All the King’s Men Set For Unprecedented Asia Tour

Not content with selling out amidst five-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last week, the boys from All the King’s Men are taking their music to unexplored territory by flying to Singapore and Hong Kong, and in the process will become the first British collegiate group to tour anywhere on that continent.

Their tour, which begins later today, represents a huge step for the future of not only the group but a cappella in the UK as a whole, and we hope the boys are able to develop and establish a large enough fanbase to make their tour worthwhile, although we don’t doubt that they will surely be in popular demand.

The story of the beginnings of the tour date back almost 18 months, according to Founder and Musical Director Henry Southern. “The whole thing started as a rather fanciful project almost a year and a half ago,” he explains, before discussing their process of choosing which specific places to take their music to. “We explored going to several cities, but eventually settled on Singapore and Hong Kong, as there are a lot of King’s College connections already in place between the two cities.” King’s College London has already established global partnerships with the National University of Singapore and Hong Kong University, and the group wanted to take advantage of these connections. The lack of language barrier was also a deciding factor: “People in both these cities speak English, which logistically and administratively is a huge advantage,” Southern extrapolates, before emphasising the importance of strong alumni connections: “We also have two alums in Hong Kong (Bernie Wong and Justin Chow) who have been a great deal of help, offering us advice and finding us really exciting performance opportunities.” Not only that, but they are also utilising the services of fellow students not directly involved in the group, having organised a concert and accommodation through a friend, Beverley Wong, at the Christ Church in Kowloon Tong.

The latter aforementioned concert is a rather special one for the group, as they will be premiering a brand new classical repertoire, inspired not only by the promoter, but also because the group have recognised that several professional groups, namely the King’s Singers, the Swingle Singers and Voces 8, maintain a classical repertoire while showcasing the more contemporary elements of a cappella. “This particular generation of the group is fortunate to contain a lot of singers with a musical upbringing within the choral tradition, so we thought it would be an interesting and refreshing twist on things,” informs Southern. The Men will thus be performing music by King’s College alum Graham Lack, who has composed for the King’s Singers and Voces 8, as well Tallis and Byrd and even a mass from Angus McPhee, a current member of the group. “This isn’t necessarily a direction the group will be heading towards in the future, but it certainly has been a challenging and interesting project.”

Including the concert in Kowloon Tong, the boys are planning to spend around six days in each city, with a whole range of concerts and workshops lined up. “During the mornings and afternoons, we’ll generally be in schools,” Southern clarifies, “But when we get to Hong Kong, we’re doing an open top bus performance around the city centre which will coincide with our press launch and a series of flash mobs.” When pressed for further information, Henry wouldn’t budge. “I’m not in a position to reveal anymore about that particular segment of the tour,” he said, secretively. “We have a couple of private gigs booked for Hong Kong as well,” he moves on swiftly, “Before concluding our tour at the infamous Fringe Club, where the Harvard Din and Tonics have recently performed.” It sounds like it’s going to be a great tour!

Drumming up support and finances hasn’t been a problem for the group. “Obviously the prior connections helped, but we’ve also been in touch with the Singaporean A Cappella Society, who we are performing for, and some of the schools we are workshopping at have their own groups, which is fantastic.” The group have also been in touch with fellow ICCA Finalists from Yale, Out of the Blue, who also recently toured the area. “Our creative funding partners, Fringebacker, have also been incredibly supportive not only in helping us to secure some of the finances for the trip, but also with liaising with promoters in Hong Kong.”

So what benefits does Henry hope the group will take from the tour in the long term? “For All the King’s Men, we hope that this is one of many Asia trips and it could even be an annual engagement. There is already talk of an Asia Tour Part II in the Summer of 2013 which is very exciting.” But the benefits don’t just stop with the group – Henry believes the benefits could stretch to the rest of UK collegiate a cappella: “I believe this demonstrates, to the collegiate scene across the world, a bold statement of what the Brits can achieve. I knew the Asia market would be very responsive to our style, which has already been confirmed by the reaction from our contacts in Asia, and we hope that the trip is a success.”

