by John Lau
After some drama which resulted in a later arrival than expected at London Kings Cross, I made my way to the Home of the Guardian Newspaper, which is also the Home of the London Festival dedicated to the unaccompanied human voice, with its cast of hundreds. On the Thursday night, the opening gigs featured one of the UK’s leading Chamber Choirs, the Vasari Singers, and with their expertise in singing in all sorts of environments from Canterbury Cathedral evensong to TV and Radio broadcasts they were sure to put on a great show. They were joined for two of their thirteen pieces by the special guests and hosts, the Swingle Singers. On the week that culminated in the 50th Anniversary of the Swingle Singers, the Patron of both groups, Mr Ward Swingle would have been delighted to see both groups on the same stage. Of the playlist on offer, my highlight was probably the collaboration of ‘Lover and His Lass’, which was written by Ward Swingle himself. Considering I was looking forward to the following gig at 9 o’clock even more than this one, this was a pretty good start and I was sure that this Festival was only going to get better.
The next stop before the 9 o’clock gig was the free foyer performance given by Imperial College London’s group of Techtonic boys who I’m sure are preparing even as I write for the London Regional heat of the Voice Festival which takes place a few weeks’ time, which could provide a great opportunity for them to go where they’ve never gone before – the National Final. The boys sounded and looked impressive, and I wish them all the best for the competition.
Up next were Cadenza from the University of Cambridge, current holders of the University VF-UK competition, who were opening for The Boxettes on the main stage. As this was the first time I had heard or seen Cadenza since they won the VF-UK 2011 University title back in March last year, and also considering they never undertook that other annual ritual of UK a cappella student groups – that is, partaking in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer – I was keen to hear how they were shaping up in advance of what I thought at the time would be the defence of their crown. The initial observations were positive in that most of the females who I seen in 2011 were still there, but this was counter-balanced by the replacement of some if not all of the male members of Cadenza, including Dominic Johnpillai, the Musical Director who led Cadenza to the trophy in 2011, which I thought may have changed the dynamics of the group slightly. However, I was impressed by their set, and of the four arrangements, the 1936 classic ‘Just The Way You Look Tonight’ by Jerome Kern, Imogen Heap’s ‘Hide And Seek’, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me A River’ and ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ by Bonnie Tyler, my standout rendition was probably ‘Cry Me A River’, mainly down to the quality of the female soloist’s voice. At this stage, I would like to express my disappointment that the group will not be competing in the Voice Festival this year – they will be sorely missed.
My highlight of the Thursday night was almost upon us. Five young women who made it to the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2007, The Boxettes were like no other group that I had ever heard of at this Festival. While this is partly down to my indifference to hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass music, it’s also due to the fact that they stand out above the many collegiate groups that I have seen in the past. This 21st Century personification of “Girl Power”, for lack of a better term, had my feet moving all night, partly due to the “vocal raspberries” that they were feeding their mics, as described by their World Beatbox Champion Miss Belle Ehresmann. They all write their own songs, which again puts them head and shoulders above your average collegiate group, and my personal favourite of the night would probably have to have been “Free”, written by Neo Joshua, which is available to watch on YouTube.
And so with that, my first night at the London A Cappella Festival 2012 was concluded at 11pm, time for a sleepless night in advance of my attempt at a Vocal Jog early the following morning.