oddity’
– Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Josceline Edwards of The Rolling Tones
Congratulations to everyone that competed, with a special thanks to Zara Tso, Leo Diebel, Jack Remmington and Joel Fishel for their fabulous MCing and performances.
Tickets have come back on sale on our website and will be available to purchase until 9am on 22nd April. All remaining tickets will be available on the door on a first-come, first-served basis.
It’s only ten days until our Festival Weekend, and our finalists (eighteen groups, to be exact) are all working their socks off to bring killer sets to the Voice Festival stage. As we write, they’ll be finalising last bits of choreography and polishing those tricky harmonies in order to impress our professional judges and become the 2017 champions.
So, we thought it would be a great time to get in touch with some of our former university champions to find out what the winning formula is for victory! Read on for five top tips from Andy Greer (Choral Stimulation, Ward Swingle Award for Originality, 2015) and Tim Jones (Out of the Blue, University Champions, 2009)…
Choral Stimulation, The Voice Festival UK University Championships at Birmingham Conservatoire, 2015
1. Be Attentive
‘However your group is organised – whether you have a committee, a musical director or everyone gets involved with leading your rehearsals – give whoever’s taking you through your preparations the very best of your time.
People can sometimes lose interest because they see (or fear the onset of) a lack of focus. Make it your personal responsibility to avoid contributing to any unnecessary distractions.’ (Tim Jones)
2. Be Invested
‘…both in terms of effort and resources. As a university group we never had a lot of resources or funding, but we did have time and passion. This lead to the world’s first paradoxical original a cappella song – Who Even Listens to A Cappella? After winning the Ward Swingle Award at the VF-UK Final 2015 we produced the song as a music video. Both the production and content have since won international awards which would not have been possible without our winnings, but also the time and effort we put into it.’ (Andy Greer)
3. Be Gracious
‘Things will probably go wrong. Distraction can happen. Set lists might change and you may well find yourself behind. Sometimes people miss rehearsals or fail to learn music, or from personal experience they may even miss their train to the competition venue (!) and that’s not OK.
Even so, punishing yourself and falling out with one another over these things will not add anything to your preparations. Acknowledge what’s gone wrong and apologise well, absolutely, but forgive in equal measure and, if necessary, put in the extra time and thank one another for doing so.’ (Tim Jones)
4. Be Original
‘All champions have their own identity. You won’t stand out trying to emulate, and even if you emulate well the chances are that the originators have earned all the kudos – so always stay true, and never compromise your overarching theme. Choral Stimulation are renowned for partying (in fact, the first line of our website reads “a drinking group with a serious singing problem”). Despite our unorthodox brand, clients such as Formula 1 booked us as headliners for the main stage at the Grand Prix Final recently because our performance “made their hair stand on end” – a byproduct of the social and subsequent musical harmony at the heart of Choral Stimulation.’ (Andy Greer)
5. Be Real
‘Let’s face it, you’re in an a cappella group, you probably quite enjoy singing well with like-minded people in front of an audience who care about what you’re doing. As such, the Voice Festival is an incredible opportunity. You’re being encouraged to do what you love by a culture of people who love (and I mean genuinely love) what you do, especially when you do it well.
So – don’t miss that opportunity, but don’t make it out to be anything more or less than it is. In a “Pitch Perfect” world, a cappella can be over-dramatised and misrepresented – competitions especially. Don’t get caught up in the stories people tell.
Instead, get caught up in exactly what you’re doing, especially on stage – because believe me, it shows.’ (Tim Jones)
For the second year in a row, our annual Festival Weekend will be taking place at the beautiful Hammond Theatre at Hampton School, West London, on the 21st and 22nd April 2017.
The Festival Weekend is undoubtedly the highlight of The Voice Festival’s calendar. The weekend, which includes our annual championships, brings together hundreds of participants and audience members in a celebration of singing and creativity. While it’s too late to apply to compete this year, members of the public can still get involved in other ways. Read on to find out how!
1) Cheer on your favourite group as it competes to become VF-UK champion
We have three separate competition categories – Youth, University, and Community. You can purchase tickets to each individual final – get yours here, from £12 (get 25% off before 7 April).
