And the University Finalists are…

‘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.


How to be an a cappella champion – by former winners of the Voice Festival

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)…

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)


Earlybird tickets released for our Festival Weekend

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!


Merry Christmas Everyone! A Run Down of Our Favourite Festive A Cappella

As much as we love a good Christmas tune, there’s only so much Wham! we can take… so it’s always really exciting when a cappella groups embrace the festive spirit and put a new and unique spin on a well-known seasonal song.

This year especially, groups have been pulling out all the stops to produce brilliant sounding, visually stunning performances of classic songs, so we thought the time was ripe to share with you some of our favourite offerings. Why don’t you hit us up on Facebook or Twitter and tell us some of yours?

Beatvox – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

I love this catchy and original reinvention of a classic carol and the fact that it features Voice Festival participants and professionals working together – it sums up everything that is great about the UK a cappella scene! – Alex

The Bristol Suspensions – Merry Christmas Everyone (Shakin’ Stevens)

It’s great to see last year’s VF-UK University Champions in their element and having kept their uniquely fun spirit despite the loss of some incredible members. The combination of the arrangement and one of the cutest videos of 2016 means you can’t help but feel warm, fuzzy and festive! – Houmaa

Eclipse 6 – Hamildolph (An American Christmas Story)

If a cappella is my number one love, then musical theatre is my second – Hamilton being my one of favourite shows. Mash up a cappella, Hamilton and Christmas, and I’m a very happy gal! One of the things I love most about a cappella is that it gives you an outlet to defy the norm in a way that other art forms don’t allow. The costumes are amazing here, and everything has been executed with such care and skill that you can’t help but smile! – Jess

Pentatonix – Mary, Did You Know? (Michael English)

I love this song from a group that truly have taken a cappella into the mainstream. This comes from a fantastic Christmas album, and I love this particular track because it is more stripped back than some of their other offerings. I hope this album inspires more groups to start up, and existing groups to try something out of their comfort zone. – Catherine

AfterParty – Last Christmas (Wham!)

I like this cover because the video is well thought-out and has a story to it that keeps you interested. I think it’s great when a group uses video to do something more than they could do with an audio recording and I think this one demonstrates that well! – Simon


Meet University Champions 2016 – The Bristol Suspensions

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.

Our set

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!

What’s next?

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!

The Bristol Suspensions - University Champions 2016


Judge Insight with Richard Eteson

Richard EtesonIf 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?

You can follow Richard Eteson on Twitter @WillyEteson


Meet Andy

Andy

Andy

1. How did you get involved with VFUK?

Last year I was kind of a ‘Birmingham Consultant’- I showed a member of the team around Birmingham Conservatoire before the venue had been decided for the finals in 2015. When it was announced I just helped out in whatever way I could. I also got to MC the semi-finals this year (which was an experience!) along with helping out at the Edinburgh Showcase this Summer gone. When I heard there were openings in the team I thought it would be great to get involved in VFUK in a more official way – so here I am!

2. What is your role within the team?

Fringe Festival Officer. I’m going to be working with other members of the team to organise events (such as showcases, workshops and other events) and try to support and promote UK a cappella up in Edinburgh.

3. What has been you favourite VFUK moment so far?

Probably the atmosphere at the showcase up in Edinburgh. As shown by their self arranged football tournament- every group is just up there to have a good time. It was great to be up there, and I can’t wait to start the planning for next year!

4. Who is your favourite professional group?

I was lucky enough to shadow the Swingle Singers at the LACF 2015 for an academic project I was doing, and I still find their ability to sing in such a dynamic range of styles to be pretty captivating. There are some amazing groups out there (Pentatonix, The Real Group… and I’m a big fan of Voiceplay) but the Swingles just tip it for me.

5. Have you got any secret talent/fact to share with everyone?

I unintentionally found myself doing stand-up at the fringe festival this year… and sadly that isn’t a joke.

6. Sum up VFUK in 3 words

Inclusive, Growing and Bonkers

7. What do you do outside of the a cappella world?

I’m a final year vocal and operatic student at Birmingham Conservatoire. I also run vocal and outreach workshops at local schools, societies and events.


Meet Houmaa

1.    How did you get involved with VFUK?

Having fallen in love with a cappella in the summer of 2014 (those should be song lyrics), I discovered The Voice Festival on YouTube not long after. In a twist of fate, I then discovered the 2015 Festival Weekend would be held in Birmingham (where I live) for the first time. After a mind-blowing volunteering stint at the Weekend, my heart and sights were set on becoming an official teammember. And here I am!

2. What is your role within the team?

I am University Programme Officer which means I help Zoe with anything to do with the Voice Festival’s University programme. I am also focusing to targeting Youth and University programme alumni to encourage them to continue with a cappella in the next stages of their lives.

3. What has been your favourite VFUK moment so far?

Everything about volunteering at the 2015 and 2016 festival weekenda! Meeting the VFUK team for the first time, talking to various competing groups, attending workshops, meeting my idols, taking away inspiration for my own a cappella group, watching some breath-taking performances from the front row etc.

4. Who is your favourite professional group?

It’s cruelty to make me pick just one group! But The Sons of Pitches have inspired me in so many ways, so I have to say them.

5. Have you got any secret talent/fact to share with everyone?

I can only stay with the a cappella theme (because I have approximately 0 other talents and because who doesn’t love a bit of shameless self-promotion?) and say that I founded an a cappella group called AbraCappella within weeks of arriving at university.

6. Sum up VFUK in 3 words.
 
Dreams. Come. True.

7. What do you do outside of the a cappella world?

I’m going into my third year of studying Psychology at the University of Birmingham. I also work as Head of Physical Sales and Merchandise at the university’s record label, New Street Records, which is pretty cool.


#VFUK2016 DAY 2

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


#vfuk2016 Day 1

Well, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for our University singers today. We saw an extraordinary range of music, from songs in a foreign language (Tous les Memes by Stromae) to some killer versions of Adele’s Hello.

We didn’t envy the job of our judges, Yvette, Paul and Richard, who had to pick only five of the twelve groups to proceed to tomorrow’s final. Congratulations to

The Bristol Suspensions
The Songsmiths
Cadenza
Aquapella
The Rolling Tones

who succeeded in impressing the judges and will be battling it out to become the next University champions!

Special awards also went to:

The Songsmiths for Outstanding Overall Performance
Cadenza for Outstanding Musicality with their performance of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’
Zara Tso from The Rolling Tones for Outstanding Individual (a brand new award for this year!)

For those that have been asking – we don’t have many tickets left for the University Final, but the limited few available will go on sale at Box Office tomorrow at 10am.

To celebrate the success of all our singers (who totally did themselves proud today, no matter the result), we’re wrapping up the evening with the ‘Acachallenge’. It’s traditionally lead by our very own Michael Humphrey but he’s disappeared to the Caribbean this year (huff) so the wonderful Ed Scott is taking up the mantle and leading our singers through a well-deserved relaxed singing and dancing sesh!