Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 3: London

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we here at the blog were once again provided with a wonderful Christmas present: the announcement of the round allocations for this year’s Voice Festival UK university competition. For the second year running, the competition is bigger than ever, with more groups from more universities competing than ever before in five Regional Rounds: Oxford, St Andrews, London, Birmingham and Exeter.

In this series of blogs, we will be previewing each Regional Round, commenting on each group and their chances of reaching the final, as well as introducing several groups you might not yet have heard of.

In our third installment, we go to the home of the current champions of the Voice Festival, London, one of the fastest growing hubs of a cappella in the UK. The round will be taking place on 9th March 2013, one week before the final, also in London.

Potted History

The London Regional began in 2011, when the competition expand to five Regional Rounds. In that inaugural year, current champions All the King’s Men qualified for the final, and last year they went one step further by winning the entire competition. That considered, the King’s-based group are therefore the only group to have ever represented London in the final, and as the only former Champions left in the competition, they won’t be giving up that title easily.

Notable Absence

Fitz Barbershop: Alongside fellow Cambridge groups The Fitz Sirens and Cadenza, the last remaining contingent from Cambridge have also pulled out of this year’s competition, meaning there will be no representative from the university which once held it’s own Regional from 2009-2011. Fitz Barbershop are also the only group to have ever won the Ward Swingle Award for Originality (in 2010) with their unorthodox style of a cappella (last year, they impressively blended all four of their songs into one another). The individual style of the group will be missed in this year’s competition, but we wish them well for their year ahead.

Newcomer Alert

The Houghtones: The first of three brand new groups competing in this Regional this year, The Houghtones are the sole a cappella group at the London School of Economics. Having been described as ‘the best a cappella band to come out of the UK since the 19th Century’ by one impressed fan of the group, the mixed-voice group will be hoping the enthusiasm created by the excitement at being at their debut Voice Festival will serve them well in the Regional. Having never heard them live myself, they are very much an unknown quantity and it will be fascinating to see how they do. You can find the group on Facebook.

The Scopes: I conducted a short interview a few months back with Justus Schmidt, founder of The Scopes, about his intention to compete in this year’s Voice Festival. Lo and behold, here they are – the fourth group to come out of Imperial College, London, the group have been slowly building their reputation since their foundation in 2011 and will be taking to the stage this year against the best London has to offer. Whether they will match the standards set by returning competitors remains to be seen.

Vive: Having already established themselves as a cappella giants, with performances at the London A Cappella Festival combined with workshop leading, an impressive YouTube video and an six-track debut album, the group from Guildford School of Music and Drama are by far the most developed and experienced of this year’s newcomers. With a Pentatonix-esque make-up (one girl and five boys) and a very unique, professional style, it will be interesting to be what kind of impact the group can make in their debut year. You can find the group on Facebook.

Old-Timers

The Imperielles: I said last year that these girls would be ones to watch in future. As the only all-girl group in this year’s London Regional, they will definitely stand out. Their performance last year in their debut competition was good without being outstanding, and with some strong-looking newcomers as well as last year’s champions in the mix, they will have to raise their game to stand a chance of qualification for the final.

The Techtonics: Despite having never made the final, The Techtonics must be one of the favourites to win the competition this year, after such a successful year since last year’s Festival. The third group from Imperial College in this year’s Regional, they have released a highly acclaimed debut full-length album, with one of the tracks featuring on CASA’s Sing 9 collection, a highly impressive achievement for a UK collegiate group. With such a morale boost behind them, they can build on last year’s award-winning set and really challenge not just for the Regional qualification, but for the entire competition.

All the King’s Men: Let’s not rule out last year’s winners just yet, though. The current champions, who also happen to be the third best group in the world having held their own at the international final in New York, they are the only former champions in this years competition, without Out of the Blue, The Oxford Gargoyles and Cadenza, and this will surely encourage them to push for further success. They have lost a chunk of their group, including founder and all-round musical maestro Henry Southern, so it will be interesting to see how they patch up the holes left from departing members. In such esteemed company, it could be difficult to repeat their success this year.