On a more personal note, Henry’s time in the group is coming to an end, and he is delighted to be going out with a bang! “My very last performance with the group will be at the end of October when this generation sing together for one last time, on our home turf at the Greenwood Theatre,” which will be a fitting way to end Henry’s tenure in charge of the group. “The last three years have been a blast, and the last year in particular has been extremely successful. I have full confidence that the group will continue to go from strength to strength under our MD-elect, Jonny Stewart.”

We wish the boys all the luck in the world on their tour and hope it opens doors not only for future generations of the group, but also for other groups across the UK.

Semi-Toned Lead the Way for Audition Anticipation

Now that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is drawing to a close, we are edging ever closer to the time when groups will be auditioning for brand new members as the start of the new academic year rolls around. And none of the groups seem quite so keen as Exeter’s all-male group, Semi-Toned, who have already released a promotional video for their auditions, increasing the hype around the university.

The group are looking for basses, tenors and countertenors to join the already formidable group, as they look to further their progress into their third year as an entity.

And judging by their promotional video, linked below, we think they’re sounding pretty good, don’t you?

Semi-Toned’s Audition Teaser

You can find more videos from Semi-Toned via their YouTube Channel, or follow them on Facebook or via their WordPress site.

Fringe Diary 2012: Part 4 – The Alleycats and The Accidentals

The Fringe is heading into its final week, and the a cappella scene is slowly dying down, with groups nearing the end of their runs, if they haven’t finished already. We managed to catch the two groups from the University of St Andrews, The Accidentals, who were in their debut Fringe run, and the more established Fringe act The Alleycats. Our thoughts are below.

The Alleycats
Rating: 9.5/10

(Carys Evans & John Lau)

Before seeing The Alleycats, we had heard a lot about what to expect – lots of sass, funk, and great dance moves. We were not disappointed, and found that indeed they had a lot more to offer, with variety being one of their main strengths. Ranging from heartwrenchingly emotional numbers to fiery pop tunes to much more traditionally soulful vocals, this set ticked all the boxes.
If anything, though, the set contains a few too many slow numbers, with two being placed back to back at one point. Perhaps the addition of some form of simple choreography for these songs could help to distinguish them. That being said, two of the highlights of the night were indeed slow songs, with Steph Bown’s emotionally charged rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide showing incredible range and control with her beautiful runs, and Heather Robertson’s powerful alto for David Guetta’s Titanium was easily the best song of the night, with Cammy Dobbie’s consistently brilliant beatboxing complementing the arrangement perfectly.
Although these slower numbers stood out, with impeccable blend and of course fantastic solos, including Garrett Turner’s pitch perfect solo on Ray Lamontagne’s You Are The Best Thing, the upbeat numbers were equally impressive with incredible energy levels and some of the best choreography I have seen an a cappella group do, courtesy of Phil de Winter Shaw. In particular the mash-up of Call My Name and Say My Name showed that these guys have some serious moves. Throughout the set, by looking around the group, every single member was engaging with the audience and having a good time – so although the intense choreography meant that the upbeat numbers were not quite as musically tight, the entire set was entertaining and professionally executed, with some great touches of humour added in Britney Spears’ Toxic.
Credit must also go to Musical Director Brendan Macdonald, who has put together several arrangements that are arguably better than the originals. One particular highlight was their cover of Save The World by Swedish House Mafia, which was tackled with a beautiful duet from Messrs Macdonald and Shaw, while Ayanna Coleman belted out Aretha Franklin’s Respect with verve, pizzazz and a whole lotta soul. All in all, a fantastic show well worth going to see for their sheer energy and some of the best soloists at the Fringe, and even some bonus audience participation in the final number.

