Best of British 2012: 4. Got To Get You Into My Life

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight
5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts

4. Out of the Blue – Got To Get You Into My Life

Awards:
‘Highly Recommended Soloist’, Voice Festival UK 2012, Oxford Regional
‘Outstanding Performance’, Voice Festival UK 2012, Final

Smashing in at number 4 is the lively cover of the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life, as performed by Oxford’s finest, Out of the Blue. The track was one of the first track the 2011/2012 generation of the group learnt, with its debut coming at the groups’ annual debut performance at G&Ds Cafe, about 3 weeks after the new group formed, along with other album tracks, With or Without You and Stop. The song made its way into the groups’ Voice Festival set that year, being used as a powerful opener before Lippy Kids and Domino.

The song’s origins came about very much by chance, according to the group’s MD, Nick Barstow: “The arrangement came when Laurie [Cottam, the soloist on the song] and I were in the car on our way to the airport one day – Laurie only has Beatles albums and Brahms string quartets in his car, and we’d gone for Beatles. Got To Get You Into My Life came on, and I didn’t know it well, but Laurie really liked it. I did too but I thought it was missing something.” That ‘something missing’ was resolved when Laurie revealed the Earth, Wind and Fire cover of the same song. “At 7 minutes long, it was a little self-indulgent, but the arrangement is insane. I cut it down, mixed the best of the original and the cover together, and we had the basis for the arrangement.” Barstow’s addition of Isn’t She Lovely? was prompted by the desire for a strong baritone solo. “The solid baritone solo matched the epic tenor solo really well, partly because of the similar pentatonic motif.”

From the perspective of the group, the song has had its highs and lows throughout the year. “It’s definitely one of my favourites,” said Barstow, before continuing: “But we fell out of favour with it a bit halfway through the year; sometimes you go off a song when you sing it too much.” The group decided to use it more sparingly at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which gave it a much needed rest, before breathing new life into it during their tour of Japan. “We sang at a special Beatles and Jazz circuit in Tokyo in September which was incredible and kicked it back into life. At that point, we all began to remember why it was so great in the first place.”

Barstow believes the song has become such a hit due to the variation contained within the arrangement. “There are some really chromatic passages and you’re constantly changing the vocal sound between scat vocal, instrumental style a cappella and real voice singing. Also, there’s nowhere to breathe.” Despite some snags the song hit during the year, because it was such an early part of their set, Barstow claims it maintained some of that initial, start of year hype. As or the album track, Barstow gives credit to Bill Hare, who is “fantastic in general but also a big fan of the Beatles so really got into it.”

Nick’s favourite song of the year remains their cover of Elbow’s Lippy Kids, because of the sentimental value it held for him. “Without being overly sentimental, it summed up my year with the group, and it is pure and poetic.” He is unsure whether Got To Get You will make a return to the group’s set in the near future. “There are some songs that you associate so much with one particular year and group of people that it wouldn’t be right without them.” However, he does concede that it might “come back in a year or two.”

You can buy Out of the Blue’s album, Music Up!, which contains the track, on iTunes.

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Best of British 2012: 5. Jar of Hearts

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight

5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts

Awards: ‘Outstanding Soloist’ – Voice Festival 2012, Oxford Regional Round

In at number five is our highest placed track that hasn’t been released on a recording this year, the powerful rendition of Christina Perri’s Jar of Hearts by The Oxford Belles. We certainly hope the song might be forthcoming on an album soon, but as it is, this was one of our favourite live performances of the year.

Surprisingly, the girls themselves were expecting a slightly different reaction when the song debuted at the Oxford Regional of the Voice Festival back in February. “We were actually expecting our standout song to be our TV Medley,” said Alicia Gayle, current MD of the group. “I thought Jar of Hearts was a good arrangement, but other than that I wasn’t expecting a prize for it,” added the ever modest Sophie Giles, who took the lead vocals on the number. The arrangement itself wasn’t actually one done by a member of the group, but by someone else in the a cappella world. “The song was arranged by Lauren Barreiro, who is a part of fellow all-female group Musae,” mentioned Gayle.

Regardless of who arranged the song, the girls really took it by the scruff of the neck and continued to perform the song for the remainder of the academic year, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, where it was also highly praised, being described as “the best a cappella solo […] all year,” alongside mentions of being a “standout solo performance” by audience members and reviewers alike. The girls feel it’s not suitable for every occasion though: “I do like the song, but there are other songs I really enjoy performing,” said Giles, before adding: “I think that it is a great song for certain occasions, but for some gigs it’s just not appropriate.”

As far as I’m concerned, though, I want to hear it whenever and wherever they sing. As the girls suggest, everyone in the group really commits to song when it’s being performed and are able to convey the necessary emotion in both their voices and their expressions as they sing the number. “It’s quite a powerful song in itself,” concluded Gayle, and we are inclined to more than agree. We definitely hope to hear this one again.

You can watch the award-winning rendition of Jar of Hearts right here.