Summary

On first glance, All the King’s Men are the hot favourites as last year’s winners. However, with such strides being made by fellow all-male group The Techtonics in the past year, they will definitely not be complacently strolling into the final, and will still need on the top of their game in order to progress. Of the newcomers, Vive, as music school students, will undoubtedly bring a higher level of musical professionalism and nuances that regular university students might not have, and this could hold them in good stead. The Imperielles will need to step up in order to challenge for the places, while other newcomers The Scopes and The Houghtones have a big task ahead of them (namely, beating the third best group in the world) to have a successful debut. It’s a tough call, as always, but I have a feeling we might have a surprise winner of this one.

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Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 2: St Andrews

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we here at the blog were once again provided with a wonderful Christmas present: the announcement of the round allocations for this year’s Voice Festival UK university competition. For the second year running, the competition is bigger than ever, with more groups from more universities competing than ever before in five Regional Rounds: Oxford, St Andrews, London, Birmingham and Exeter.

In this series of blogs, we will be previewing each Regional Round, commenting on each group and their chances of reaching the final, as well as introducing several groups you might not yet have heard of.

In the second blog, we go to the only round aside from Oxford that has been going since the Festival’s inception, that in St Andrews, which also happens to be the only round with the exact same line-up as last year. The round will take place on Saturday 23rd February 2013.

Potted History

Traditionally, this round has been fought out by three groups in the past four years: The Accidentals, The Alleycats and The Other Guys, with each group having qualified for the final twice in four years: The Alleycats in 2009 and 2010, The Accidentals in 2010 and 2011, and The Other Guys in 2009 and 2012. This three-group domination is emphasised by the fact that those three groups scooped all the awards in last year’s Regional; in fact the only other group to have won an award in this round is Choral Stimulation, who won two, in 2010 and 2011. With no group gaining a dominant foothold, this round is always one of the closest to call.

Notable Absence

The Vocal Bandits: The unauditioned group from the University of St Andrews may not have competed in the Festival before, but that didn’t stop talk of them potentially taking part this year. After impressing at the university’s Christmas Concert in November, there was talk that the group would take the number competing in the round to an unprecedented seven, but have instead chosen to remain spectators. We wish the group all the best for the future and hope to see them try their hand in future.

Old-Timers

Aberpella: Competing for the second year in the competition, Aberdeen’s mixed group will be hoping for more success than in their debut season. With a year of experience in the bag, they will have learnt from last year’s outing and will almost certainly be stronger this year. However, in one of the notoriously toughest Regionals, they will have to show significant improvement to beat some of the more established acts. They are still the most inexperienced group in this round, and that could count against them.

The Accidentals: Technically still the UK’s best all-female a cappella group, thanks to their final performance in 2011 and the absence of female groups in last year’s finale, the girls will bring their fierce brand of female feistiness to the Regional as always. Having kept the majority of their members this year, and having recruited three exceptionally talented girls, this continuity could hold them in good stead as they look to reach their third final.

The Alleycats: In my opinion, they were unlucky not to win this Regional last year with what could be considered as their golden generation. One of last year’s competition numbers, Titanium, was selected as the runner-up in our countdown of the best tracks of 2012, and if they put together a similar masterpiece this time around, they will definitely be challengers again. However, having lost a huge number of members and having replaced their entire bass roster, you have to wonder whether this will hamper their chances.

Choral Stimulation: The Glasgow group could arguably be seen as the nearest challengers to the ‘Big Three’, having been the only group outside of St Andrews to have picked up any sort of award in this Regional. Having competed since 2010, they are renowned for bringing a very original brand of a cappella to St Andrews, having sung Lonely Island’s I Just Had Sex at the recent Christmas Concert. They could be ones to watch this year as their group progresses and matures.

The Hummingbirds: Despite having competed since the Festival’s inception in 2009, St Andrews’ newest all-girl group have never reached the final or picked up any awards at the St Andrews Regional. Their style of a cappella is completely different to that of the Accidentals, focusing mainly on cutesy pop numbers, which does add variety to proceedings. I feel good about the group’s chances of ending their barren streak this year, having gained a lot of stage experience since last year’s competition and having recruited a lot of talented members. If they can seize some sort of competitive edge, they might shock a few.

The Other Guys: It cannot be denied that The Other Guys have had a successful few years; in the past year they have run (unsuccessfully) for Christmas Number 1, released a successful Christmas record and have recently announced another EP will be available for Valentine’s Day, just 9 days before the Voice Festival rolls into town. Commercial success does not translate to competitive success, though, and despite reaching the final last year, the group were thought to fall quite short of eventual winners, All the King’s Men. The group has fleshed out a little this year, losing just one member last year, and this continuity could help them reach their third final in five years.