The Accidentals
Rating: 8/10

The Accidentals have something that other all-female groups don’t: balls. Not literally, you understand, but these girls bring a kind of attitude and ferocity that some of the other girl groups seem to be afraid of. This is in no part down to their set, which is a mix of covers of powerful female vocalists and hip hop divas.
The Accidentals keep things very fresh by cramming their set with several short arrangements, and it works, not only in maintaining the audience’s attention, but also ensuring the applause comes thick and fast. The girls are very lucky to have an exceptional beatboxer in the form of Musical Director Ellie Mason, who they will miss greatly when she goes on her year out in September, as she also provides entertain in her silky alto solos and her quite sensational, if a little crazy, rap interludes. Some of the upbeat, attitude-filled highlights include Tinchy Stryder’s Number 1, Busted’s Year 3000 combined with Nelly’s Ride With Me and Jason DeRulo’s Ridin’ Solo and their fierce Destiny’s Child Medley, which opened the gig and set the tone for things to come.
The girls impressed on some of their slower numbers too, especially the award-winning The Voice Within, with Grace Hardy’s pure, angelic soprano contrasting superbly with Gemma O’Brien’s smooth alto on probably the best number of the night. The girls provide powerful solos in abundance, with Anna McDonald rocking out on Rollin’ In The Deep and the perhaps underused Catriona Till taking the lead on TaTu’s All The Things She Said, providing a softer perspective on the at times grating original. The girls also provide humour with their choice lyric changes, occasional props and gangsta dance moves.
That said, there are things that need work. Only have eight members does have its drawbacks, and the backing sound does occasionally get a little lost, especially if there are two soloists. Some of the arrangements are quite simplistic too, and at times it feels like in order to avoid stagnation, the girls merge into another song, rather than attempting to make the existing arrangement a touch more complex and interesting. The girls clearly know how to fit two songs together, but I’d like to see them attempt more straight numbers.
All in all, this was a very impressive Fringe debut from the girls, who are feisty, fierce and brimming with attitude. It’s clear why they won the award for Outstanding Soloist at the St Andrews Regional back in March, because the whole group can hold their own in the lead role. It’s too late to catch them this year, but hopefully they’ll be back.

The Alleycats’ brand new album, We’re Not Kitten, can be purchased every evening at the end of their concert.

Fringe Diary 2012: Part 3 – The Oxford Gargoyles and All the King’s Men

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is over half way through now, and some of our groups have now finished their runs, having performed to huge, receptive audiences on both the Royal Mile and within their theatre auditoriums. We managed to catch London based All the King’s Men before they jet off to Asia, as well as Fringe veterans The Oxford Gargoyles. Our thoughts are below.

The Oxford Gargoyles
Rating: 9/10

Musical Director Euan Campbell has managed to more than continue the slick and stylish sound that the Oxford Gargoyles produce, providing an almost faultless display of musical brilliance that was almost too good to believe, considering it was only their first night.
They instantly impressed with a beautiful close harmony opening to It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), which built into a lively opener, with the high soprano line pitched perfectly throughout. The duet in Fields of Gold was simply staggering, and the key changes blended perfectly into one another, while never pushing the soloists out of their vocal comfort zones. Becca Sharp in particular stood out not only in this song, but in several other solo performances dotted around the set – she’s a real gem. One such solo was on Summer Time, which was delivered by the entire group with the utmost professionalism – it became very difficult to believe that these guys were students at times.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow, while a very well-known and extensively covered song, was possibly one of the highlights, with a mind-blowing solo and some gorgeous echoed harmonies. The set did feel a little female-solo dominated, but this was rectified to a certain extent towards the end of the set with Mr. Bojangles and Euan Campbell himself taking the lead in the Dancing in the Moonlight mash-up – he has such a unique tone to his voice, it’s very engaging to listen to. The group vocals did seem to get a little tired towards the end, but otherwise this was an unbelievably slick, suave and smooth show.
For someone who doesn’t like jazz, this is probably one of the best shows I saw in the entire festival. I may have been converted.