Album Review: The Other Guys’ Christmas

The Other Guys' Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys' fifth studio album.

The Other Guys’ Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys’ fifth studio album.

by Carys Evans

The Other Guys have once more delivered a stylish, unique and highly commercial production, and just in time for Christmas! There is no doubt that this will make a wonderful present for pretty much anyone, but it also shows just some of the breadth of The Other Guys’ abilities.

With its over-the-top Season’s Greetings to their holiday ‘broadcast’, the album immediately gets you into the mood for Christmas, though it is immediately apparent that they have their tongue placed firmly in their cheek. It’s easy to dismiss some of the fare as quite standard – with most of the tracks being very familiar, and even very traditional – but they have worked their own spin on every one, whether it’s through changing the lyrics, such as in Carols Not From Kings, which incorporates carols with pop songs and a whole new set of wonderful, hilarious lyrics, changing the harmonies, such as in the slightly experimental-sounding Silent Night, or giving the songs a whole new beat – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’s soulful beats make it one of the best tracks on the album!

The album’s single, Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, sums up this album in one song. It sounds familiar, like all good Christmas songs should, it references other Christmas songs, with the ‘Ding Dong’s beautifully done and the nod to Hark the Herald Angels Sing emphasising these boys’ strong choral ability, but it is also an original song, with a provocative title and heartwarming lyrics. Few a cappella groups seem brave enough to sing original songs, but this shows just how much it can pay off, with Oscar Foxley’s song having received praise from the likes of Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, and even the Scottish Parliament. These boys are not afraid to take risks, whether it’s in their lyrics, their decision to do a seasonal album (which may only sell at this time of year – though I’m sure it will sell a lot!), or indeed by putting themselves out there and getting themselves on to the charts.

I hope that other groups can learn from them – it may not be the perfect album, with some over-produced vocal percussion, and a reliance on the fact that those buying the album will like Christmas songs (believe it or not, some people don’t), but it is quite unique in the university a cappella world. And for that reason alone, this should be Number One on your Christmas list.

Best of British 2012: 6. Dancing in the Moonlight

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep

6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight

Dancing smoothly into the half -way spot is the second track from The Oxford Gargoyles, their mash-up of Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight. A real cracker of a blend, it incorporates Ain’t No Mountain, I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Fight For This Love and Tears Dry On Their Own, and seamlessly jumbles them all together with a typical Gargoyles’ jazzy twist to form a track that is perhaps one of the best arrangements on our countdown.

Arranging maestro Euan Campbell found the mash-up came about rather spontaneously though: “It developed quite naturally over time – I definitely didn’t intend to mash five songs together at first! The addition of each track came upon the realisation that the chord sequences were the same. Thing Called Love was originally intended to be a stand alone track, but once I sat down to work out the chords, I figured out they were the same. I was reluctant to add Cheryl Cole into the mix because it’s not really our style, but I gave in eventually. Tears was a very late addition.” The hardest part was the very end, claims Campbell. “When you attempt to sing all five songs together, it’s a completely different kettle of fish. The chord sequences aren’t EXACTLY the same, as you can tell when you listen to the bass line at the back end of the track, but after a lot of playing about, I eventually found a suitable combination!”

The song made its debut at the Voice Festival UK Oxford Regional in 2012, and although Campbell claims it was far from their best performance of the song, it still received a semi-standing ovation. “It arrived quite late into our repertoire, because the arrangement was only completely finished by January of this year. As such, it does seem like we’re saying goodbye to it a little too soon!” The rehearsal process of the song was apparently quite a comical one: “No-one knew quite what to expect from it after I had been raving about it for so long, and it really was a joy to learn because it had so many twists and turns.” The last performance of the song was at the BBC Choir of the Year final, and Campbell says there couldn’t have been a better send off for the number. “Singing the song on national television was unbelievable, and perhaps a fitting way to say goodbye to it.”

The song has been subject to much acclaim since its introduction into the Goyles’ repertoire, and Campbell claims it’s the varied nature of the song that is the cause of this. “So much is packed in that it’s impossible to get bored!” The Goyles’ energetic nature and utter commitment when performing this song, coupled with their tone, diction and choreography, have made this number one of the stand out tracks of the year.

You can buy Dancing in The Moonlight, as well as the rest of the Gargoyles’ album, Up The Scale right here.

Album Review: Groundbreaker

Groundbreaker is The Techtonics first full length studio album, and one of the tracks has already been selected to appear on Sing 9, a CD compiled in the US.

Debut albums can go one of two ways: either the group can absolutely nail it, laying down a marker for any future projects and stamping their authority and identity on their genre; or, the album can fade away after the first few songs or, indeed never really take off at all. Fortunately, Imperial College’s The Techtonics fall resoundingly into the former category, with Groundbreaker more than living up to its name.