Summary

As always, the St Andrews Regional is one of the hardest to call. It’s difficult to look past the ‘Big Three’, as historically The Alleycats, The Accidentals and The Other Guys have dominated without any of the three qualifying consistently. The last time The Alleycats qualified was in 2010, and they will be desperate to make amends this year, but with solidarity from their main rivals that could be difficult. The other three groups are hardly there to make up the numbers though: Choral Stimulation have improved year on year and were unlucky not to pick up any awards last year. Their originality and fresh take on a cappella will always be admired in this Regional. The Hummingbirds have also been sounding excellent recently, and could break their qualifying duck, while Aberpella will have improved massively since last year. I wouldn’t want to judge this one.

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Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 1: Oxford

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we here at the blog were once again provided with a wonderful Christmas present: the announcement of the round allocations for this year’s Voice Festival UK university competition. For the second year running, the competition is bigger than ever, with more groups from more universities competing than ever before in five Regional Rounds: Oxford, St Andrews, London, Birmingham and Exeter.

In this series of blogs, we will be previewing each Regional Round, commenting on each group and their chances of reaching the final, as well as introducing several groups you might not yet have heard of.

In the first blog, we kick off at one of the longest running Regional Rounds, that in Oxford, and the line-up looks slightly different this year. The round will take place on Sunday 3rd March 2013.

Potted History

This is the fifth time the Oxford Regional Round has taken place, having started at the inaugural Voice Festival competition back in 2009. In the first two years, Out of the Blue qualified for the final twice, alongisde The Oxford Belles and The Oxford Gargoyles in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Since the introduction of two extra Regionals, Out of the Blue have gone on to qualify alone in 2011 and 2012, meaning they have made the final in every year possible.

Notable Absence

Out of the Blue: The first of two huge absences from this year competition, the boys from Oxford have this year decided to withdraw from the competition in order to focus on other projects. Their departure is a huge loss to the competition and will mean the group relinquish their record of being in every single VF-UK Final. Having proceeded to the ICCA Finals in New York as winners in 2009 and coming second, alongisde huge national exposure on Britain’s Got Talent and having the largest fanbase in the UK, they leave a legacy behind them, while blowing the Regional in Oxford wide open.

The Oxford Gargoyles: The second significant absence from the competition this year is the well-established jazz group. While the group have only ever reached the final once, the year they won the competition in 2010, they are seen as one of the most professional groups in the country, having reached the final of BBC’s Choir of the Year 2012 and appearing on national television as a result. Judging by what I saw of the group at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, their departure is another big loss to the competition, and we hope to see the group back in coming years.

Switching Sides

The King’s Chicks: New name, new location. Formerly the King’s Chix, the group have decided to indicate their maturity by stylising their name slightly differently, and have been re-jigged into the Oxford Regional due to the large number of groups popping up in London this year. With this their third year in the competition, having competed in London in the previous two years, now would seem to be the best time to be relocated to this particular round, given the notable absences above. Having seen them at the Edinburgh Fringe briefly in the summer, there was room for improvement, but a New Year and a fresh batch of members could allow the group to thrive in their new surroundings.

Old-Timers

The Oxford Alternotives: Having competed in Cambridge twice and in Oxford twice, it seems with the lack of Cambridge participants at all this year, the Alternotives are back home for good. Having won an award every year they have competed (last year for ‘Outstanding Choreography’), and having reached the final in 2009, their longevity and experience could hold them in good stead this year.

The Oxford Belles: One of three all-female groups in this year’s Oxford Regional, the Belles are one of only three all-female groups to ever reach the final of the competition, and as such will feel confident going into this year’s Regional. The group blew us away last year with an ‘Outstanding Soloist’ during their cover of Jar of Hearts, which was later awarded 5th place in our countdown of the top tracks of 2012. If they can utilise their members to such good effect again this year, they may well be the favourites to qualify – after all, I had them down as a close second last year.

In The Pink: Credit to In The Pink, since last year’s competition they have strived to build on simply gaining experience from the Voice Festival. Having had another successful Fringe run and toured Berlin, they have been picking up experience here, there and everywhere, and have released a solid studio album. Whether this will translate to a live competition remains to be seen, but the girls should not be underestimated.

The Ultrasounds: After a very solid debut last year, claiming award for ‘Outstanding Vocal Percussion’ and ‘Outstanding Performance’. Having since released a debut studio album, the all-male, all-medic group are now the sole male-only group in this Regional, and if they can build on their impressive debut, they could surprise a few.