All the King’s Men
Rating: 9/10

There’s a reason these boys are the best university group in the UK. Henry Southern, the founder and long-term Musical Director, has created an a cappella beast in three short years that have gone from little known KCL group to third-best collegiate group in the world. And the set they presented to us at the Edinburgh Fringe was nothing short of exceptional.
The highlights of their set tend to be their well-rehearsed Voice Festival numbers, and they opened with Born This Way/Edge of Glory that had simple, effective and slick choreography, and I really liked the way they used the “ga” syllable as a backing sound, and the silky solo at the start of Edge of Glory was complemented with some incredible close harmony blend. This was further emphasised by Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, which contained some gorgeous bell tones that gave me goosebumps, and the real triumph that was Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek, which is potentially the best close harmony arrangement I have ever heard. Their older arrangement of Coldplay’s Yellow and Snow Patrol’s Run was just as impressive as last year.
The boys of course are not just about the slower songs, and impress with their energy on the more upbeat numbers, most of which are mash-ups. While the boys seem to excel in arranging these mash-ups, some of them seem to be aimed more towards being crowd-pleasers than being musically intricate. It’s Reigning Men, for example, has some hilarious lyric changes, but the second half of the mash-up, Let Me Entertain You is more about getting the audience to clap along than impressing them with precise musical nuances. The blend did also seem to lack at the very top and the very bottom of the chords in a couple of the numbers, and I feel the boys are lacking a real big-ass tenor to belt out some of the most bawdy tunes. But these are churlish niggles on an otherwise spotless setlist.
Their closing number, Spiderman was a refreshing change and consisted of several different genres of music, and was a thoroughly impressive and memorable way to end the set. A real triumph from the boys from London.

The Oxford Gargoyles are selling their brand new studio album, Up The Scale, outside their show, while All the King’s Men’s newest album, a five-track live EP, is also available for purchase.

The Techtonics Announce Debut Full-Length Album

A year after their trip to Croatia for the Vocal Marathon competition, the Techtonics are releasing their debut album, Groundbreaker.

The exciting aca-news keeps flooding in left, right and centre, and none more exciting than the news that Imperial College London’s premier all-male group, The Techtonics, are releasing their debut full-length album, Groundbreaker, on September 5th.

The boys have been a little quiet since the London Regional of the Voice Festival 2012, but have clearly been making the most of their summer by heading to the recording studio, and the result is their highly anticipated debut full-length and professionally mastered album, which follows in the footsteps of several other collegiate groups who have also released new albums this summer.

The Techtonics did release an LP back in 2010, but this effort is the first to be fully released since the group’s inception.

This time last year, The Techtonics flew to Croatia for the Vocal Marathon competition, and we are interested to see what kind of impact that extra competitive experience will have had upon their music.

For now, we must wait, but get excited for the second debut album of the year.

The Techtonics can be found on Facebook.

Albums Galore On Sale in Edinburgh

We here at the UK University A Cappella Blog are almost overcome with aca-excitement as studio album after studio album are falling into our possession up here in Edinburgh. No less than six brand new albums, some full length, some extended plays, have become available over the past two weeks.

The Oxford Alternotives have released their sixth studio album, entitled Take Your Mama, with ten sensational tracks on it. Meanwhile, Out of the Blue are on an incredible eleventh, Music Up!, which is packed full of energetic, powerful numbers that the boys do so well, many of which can be heard in their Edinburgh show. On a different note, All the King’s Men have released a five-track EP It’s Reigning Men, which was recorded live, and should bring a slightly different perspective to their music. The majority of the album consists of their recent Voice Festival UK winning set, but there are some amazing extras on there too.

All-female group from Oxford In The Pink have released their sixth studio album, She Who Dares, while fellow Oxford group The Oxford Gargoyles have released Up The Scale, which is a mixture of studio and live tracks, and is sure to be a thoroughly professional effort. And We’re Not Kitten is the latest of a string of fantastic feline puns for the new album of The Alleycats from the University of St Andrews, the first group from Scotland to release a full length album this year.

If you can’t make it to the Fringe Festival, these albums are sure to be available for purchase online in the next few weeks, but why miss the chance to see the groups live at the best arts festival in the world? Details of each of the shows can be found below.