2) Rub shoulders with fellow singers and attend our series of workshops and forums across the weekend
Throughout the weekend, internationally renowned a cappella professionals will lead a series of workshops on improvisation, beatboxing, vocal health, dancing, recording, and more. These workshops are open for everyone to attend – purchase your Weekend Pass to join us in the workshops, and gain access to all the competition finals too, from £39 (get 25% off before 7 April).
3) Join the conversation on social media
Can’t be there on the weekend? We’ll be sad to miss you, but we’ll be sharing all the best bits of the weekend on our Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as live-streaming the results announcements on Facebook Live, so you don’t get that FOMO feeling. Got something to say? Use the hashtag #VFUK2017.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you to West London in just 6 weeks!
The Bristol Suspensions are still lost for words after an unforgettable weekend at VF-UK. So, they thought they’d let one of their more talkative (shall we say?) members, Stanford, share his experience of the competition in the way that only he can. We hope you enjoy…
Heading into the Voice Festival Weekend was a manic blur. With Suspensions jetting in from across the globe, our perennial organisational monarch Rafaella Barratt had a mammoth task in ensuring our collective arrival at Hampton School, but we made it and (lack of sleep notwithstanding) arrived in high spirits.
Back in 2015…
Our group had competed in the Voice Festival once before, last year in our first year as an ensemble, and it was a thunderously eye-opening experience that reinvented the way we all approached a cappella. The talent of all the other groups inspired us all to work our noggins off to push the boundaries ever harder regarding our arrangements, our choreography, our performance and even our dynamics – as insisted by our MDs! We wanted nothing more than to deliver on the standard present at the University Competition that had been such a showcase of diverse, kickass talent in 2015.
And to 2016!
This year was no different – the Sweet Nothings sizzled sass, Aquapella delivered on their reputation for next-level musicality, RadioOctave dropped musical puns and swag, and our Bristol-based buddies Pitch Fight made their VoiceFest debut and absolutely rocked our socks off. The Rolling Tones also provided a personal highlight with a stellar arrangement of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ (if you haven’t watched it, watch it).
Our group had competed in the Voice Festival once before, last year in our first year as an ensemble. It was a thunderously eye-opening experience that reinvented the way we all approached a cappella. The talent of all the other groups inspired us all to work our noggins off to push the boundaries ever harder regarding our arrangements, our choreography, our performance and even our dynamics – as insisted by our MDs! We wanted nothing more than to deliver on the standard present at the University Competition that had been such a showcase of diverse, kickass talent in 2015.
The calibre of the competing groups was just as immense as we’d remembered, and we were thrilled to share a stage with so many groups that all had a unique style to bring. Being surrounded by such talent is a surreal experience, but we entered into the whole affair with a group mentality of aiming for enjoyment rather than victory. We knew that this would help settle the nerves and make it easier to convey our own goofy brand of humour. To have made it through the video auditions stage was a privilege in itself so we weren’t too stressed out by expectation.
For our semi-final set we had decided on one of our favourite pieces of the year, a comedic mash-up of ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘Trouble’ arranged by one of our two MDs, Joe Pickin. This featured alongside one of our more experimental and recent additions to our repertoire, a medley of ‘Everything Everything’ numbers arranged by myself and our criminally modest beatboxer, Scott.
The hope was that the two arrangements would offset each other nicely and convey our ability to be both humorous and serious, although our decision not to perform any rendition of ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ had us feeling very left out!
Our progression to the finals was utterly unanticipated, and had us all absolutely giddy and gleeful. We leapt into the ‘aca-challenge’ with enthusiasm and had to rein in our joy and pride to avoid partying the night away, as we’d unexpectedly found that we had to save our voices for another stage of competition!
Workshops and the final!
We spent the following morning reclaiming our relaxed team environment by attending the various workshops and round table talks on offer at the festival. The choreo workshop especially highlighted the dazzling potential of certain group members. It’s all in the smile. Our last efforts were spent polishing our overall set, with the final addition of ‘Madness/Magic’ an arrangement the group had fallen in love with and the magnum opus of our other MD, Aliak Bedirian. It was the last piece of the puzzle that was our attempt to perform with a broad range of emotions, and sounded pretty neat too.
