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’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 Community Winner. Remember you can get tickets here.
James Davey is one of the UK’s most distinguished and respected young choral directors, in demand for his work as conductor, choir trainer, choral education practitioner, arranger and adjudicator.
A graduate of the MA Choral Education course at Roehampton University, James is Musical Director for; Chantage – BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2006, the Chandos Chamber Choir, the Aylesbury Festival Choir, the Fleet Singers and a number of work-place choirs, including staff choirs at Channel 4 TV and the London Mayor’s staff choir at the Greater London Authority.
Formerly the chief choral advisor for the BBC’s sheet music archives, James regularly conducts and prepares choirs for broadcasts on TV and Radio, and he is also a choir trainer for the Royal College of Music Junior Department, a Guest Conductor for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, and a tutor for the Cranleigh Choral Week, the Ingenium Academy and the Sherborne Summer School of Music.
A graduate of The Royal Academy of Music, Jo began her singing career performing with the internationally acclaimed Swingle Singers and spent over six years touring world renowned music venues (La Scala, The Royal Albert Hall, and Ronnie Scott’s) and working with world class conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Antonio Pappano.
She has since been much in demand on the London session scene recording albums, TV and film soundtracks (Spectre, The Hunger Games Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and often performs with London’s leading vocal ensembles.
Jo also works as a soloist and a jazz singer (The Jo Marshall Trio, Cubana Bop). She is a choral director and vocal tutor for Blackheath Centre for Singing and has led a cappella master classes and choral workshops all over the world.
Since gaining her Bachelor of Music, Rachel has been teaching singing, composing songs and performing extensively. Rachel has also been the BRIT awards correspondent for BBC Somerset, and has judged choral contests, Show Choir Championships and taught Musical Theatre masterclasses in the UK, Canada and Ireland. She also composed the music and lyrics for two musicals that were performed in Somerset.
For four years Rachel was the Musical Director of the UK’s top show choir, Euphoria. The group won many awards and performed in New York, Dublin, Hollywood and at the Royal Albert Hall. In addition to arranging and teaching all the music for Euphoria, Rachel also composed original songs that were recorded by the choir for the album Hollywood Bound. One of these songs was the anti bullying anthem Body On Mute which won numerous awards, was the anthem for the charity Beat Bullying and has now been adopted by The Diana Trust to help raise funds for their anti bullying projects.
Body On Mute was performed by Rachel and the choir on stage in New York, Dublin on BBC radio, live television in Canada and on Sky television. Some of the performances were filmed and have received wonderful comments on YouTube from those currently struggling with the effects of bullying. The lyrics for the song have also been featured in an article written about the choir in the top American Show Choir magazine, and are now on a range of American Apparel t shirts. Body On Mute has also been played on radio stations across America as part of Songs for Social Causes.
Rachel is also a prolific arranger, and has been commissioned to write custom arrangements for vocal groups and show choirs across the world.
Rachel is currently studying for her Masters in Songwriting. She enjoys collaborating with other artists on new songs, and is currently working on a new album. Rachel is honoured to have been made a Fellow of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) in 2014 and a member of BASCA (The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) in 2013.
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.
We’re really excited to be able to announce our judging lineups. Here’s the judges who will be picking our Youth Winner. Remember you can get tickets here.
Tobias Hug has been singing, teaching, travelling for almost 20 years – an a cappella journeyman and beatbox gypsy. He is deeply involved in the a cappella and choral music scene around the globe, a connecting and well-connected figure. Based in London, Tobias has performed or collaborated with The Swingle Singers, Bobby McFerrin, World Music stars Zap Mama, the Puppini Sisters, the London Voices, Jazzchor Freiburg and many more. He currently performs with his The Beatbox Collective, with his own Loop Solo Programme and focusses on Master Studies in ‘Rhythmic Choir Conducting’at the Royal Conservatory of Aalborg, Denmark. His new group Beatvox recently won the UK Event Entertainment Award 2014 for Best New Act (‘Beat the Brief’ Competition).
His deep passion and commitment to teaching leads to workshops and residencies in places as diverse as Singapore, Norway, China and Kenya. Italy though has always been an important centre of his work. As session singer and member of London Voices he has performed on numerous movie soundtracks including The Hobbit and Interstellar. As a voice-over artist, Tobias has been featured on several BBC Radio programmes and commercial computer games.
From 2001-2012, Tobias sang with Grammy-Award winning a cappella group The Swingle Singers and was one of their longest-serving members. As their bass and vocal percussionist he was part of seven studio albums, and performed more than 700 concerts in the great concert halls (from Teatro alla Scala to the Kremlin Palace), with the great orchestras (from the Vienna Philharmonic to the Academia di Santa Cecilia) and with great artists (from Zubin Mehta to Jamie Cullum). As their former Artistic Director he set up collaborations and projects, as well as TV appearances. Together with beatboxer Shlomo (featured on Björk’s album “Medúlla”) he founded the world’s first beatbox choir (now the “Vocal Orchestra”). The Swingles’ or Tobias’ arrangements and voices can be heard on TV show “Glee”, on the most recent Monty Python movie as well as adverts (T-Mobile’s “Welcome home” Flashmob campaign, with 14 Million hits on YouTube).