Alleycats
All the King’s Men
Alternotives
Gargoyles
In The Pink
Out of the Blue

Fringe Diary 2012: Part 2 – In The Pink and The Oxford Belles

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is now in full swing and several of our collegiate groups are currently in the middle of successful Fringe runs. In the last few days, we have managed to see the two sensational Oxford-based all-female groups, In The Pink and The Oxford Belles, and our thoughts are below.

In The Pink
Rating: 6.5/10

Perhaps it was partly due to seeing them on the very first day of their Fringe run, but given their recent tour of Berlin and the stage experience that went with it, I was expecting slightly more from the girls from Oxford, as they had quite a shaky start to their show but did seem to grow in confidence as the gig went on and they reached seemingly more familiar arrangements.
There were naturally heaps of positives to be taken from their performance – in particular their arrangement of Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter was angelically sung by Suzie Merchant and really showed off the group’s real strength in close harmony. This was further emphasised by their rendition of Pink’s F*cking Perfect, which was a hit last year and was equally good one year later, despite the huge change-around in terms of personnel since last year’s show. Other highlights included the slick dynamics in What Makes You Beautiful, Miranda Essex’s silky-smooth solo in Save Tonight, and Musical Director Becca Nicholls really leading by example and bouncing around the stage with energy and verve throughout the performance, something which the rest of the group needs to take note of, as occasionally they looked like rabbits caught in the headlights.
A few things need to be looked at, but most of them are aspects of performance that will improve naturally throughout the course of the run: there was a little bit too much step clapping in the opening number, Mercy and Rumour Has It, which admittedly did get the audience going but I have expressed my dislike for such simplistic a cappella forms in the past; the backing in Hey Soul Sister was good but did become a little repetitive, something which is difficult to avoid in this art form; the choreography during their ‘World Premiere’ of Without You/Save The World/We Found Love needed work, as several members were glancing over their shoulders to check if their instincts were correct; and the whole set lacked real ‘meat’, that wall of sound, that ‘oomph’ that groups such as Out of the Blue and All the King’s Men provide in abundance.
All in all, this was a decent start from the Oxford girls, who rely on their cutesy charm and good looks to flirt their way through what is a very strong set of arrangements. If they can sort their minor problems out, this could develop into a very impressive show.

The Oxford Belles
Rating: 8/10

When I expressed my undying love for Sophie Giles’ voice after the Oxford Belles’ early evening show, she was unsurprisingly rather embarrassed, but her rendition of Jar of Hearts was and is the best a cappella solo I have heard all year. You might think that the high quality of such a solo would make the rest of the set seem mediocre, but actually the Belles have put together a show that trumps last year’s effort in almost every way.
Perhaps the most impressive was the beatboxing. Decent female beatboxers are very hard to come by, and so in Sally Potterton the girls have really unearthed a gem, and in particular her lip-trill beats at the very start of Rihanna’s S&M were extremely impressive, not to mention very hard to do. Incidentally, Gina Robinson’s powerful alto really rocked the solo on that particular number. The soloists in general were very strong, whioch was a stark contrast to last year, with particular highlights in the notoriously difficult-to-cover Beat It and Musical Direcotr Alicia Gayle’s soulful take on Sway, and the complementary dynamics swayed aptly throughout the song. I enjoyed the key change as well, but then again, I always enjoy key changes.
One particular weakness was the fact that the group only had one 1st Soprano, which at times effected the very highest harmonies, particularly when that soprano took the solo and delivered a performance that admittedly seemed a little tired and subdued. I also feel the girls could have chosen a slightly stronger closing number than Cascada’s Evacuate The Dancefloor which, while containing another confident solo from Gina Robinson, was otherwise little more than above average, and there were definitely better options with which to send the audience on their way.
These are minor niggles, though, and otherwise the Belles delighted with a thoroughly professional and slick set, with confident and at times hilarious choreography, tight musical blend and smashing solos. Love it.

In The Pink are selling their brand new album outside their concert venue, available for purchase for £7.