The standard at the final was phenomenal beyond our expectations. Bristol Suspensions were readily gushing backstage at what it meant for our group to even be appearing in a final with such honed and musical ensembles. To be counted among them was truly something else. We couldn’t stop grinning and that led to us performing our hearts out, giving it our all with complete trust in one another and generally having a #goodtimeonstage
And the winners are…
Evidently it came across, as, in some wacky fairy tale twist ending, we were immensely privileged to be announced as the champions. We also achieved awards for beatboxing and choreography and a beatboxing battle trophy along the way (to add to Scott’s list of achievements to humbly downplay).
We were so surprised and elated that, with true Bristol Suspensions class, we could only flop about the stage screaming like schoolchildren. We’d aimed only to have as enjoyable a weekend as possible, and ended up with an honour that blew our minds. Objective achieved.
With one last teary and bizarrely up-tempo encore performance of Madness/Magic, the competition was over, and we quickly elected to celebrate long past the early hours. A little too much cider and a little too much Singstar – the Bristol way. Amidst the revelry, a lot of pride was felt over our newest soprano, Eleanor, who made her debut as a group member at the event, as well as our MDs for all their hard work bearing fruit in such a positive way. The result validated the long hours of dedication, and that made us all feel absolutely on top of the world!
We’re completely indebted to the VF-UK team for delivering on such an entertaining and informative weekend. We’re so grateful for what we’ve achieved. Meeting and singing alongside other a cappella groups continues to be the highlight of such endeavours, and VF-UK is such an opportunity to get to know others, not to mention how useful and enjoyable the various workshops were. We had a blast.
We’ve got some plans in the works, as we’ve got to live up to our title now! We’ll be taking our EdFringe show, ‘Netflix and Trill’, up to the festival at the beginning of August, and we’ll be popping our heads into VF-UK’s own Edinburgh showcase as well. There are whispers within the group of some other surprises in store so keep an eye (and ear) out…
But for now, thank you to VF-UK and all the other groups for a fantastic weekend. The Bristol Suspensions can’t wait to see what the next year has in store!
If you were writing a who’s who of UK a cappella, The Swingle Singers line up over the years would be a good place to start. Richard Eteson sang High Tenor with the Swingles for over 10 years and can be heard on 8 of their albums. Not to mention that he is a Voice Festival stalwart – coming back time and time again to judge for us, so he’s seen his fair share of UK a cappella over the years. This year he was one third of the University Semi-Final judging team and enjoyed watching 12 groups perform 8 minutes each.
After the weekend Richard shared some reflection on his judging experience, as well as some hints and tips that he would absolutely love to tell groups as they are planning sets in the future.
So first things first, what did you think of what you saw at the Festival Weekend?
I really enjoyed it and although it is a cliche, the standard really does keep getting higher every year. There is now real quality throughout the semi-finals and finals which is fantastic to see, although it makes it much tougher for the judges of course.
Time is short in a set, so what do you wish groups made more time for?
I felt a lot of performances have become quite formulaic as competition showcases – “let’s show off what our group/our star soloist can do, and pick a good balance of fast/slow songs ticking as many boxes as possible”. In essence I feel there needs to be a solid reason to include anything in a set – ask yourselves, “What is the function of this song/solo/bit of VP/feature?” or “How should this make the audience react/feel?”.
Impressive skills and impeccable performance are now very much a given at this level, much more can be explored in transmitting the emotion/feeling/reason of a song.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a group telling a single story throughout the set – maybe reaching over into drama a little bit. While we know time is precious particularly when planning for the Voice Festival or an Edinburgh show, groups might consider making a brief announcement between songs to the audience (either to make it more personable, or to make it seem more like a gig, to tell us more about the group, the song, the soloist, the back story of an arrangement), to make a connection between the performers and the audience.
Most importantly – The Voice Festival has one of the best judging rubrics around – a third of this is devoted to creativity in any aspect of the performance – be bold and imaginative – if done well it really will make you stand out!