Before I continue this review, I will warn you that this album is heavily produced. As in, to the extent that some of the tracks don’t actually sound like human voices anymore. Whether or not this is a bad thing is up to the listener’s personal tastes, but I for one love it, for the most part. Indeed, I have become so obsessed with the final song on the album, Labrinth’s Earthquake, which is indubitably the furthest removed from what the original recording sounded like, that I have been overplaying it in my flat to the extent that it now tops my Top 25 Most Played on iTunes for the past two months. For a cappella, that’s pretty impressive.

There are two things I like about this album – the first is the running tectonic theme throughout. That may sound a little obvious, but featured on several tracks is an overt rumbling bass and an echoed nature to some of the solos which makes it feel as if the ground is actually shaking and the voices are bouncing around an eerie, empty, dark room. Such running motifs make me happy. Secondly, I love the fact that they cover songs that are very rarely touched by a cappella groups, with these gambles paying off, for the most part. There are a couple of curious songs that don’t quite work – 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday is the weakest track on the album, as it doesn’t ever really bring anything new, apart from being a repetitive reggae track. It plods along nicely but fails to find a spark, and the fade out at the end is fitting for a cover that fades quickly from memory.

Thankfully, this song is lost within what in the majority is a really great album. The stand out track, as mentioned previously, is Earthquake, which grimily captures the dubstep elements and lays down some phat beats that boom about bombastically from any speakers which a decent sub-woofer. It’s perfect for parties, and so easy to rave to. Not words I imagined I would say about any a cappella record ever, but there you go. Orson’s No Tomorrow is one of my favourite tracks ever, and while this version isn’t that original, it definitely does the song justice and does maintain a small sense of originality, and the soloist, David Verhoeven, absolutely nails it, as he does on Jessie J’s Domino, popular one this year, and while it’s again not the most original track on the album, the unexpected key change, while a little too cheesy, does allow Verhoeven to show off his incredible skyscraping tenor range.

Most of the individuality of the group comes through in some of the less upbeat tracks on the album: The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun has a very funky opening and maintains an eeriness throughout, while the Local Natives’ Who Knows Who Cares has a delicious thunderous breakdown in the second verse, which fits aptly with the title of the album. U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday is similar to House of the Rising Sun, with an eerie blend to start before dropping into a catchy tempo. Even the Big Opener shows off the ample vocal talent of the boys.

One thing does strike me though, as I listen through the album for the umpteenth time – it doesn’t quite connect with an audience as a lot of other a cappella albums do, because that purity, that simplicity, that vulnerability that comes from the unadulterated human voice isn’t there on this record. The various editors, mixers and masterers, including Bill Hare, Dave Sperandio and Matt Chinery must be given huge credit, as this album is as much down to them as to the singers themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love this album and several of the tracks on it, but I would be so curious to hear what it all sounded like pre-production. For now, enjoy the ground-shaking sound of a group that with this album, and their subsequent selection onto Sing 9, have taken a massive step forward.

Best of British 2012: 7. Rolling in the Deep

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold

7. The Accidentals – Rolling In The Deep

Awards: ‘Outstanding Soloist’ – Voice Festival UK 2011, St Andrews Regional

Rolling in at number seven (see what I did there?) is a feisty cover of Adele’s classic from the girls up at the University of St Andrews, Rolling In The Deep by The Accidentals. Having made its debut at the St Andrews Regional of the Voice Festival back in 2011, it made its way back into our hearts as part of a 4-track EP that the girls released shortly before their Edinburgh Fringe debut, as a way of raising money for said Fringe run. The song has become an Accidentals classic, and with award-winning lead vocals from the powerful Anna McDonald, it’s easy to see why.

McDonald claims the success of the song, and indeed their Voice Festival successes that year, wasn’t all down to her terrific solo: “The arrangement itself is just so cool! I was pretty proud of our whole set that year, I thought it balanced and suited us really well.” Anna sees the group as somewhat trendsetters too: “The stamp-clap breakdown hadn’t really been done before, at least in St Andrews, as far as I am aware, and since then we’ve seen it start to creep in a bit with different groups, both from St Andrews and the wider a cappella community. It’s nice to think we started that trend!”

Having said that, we certainly believe the success of the song is in part down to the magnificent vocals, although some credit must go to Adele herself. “It’s quite a memorable song regardless,” continued McDonald, “I still hear it on the radio a lot.” Ellie Mason, last year’s Musical Director, added, “It’s sad and angry but also full of hope and strength, about overcoming hard times and coming out of a dark place.” We echo these sentiments, and are inclined to suggest that Adele’s fiercely emotional character was a welcome fit for the feistiness of this particular all-girl group.

The song remains a favourite of the group, even a couple of years down the line. It was a staple of their set at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Anna is even recognised as the singer of it around the small university town. “I loved singing it that first time in Younger Hall and even though I can’t count the number of times I have sung it now, and the number of people I meet that sing it to me, I still love to sing it!” And we still love to hear it.

The hard-hitting solo and the rest of the arrangement can be heard on the group’s EP, available for listen and purchase here.