Born in the midst of the Black Forest, in Freiburg, Germany, Tobias studied Music Education and never limited himself to one particular form of music, exploring anything from throat singing to vocal jazz, from Early Music to beatboxing. Beyond the a cappella world, worked or performed with German techno legend Tiefschwarz, experimental music artist Aphex Twin, classical pianist Katia Labeque, the late Les Paul, loop wizard and Imogen Heap-Collaborator Tim Exile…and many more.
Tobias is co-founder of the London A Cappella Festival and EVA, the European Voices Association and most recently of the italian a cappella festival Vocalemente which he is also Artistic Director and Executive Producer. He advises and adjudicates at festivals like VocalAsia (China), Terem Crossover Competition (St.Petersburg/Russia) the UK Beatbox Championships, Solevoci (Italy), The Voice Festival UK and the CARAs (Recording Awards).
Ben is quickly gaining an enviable reputation as a dynamic conductor and choir trainer, always able to draw the best from his singers. Having left his role of Head of Music at Tewkesbury School in August 2012, he has been in regular demand to lead workshops, start new choirs and conduct existing ones.
He has been Chorus Master for Gloucestershire Music’s Massed Chorus of 500 students which performed at the Royal Albert Hall in the ‘Music For Youth’ in November 2012. This has led to him being a founder conductor of the new Gloucestershire Youth Choir. Ben was also Assistant Conductor for Cheltenham Festival’s production of Benjamin Britten’s community opera, ‘Noye’s Fludde’, and he regularly conducts Tyndale Choral Society, Hanley Voices and Tewkesbury Voices.
Aside from conducting, Ben sings countertenor. He is a member of the international award winning male voice a cappella group, The Songmen. With The Songmen, he has toured America, China, much of Europe and performs regularly in the UK. He is also the group’s composer-in-residence and has had a number of his compositions and arrangements played on national radio. Ben has been a lay clerk at Birmingham and Gloucester Cathedrals and sings with Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum, as well as being in demand as a countertenor soloist.
Award winning director Andrew Panton has held residencies at The Royal & Derngate Theatres, Perth Theatre, Stage Door (New York) and The Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he directed a premiere season of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s work.
He is the creative director, vocal & performance coach for Susan Boyle who shot to fame following her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent in 2008 and went on to have the fastest selling UK debut album of all time.
Andrew is the Artistic Director of Musical Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
What’s it like to win the VF-UK youth competition? The Dreamettes tell us here in their guest blog. If you’re feeling inspired by the girls’ successes and would like to get involved with the Voice Festival’s youth programme, check out our dedicated page here, or take a peek at our plans for VF-UK’s annual Take the Stage event.
The Dreamettes was formed back when we were in Y7 at Putney High School (now all in Y13). Our music department is unusual in that every single year group is represented by at least one a cappella group, if not two in most cases. Thanks to this strong a cappella tradition in the school, the Dreamettes have flourished, growing in membership and ability year by year, as well as triumphing in school music competitions.
But it was taking part in the Voice Festival UK that pushed us to our limits and made us realise what we could achieve. Suddenly a cappella became so much more than standing in a semicircle to sing a pop arrangement, and our motivation was raised to a new level. Heated discussions about choreography and presentation, which would have been given nowhere near as detailed thought a year ago, became the norm. Musical details such as note lengths, tuning and dynamics were now more vital than they had ever been before. We even dedicated some of the Easter Holidays to rehearsing for the VF-UK finals at group members’ houses (in hope that the neighbours would enjoy our heart-melting rendition of ‘Make you feel my love’)!
Soon the day of the Finals arrived, and Dreamettes set off to Birmingham, all squeezed onto a minibus with the two other a cappella groups from Putney High taking part, not forgetting three of our teachers. Many were still half asleep, but after being perked up by a trip to Costa Express en route, excitement levels began to peak. The whole coach was singing in full voice as we drew nearer towards the city.
We finally reached Birmingham Conservatoire, where the VF-UK organisers and participants were met by a crowd of 30 excited girls, ready to sing it out. The day began with some highly energised workshops on stage presence and beat boxing. With boots and cats flying all over the place, hundreds of participants united to form one unstoppable human drum kit, and let’s not forget that R600 loop machine which made us all turn green with envy.
Before we knew it we were whisked straight off to rehearsals and a sound check in the Adrian Boult Hall. Minutes passed and the nerves began to kick in. We were more excited about singing together than we ever had been before, but as we waited by the stage door it was as if we were shaking as a single body, all feeling both the same adrenalin and fright at performing in front of hundreds of people. Then one of us said ‘Guys, it doesn’t matter whether we win or not. Let’s just go out there and sing’. So that is what we did. We didn’t know whether it was our best or worst performance – all we knew is that we were out there doing what we have always known and loved.