Musically, what makes the excellent stand out from the average?
The general quality of musicianship and performance is now extremely high – always try and go deeper and further in rehearsal preparation than the next group in terms of tuning, solid groove/time, blend, ensemble, dynamic range, balance of voices, contrast or unity of voicing, style of song. In rehearsal there should always be something else that you can refine when breaking down an arrangement. Remember though once you’ve done all that work, that the song needs to be put back together again and still make sense as a whole.
Arranging is getting more ambitious, but it would be great for groups to consider writing an original song from time to time (rather than an arrangement of a well known song)
We know that groups are thinking about the visual impact of their shows more and more; what do you wish groups would consider?
Couple of thoughts on this one – particularly for the University and Youth groups: How about getting away from the uniform-like costumes? Consider starting the set off stage (at the moment every group enters, lines up, blows a note then starts), or staggering the entry (starting with a few singers then adding more bit by bit as the song grows).
And what about something different that a group could incorporate into their set?
Well, no one has the monopoly of ideas on this one but what about some audience participation in a classy way – not just clapping along, but teaching them a chorus line, or a 2 part refrain, or some elaborate body percussion that adds an extra dimension to the performance?
We want to start our Day 2 blog post with possibly the loveliest image of the weekend so far, which is just a great indication of the way our groups support and encourage each other, even in the face of formidable competition.
We had a load of great stuff going on during the day – Andrew Panton had singers up on their feet working on choreography, Tobias Hug and Grace Savage shared their unique vocal percussion sounds with groups of all ages, and some lucky participants appeared onscreen in a music video that will be coming soon to our YouTube channel! Meanwhile singers had the benefit of Russell Scott’s expertise in performance, and we held some useful round table discussions on the challenges of being an MD and the highs and lows of taking a group to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
So, to the news we know you’ve al been waiting for.
The Youth champions, for the second time since the Youth Competition began, are the Tiffinians!
Special prizes were awarded to: Annabelle Brooks of Grace Notes for Outstanding Soloist with ‘Feeling Good’ Grace Notes for Outstanding Performance The Tiffinians for Outstanding Arrangement with ‘Sunny Afternoon’ License to Trill for Outstanding Choreography
And – the University champions 2016 are the Bristol Suspensions!
The standard was ridiculously high and the judges couldn’t help but give out not one, not two, but FIVE special awards to commend the amazing talent of our groups. Aquapella for Outstanding Musicality Bristol Suspensions for Outstanding Choreography Alex from Cadenza for Outstanding Arrangement with ‘Hide and Seek’ Ben Drinkwater from the Songsmiths for Best Soloist with ‘Hello’ Scott from Bristol Suspensions for Best Vocal Percussionist
We’re really excited to be able to announce our judging lineups. These judges will have the tricky task of narrowing it from 12 University Groups on Friday to 5 for the Final on Saturday. Remember you can get tickets here.
Yvette Riby-Williams appeared twice as a soloist at the royal Albert Hall before the age of twenty-one. Since then she has performed with a number of well-known musicians including Imogen Heap, Shlomo, Seb Rochford and Jarvis Cocker. In the last years she has made a name for herself in the beatbox and a’cappella circles with the ‘Boxettes’ selling out venues such as the Jazz Cafe, Cargo and the South Bank as well as performing in festivals all over the world. She is an experienced music educator, promoting creative learning for all ages.
Richard Eteson is one of London’s most versatile and accomplished tenors. From local beginnings as a choirboy in Bingley, West Yorkshire, he went on to become Head Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, later returning there as a tenor Choral Scholar studying Japanese and English.
For over 10 years he sang high tenor with The Swingle Singers, travelling the world, recording 8 albums and performing in many of the world’s leading venues such as La Scala, Milan; The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam; Suntory Hall, Tokyo; the Esplanade Centre, Singapore; and the Parco della Musica, Rome. In 2010 he founded the London A Cappella Festival.
He has sung with many of London’s finest vocal groups, choirs and session groups (The Gabrieli Consort, Tenebrae, The Temple Church, Polyphony, Tonus Peregrinus, The Brabant Ensemble, The Eric Whitacre Singers, Heritage Voices, The Philharmonia Voices and London Voices), and regularly appears as a soloist of oratorio in the UK. He is frequently called upon as a judge of singing competitions and is a tutor for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.
The many varied projects he has been involved in have seen him work with artists such as Luciano Berio, Antonio Pappano, Jarvis Cocker, Scott Walker, Hans Zimmer, Sting, Aphex Twin and Goldie. He has made over 50 CD recordings and sung on numerous blockbuster movie soundtracks (e.g. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and James Bond Spectre).
He also has sleeve credits for dog whistling, playing coconut shells and the “Good Friday Clacker”.
Paul Smith is an innovative and creative performer, an inspirational educator and an empowering public speaker. As CEO of the VCM Foundation, co-founder of VOCES8 and author of The VOCES8 Method he has enjoyed a decade of work including global travel to prestigious concert venues, schools and universities. Paul is passionate about the impact singing and the arts can have in the widest possible context – from academic improvement to social skills and building more cohesive communities. He uses that passion to design and deliver unique, inclusive and uplifting performance projects.
The VOCES8 Method, written by Paul, is published by Edition Peters in three languages, and is now being used in thousands of schools in nine countries. The Method is designed to link specific music-making activities with academic improvement in numeracy, literacy and linguistics.
Since its inception in 2007 the VCM Foundation has worked with more than 250,000 young people. Projects have included massed singing performances at the Royal Opera House (London), Cité de la Musique (Paris) and La Folle Journée (Nantes); and with ‘singing city’ projects in cities such as Torino, Wroclaw, Lyon, Hannover, Houston, Albuquerque, Dallas/Fort Worth, Bermuda, Nairobi, Lagos, Dubai, Tokyo, and Taipei. Working in partnership with the Diocese of London, Paul has spearheaded the creation of a home for the VCM Foundation at the Gresham Centre, a centre for excellence in vocal music performance, education and outreach in the heart of the City of London.
As an educator and public speaker, Paul has given speeches and created sessions on music and leadership, teamwork, health and wellbeing, music and creativity and The VOCES8 Method. In 2014 he gave a TEDx talk entitled “How can we use music to help us learn?”. Engagements at international conferences include the ACDA National and Regional conventions; Europa Cantat; the London Music Education Expo at the Barbican; Chor.com, Germany; the World Symposium of Singing in Budapest at the Liszt Music Academy; Singing Cities at BOZAR in Brussels; and at the Royal College of Music in London.
Paul has been singing for nearly 25 years, first as a boy chorister with the choir of Westminster Abbey, and, since 2005 with the group he co-founded with his brother, VOCES8. As a recording artist with Decca Classics, Paul has featured on bestselling, chart-topping albums and won a host of international awards.
We’re really excited to be able to announce our judging lineups. Here’s the judges who will be picking our University Winner. Remember you can get tickets here.
Nic Doodson has been at the forefront of the global a cappella scene for the past 20 years as a performer, director, competition judge and producer. As a performer he founded The Magnets and took the group from amateur student beginnings to the most successful a cappella group to ever emerge from UK. The Magnets were the first contemporary a cappella group to land a major record deal when they signed with EMI in 2001 and went on to release three ground breaking and award winning records. Notching up over 2000 performances throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Australia, The Magnets set the template for contemporary a cappella performances which is now followed by up and coming vocal bands the world over; in many countries The Magnets were the first a cappella group to break through to the mainstream pop field and have performed to sold out crowds in cities such as Mumbai, Jerusalem, Harare (Zimbabwe), Moscow, Calcutta, Shanghai, Nanjing (China), Sydney, Auckland, New York, Berlin, Vienna, Singapore and many others.
As a producer Nic has created and managed a cappella shows at festivals throughout Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and as one of the most experienced a cappella performers in the world has judged multiple national and international a cappella competitions.