Everything after that was a blur, and suddenly we found ourselves back on stage alongside the five other groups competing in the Youth Finals. With no idea what to expect and tension rising, we waited anxiously as various thank yous and awards were being given. There was an especially big applause from us for Jo Nicholls, the founder of the Dreamettes and the rest of Putney High’s a cappella groups, who received a special award for one of 10 arrangements she contributed towards the VFUK Finals. Emily Hazrati, a budding young composer in the Dreamettes, also won an award for her arrangement of ‘Budapest’ by George Ezra.
‘The winners brought the programme to life and made great use of the performing space’. This was the moment of truth. As soon as we heard the word ‘Dreamettes’ we all screamed at the top of our voices with shock and pure joy. There was lots of hugging, crying and laughing as we organised ourselves into formation for an encore of ‘Some Nights’. I still can’t find the words to describe how amazed and happy we felt at that time.
Photos, interviews, more hugging and crying, yet it still didn’t end there! After a celebratory dinner at Wagamamas, many of us stayed to watch the University Finals. To say that we were completely awe-struck by the groups we saw performing is an understatement – the genius arrangements, professional-level choreography and musicality blew us away and gave us something even higher to aspire to. We’ve all decided to make our University application based on places where there’s a good a cappella culture! Hosting the evening was the Sons of Pitches, and they were awesome. This made us realise that a cappella carries on even after school and University.
Taking part in the VF-UK finals has helped our group come together and given us inspiration for the future. We’d like to thank Voice Festival UK kindly for such an incredible experience, encouraging us to achieve great things as a group and providing a platform for young a cappella groups across the nation.
Attending a singing workshop may seem like an intimidating prospect for beginners – so find out a little more about what they involve by reading our latest guest blog by Kam Sandhu and Houmaa Chaudry. As well as enthusiastically volunteering to help out at our Festival Weekend, the girls found the time to attend Tobias Hug’s unforgettable beatboxing workshop – and loved every second. If you like what you read, why not stop by our workshop at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August?
Amongst the non-stop rehearsals and performances at the Voice Festival weekend, groups and guests alike had the opportunity to attend workshops hosted by some rather prominent members of the a cappella community. On Saturday morning, Tobias Hug (a former member of The Swingle Singers, University Final judge and inspiration to many young a cappella singers) led a 2 hour workshop on the art of beatboxing. Despite the room being filled (a huge turnout meant for some fantastic group performances) with a range of beginners and fully fledged beatboxers alike, the workshop catered for all abilities.
To begin with, a lesson on the basics of beatboxing – and mimicry. Explaining the requirements for a good vocal percussion beat, Tobias walked the attendees through how to form popular sounds without using your actual voice. Even for the beginners in the group (ourselves included), this was a simple way to follow the lead of the more experienced. Through practice and repetition, these sounds were then combined to create short beats of varying genres – even samba was included! After experimenting with different samba beats (and some questionable dance moves on one side of the room) incorporating a vocal version of the seemingly underrated instrument that is the cowbell, it was time to put to use the large turnout at the workshop. The room was split into four groups. One group were allocated a ‘dm’ sound, another a strong ‘ka’ sound, a cymbal-resembling group and the timing-controlling hi-hats. What did this get us? Only a human drum kit! Tobias, along with Ed Scott (Semi-Toned), Tegan Creedy (The Rolling Tones) and a young guest at the workshop, then conducted this ‘beatbox choir’ for some impromptu upbeat music.
Moving away from the entirely musical aspect of beatboxing, the group then began to recreate the sounds of a tropical thunderstorm, leading onto an extravagant movie plot to which we could create an entirely vocal soundtrack. About 15 minutes later, the movie soundtrack in all its finished glory was performed. Had you been standing on the other side of the door, you would be forgiven for thinking we were watching an award-winning film (albeit with a very strange plot) inside. Beginning with a perfect rendition of the 20th Century Fox tune, the scene was then set in a rainforest from which marched an army. It was a battle of humans versus animals. Arrows were shot, grenades were thrown and even a cannonball was launched. The conclusion of the story was that the opera singers broke the glass and won the battle. No, it didn’t make any more sense had you witnessed it in person, but it provided an incredible soundtrack nonetheless! Some of the standout solo sounds from the soundtrack had to be an oddly-placed (but ingenious) rendition of Rue’s Whistle (From The Hunger Games), a dolphin impression, an eagle whistle and a scarily good impersonation of Chewbacca (Star Wars) – so if any of those were your doing, give yourself a pat on the back!
The workshop was rounded off with an improv circle (it wasn’t really a circle – more like a line) where 4 singers were asked to create a part (on the spot!) to complement the parts created by the others. Together, this created a musical piece that could be conducted by Tobias to vary the volumes and add news sounds, therefore experimenting with the sound as a whole. And in case you don’t have enough people to recreate a whole musical piece for yourself, Tobias then demonstrated how you can do this yourself with the help of a loop pedal! Using a 5 channel loop pedal, and with a little help from those in the audience, the final product of the workshop was a well-timed, brand new tune that will be playing in our minds for weeks to come.
As always, thank you to Tobias Hug for hosting the workshop with such success, as well as to the volunteers that bravely agreed to stand up in front of the rest of the group and conduct or sing/beatbox on the spot! We’re sure we don’t just speak for ourselves when we say that it was a truly incredible and invaluable experience.
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.