Having established a world-class reputation in the beatboxing scene with THREE British Beatboxing Championship titles under her belt, Grace is set to break into the music industry by harnessing her extraordinary vocal power in a melodic blend of edgy electronic pop. Her Debut EP is a beautifully crafted selection of dreamy, atmospheric pop which perfectly showcases Savage’s ethereal vocals alongside her beatboxing talent. With crashing beats, brooding production and hypnotic synth, the lead track ‘Diamonds on Your Skin’ was crowned the favourite of the show by the panel on BBC INTRODUCING Devon.
Fronting a live band and singing, Grace has shared the main stage at festivals with the likes of Rita Ora and Katy B, supported Labrinth and Newton Faulkner on his solo tour, as well as performing at the Glastonbury Festival and Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival. Grace’s loop station cover of BANKS ‘Waiting Game’ recently caught the eye of SBTV founder Jamal Edwards, leading to her SBTV debut and a request from the man himself to make a follow up which will feature on the website very soon.
Savage’s extraordinary creativity spans across her singing, acting and beatboxing alike, with Grace recently been listed as one of ELLE UK’s ‘Top 100 inspiring women’ alongside the likes of Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey. Following success at The National Theatre and a solo show at SOHO Theatre, Grace is receiving repeated high praise from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The independent, Metro, London Evening Standard to name but a few and is now signed to UNITED agents as an actor.
Russell Scott has been in the music industry, professionally, for over 35 years working in the worlds of Classical and Musical Theatre. He is not only a Producer and Musical Director, but an accomplished Singer and Vocal Coach.
As a performer he has performed all over the world, as a soloist and with leading choirs and orchestras. With over 100,000 record sales across his 4 solo albums, he’s also appeared on countless film soundtracks, opera, pop and musical theatre recordings.
His company, Russell Scott Entertainment Limited has developed into a successful and reputable entertainment production company specialising in creating and producing high profile, high-end productions. It has produced a number of hugely successful shows across the UK including ‘An Evening of Don Black’, ‘An Evening of Tim Rice’, ‘The Wonderful World of Ashman, Menken & Schwartz, and ‘From Stage And Screen… And Back Again!’ which raised over £15,000 for charity. He produced the critically acclaimed ‘Godspell In Concert’ at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End in 2014 which went on to tour the UK in 2015.
Specialising in ‘performance’, he regularly directs masterclasses and workshops, and has worked with choirs and ensembles around the UK including the acclaimed Military Wives Choir. He is Musical Director of Next Stage Choir and Waddesdon Manor Choir.
Russell leads an enormously busy life having achieved great success in the cross-over of genres. Music is his soul and his passion, and he is committed to finding and developing new musical talent, giving opportunity to those with the ability and dedication to succeed at the highest level.
For more information about Russell Scott, please visit www.russellscottentertainment.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @RussellScottUK and presents his own YouTube blog, A Life In Music with Russell Scott, aimed at performers who strive to be the best they can be.
Semi-Toned have been involved with the Voice Festival UK since before I even went to university. In 2012, the group, barely eighteen months old, entered the South West regional of the competition in Bristol. Although they made a strong impression, taking home the awards for outstanding arrangement and vocal percussion, they lost out on a place in the final to Bristol’s HotTUBBS, a group Semi-Toned would not cross paths with again until 2015’s Voice Festival weekend. The following year—my first at university—the South West regional competition was held in Exeter. By then we had abandoned our barbershop roots and performed a much more contemporary set, consisting of Cee Lo Green, Hard-Fi, Stevie Wonder and Muse. It was in this performance that the group first began to realise its potential, with judge and former Swingle Singer Tobias Hug offering strong words of encouragement. However, the confidence we had gained was soon washed away at the London final, where it became clear that we had a long way to go to catch up with the other, more established university groups. We left empty-handed, but excited to have ‘broken in’ to the university a cappella circuit, even if the best compliment we received was Dominic Peckham’s observation that our outfits matched the stage curtains.
In the summer of 2013, Semi-Toned headed to Edinburgh to put on our first ever Fringe show. We improved massively in preparation for this, and the work paid off—the show was a huge success, and by the time Voice Festival 2014 rolled around, we had established ourselves as a group to watch out for. This improvement was well-timed, as the Voice Festival’s decision to scrap the regional competitions in favour of a video submission-based system meant that all groups were competing with each other, across the nation. As you can imagine, whilst this was fairer, the standard necessary to be invited to the London semi-final was suddenly much higher. Thankfully, we made it through both the video round and the semi-final. At the final, we made a much stronger impression than the year before, largely due to the outlandish nature of our set—our mash-up of Olly Murs’ “Dear Darling” and Ylvis’ “The Fox” certainly managed to a raise a few eyebrows, as well as our Tolkien-tinged version of John Newman’s “Cheating”. We managed to snatch two awards—including “Best Soloist” for the irreplaceable Michael Luya—but lost out on the ultimate prize to the professionalism and charm of Oxford’s Out of the Blue, whose stunning rendition of “The Sound of Silence” meant they became the first group to win the competition twice.
Having felt that we were so close to winning, it would be a lie to say we were not disappointed that day. It was becoming clear that the standard of UK collegiate a cappella was improving exponentially, and we certainly felt the pressure to get ourselves ahead of the curve in preparation for our second Edinburgh Fringe show that summer. Despite any internal doubts we had, the group managed to pull it off, and “Toned Up!” managed to cinch a Bobby Award, one of only a handful given out that year by review company Broadway Baby. This perfect end to the academic year was slightly foreboding for me, as I had just been elected as Semi-Toned’s first official musical director (the group had run itself somewhat anarchically since the departure of founding father and eternal president Eddie Henley). I knew when the 2014/2015 year began that the only way the group could outdo itself again was to win the Voice Festival.
This was also the year that the group underwent its most significant re-shuffle in terms of membership. With five new faces in a twelve-man group, first term was largely spent frantically learning repertoire to quickly crank the group up to the standard we were used to. I can’t praise our new members enough for the diligence and raw talent they displayed in the early weeks of this year, performing music at multiple large gigs which they had barely gotten a chance to learn. The upside of all this raw focus, of course, was that, even though almost half the group had changed since Edinburgh, Semi-Toned were back on form very quickly, and earned an excruciatingly close second place at the ICCA’s first British regional in January 2015. Our friends in All the King’s Men took the prize, and as they performed their victory song we began to set our sights on the only goal we had left—Voice Festival 2015.
As usual, our preparation was anything but structured. Having customised our ICCA set for a microphone-based performance, we knew we could not simply touch it up and take it to Birmingham in April for VF-UK. But the problem with knowing that you need new repertoire is that you have to actually write new repertoire—and waves of inspiration are few and far between. Thankfully, we already had a fantastic number arranged by Eddie Henley, an aggressive mash-up of “No Church in the Wild” and the theme from Game of Thrones which featured in our 2014 Edinburgh show. Newbie tenor Ted Bartram took on the seemingly impossible task of replacing Adam Carpenter in this song, and gave the solo an icy, characterful flavour that we knew was sure to impress.
Our two other semi-final pieces turned up as and when we needed them, which is always the way. My mash-up of “Uptown Funk” and Flo Rida’s “Low” (“Lowtown Funk”, geddit?) meant we had the comic element we always strive for, and Rob Cross, who had previously only dabbled in arranging, surprised us all by turning up with a stunning arrangement of Regina Spektor’s “Samson”, meaning we had the Luya-bomb primed and ready to drop. However, we still had a big, gaping, four-minute hole that needed filling in case we got through to the final and had to perform for twelve minutes instead of eight. We began to wonder what old song we could slot in there—perhaps Mulan’s “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” would do it, or even Meat Loaf’s “Dead Ringer for Love” which went down so well in Edinburgh?
But then a thought struck me—in our Edinburgh show, a number that really pleased the audience was our rendition of “Cry me a River”, which replaced Justin Timberlake’s famous falsetto with a trio of basses. The general lack of solos for those of us blessed (or cursed) with lower voices was something I wanted to exploit again, and a few days later I had arranged a version of the famous bass solo “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, mixed up with Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”. We decided to take a risk and make this song our ‘secret weapon’, opting not to perform it in the semi-final and just pray we got through to the final. We soon began to regret this when we saw the standard of the competition in the semi-final—every single group performed better than we had ever seen them perform. How on earth the judges managed to whittle the twelve competitors down to just five finalists is beyond me. We particularly enjoyed the other four groups at the festival representing the South West—our old friends from Bath Aquapella were classy as ever; the Bristol Suspensions had come on leaps and bounds since we first met them back in October; our female counterparts the Sweet Nothings absolutely raised the roof with their version of “Midnight Caller”; and we finally got to see the HotTUBBS perform again—their instruction “Don’t forget the Mexican spices” has quickly become something of an anthem for us.
If we thought the semi-finals were tough, the finals were on a different league altogether. Every year the Voice Festival UK gets better, but in 2015 the standard was unreal. At one point, when the judges were about to announce the over-all winner, I reassured my friend Tommy that any single one of the groups deserved to win, and that we should not be ashamed to be a runner-up amongst such stellar competition. When the judges announced that we had won, the room exploded—I honestly can’t remember much about what happened next, except that we performed “Rich Man” one more time, at a tempo that, as musical director and as the song’s soloist, I would definitely call ‘uncomfortable’. Nonetheless, it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend, and the next day, bleary-eyed and still not quite believing we’d finally done it, we headed down to Heathrow to begin our first ever international tour to the east coast of the USA.
Thanks to Edward Scott of Semi-Toned for contributing this guest post.
Jess seen here third from right with her group, The Kingstones
Our very own VF-UK team member Jess reflects on her journey to being in her very first a cappella group, her role within VF and more!
It’s no secret that I love a cappella.
It originated through late night YouTube searches of my favourite songs, but when I moved to London for university, I was introduced to a whole new world – a bubble of a cappella, if you will. Attending the Voice Festival weekend in 2014 and seeing so many incredible groups not only competing against each other, but also bonding as part of a community cemented it in my mind – I wanted to be part of a group myself.
But where did I start? I didn’t know anyone crazy enough to start a group with me, and I wasn’t sure how to do it by myself. I knew I wanted to be involved in any way I could, so I joined the Voice Festival team in June 2014. We published a guide a few months later on how to start your own a cappella group (which you can see if you click here), which included a list of questions to consider such as group size, group name etc. Reading it made me want to start even more!
In October 2014, a girl posted on a Kingston University Society page on Facebook saying that she wanted to start up an a cappella group. I couldn’t believe it! I contacted her straight away, and soon, The Kingstones was born.
We initially tried to start as soon as we had enough people (around six), but due to scheduling conflicts and commitment issues with some members, we stopped and retried at the beginning of this year. We’ve definitely hit roadblocks – deciding a name one of the big ones! – But on Wednesday 11th March we had our first public performance as a part of our University’s Global Week. Some of our group had never performed in front of a crowd before, so naturally we were nervous, but we all had loads of fun and the crowd were really supportive, too.
I’ve learnt a magnitude of new things since joining; promotional skills, countless new music skills, team building, composing, and obviously which syllables and sounds are best for an electric guitar (verdict: it’s beeyyyooowww. You’re welcome.)
I’ve taken on the role of media manager in which I manage all of our social media accounts (@KUKingstones and The Kingstones on Facebook, go follow/like us, yeah?) and make decisions on things such as logos, t-shirts etc. although we all help each other out, too. We sing such a wide range of music – from The Muppets to Hozier – which means that there’s never a dull moment in rehearsal! We’re already planning our next performance opportunities, and we can’t wait.
Joining a group and getting involved with VF-UK has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It has not only enriched my university experience, but also taken me to places I would never have visited, opened me up to new experiences and challenge my leadership skills, too.
The recent Festival Weekend in Birmingham was such an incredible whirlwind. I’ve never been involved in something as big as this before, and even though it was hectic and so fast paced with 400 things happening at once, I loved every second of it. It actually made me a little bit emotional to see so many diverse, talented, wonderful people all in one place celebrating each other’s successes. The level of talent this year was insane, and I can’t wait to see how the UK a cappella scene progresses.
If you’re considering either starting or joining a group, or even just getting more involved in the a cappella world – my advice? Do it!