Summary

With two previous winners no longer competing, this has blown not just this Regional but the entire competition wide open. As the only two previous finalists left in this round, you have to suggest that the favourites are either The Oxford Alternotives or The Oxford Belles, despite neither group having made the final since 2009. Based on recent performances, I would say the Belles are the closest to making it this year. However, experience does not necessarily mean victory, and the strong debut from The Ultrasounds last year is something that, if properly built upon, could stand them in good stead this year. In The Pink have also had a good year since the last competition, and their experience in Germany and in Edinburgh will have undoubtedly strengthened their core sound. That leaves The King’s Chicks, who I am sure will be well received by the new Oxford crowd, and in their third year of competition, they will also be expecting some sort of progress. This one is really tough to call.

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Exclusive Interview: The Voice Festival UK 2013 Kicks Off

Guess what? The time has almost come for the biggest collegiate event of the year. Forget University Challenge, forget the publication of the league tables, this is all about pure, unadulterated awesome in the form of university a cappella.

As always, we here at University A Cappella UK will be following every group, every round and every song as the events unfold, including previews and reviews of each round and the prediction polls, which we hope will evoke much discussion like last year. Before all of that though, we spoke to Cherith Graham, member of the Voice Festival team, about the structure of this year’s competition, the upcoming ‘Big Weekend’ and personal favourites from the past season.

UACUK: Hi Cherith, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Before we start, let’s clarify your role in the team. What exactly is your area?

CG: Hi Mark! Each of the team has specific responsibilities. I’m Brand and Marketing Manager for the Voice Festival (VF-UK) as well as being one of the team’s Event Managers.

My focus for the last year has been on revamping the Voice Festival’s look and feel so that we can better communicate who we are and what we do. The Voice Festival has come a long way in five years – our offering has flexed and multiplied and we now have three fully fledged programmes (youth, universities, and communities) for supporting and developing singers of different ages and experiences. So in response to this growth, and taking on board feedback from our singers, volunteers, audiences and patrons we’ve made some significant changes.

As part of this rebrand journey, I’ve been responsible for designing our new website. It’s a privilege to work with so many vibrant and inventive singers and we wanted our website to be a stage for showcasing this talent, and energising new communities of a cappella singers and enthusiasts. The site makes it easier for existing singers and a cappella fanatics to share opportunities and knowledge, stay up to date with VF-UK opportunities and events, and keep talking to us and telling us what is needed from our programmes.

With my Event Manager hat on, I work on various events in the Voice Festival calendar. Like the rest of the team, this means anything and everything from sourcing venues for hosting workshops and events, setting up the box office, advertising the events, liaising with the performers, and making sure our workshops go to plan.

UACUK: And now the applications have closed, how has the response been in general compared to last year?

CG: The response has been great – we’ve had a lot of interest, and have ended up with more groups from more universities competing than ever before. We’ve had new groups coming forward, or at least expressing interest and making enquiries, and we’re really excited for the year ahead.

UACUK: Are you still running the three competitions (i.e. Community, Youth and University) side-by-side this year?

CG: That’s the plan. Applications have now closed for University and Community groups, and Youth applications will close shortly. Obviously a big part of what we at the Voice Festival aim to do is to encourage and enable a cappella singers of all ages and life experiences to meet and interact with each other, and this is once again a vital ingredient of the 2013 season.

UACUK: Have you ever thought about combining the three competitions?

CG: We have considered it in the past, especially when considering whether or not the competition would remain in its current format, but we felt that in order to keep the competition fair and healthy, it makes sense to grow them individually.

UACUK: Members of groups involved may know, although outsiders may not, that you were considering changing the competition from Regionals to one large ‘Big Weekend’ style competition in March in London. You then asked for feedback on these suggestions and have since reverted to the previous format. What exactly has changed since last year, and was this partly due to the feedback given by previously competing groups?

CG: Yes, having taken on board feedback from previous competing groups, and the feedback from our Big Weekend consultation, we’ve decided to maintain our UK wide competition format, as well as introduce the Big Weekend to this year’s programme.

This structure was prompted by feedback, yes, because we received some very strong opinions from several groups who said they would prefer the University competition format to stay as it was. But we also felt in order to further the goals of the Voice Festival, we wanted to keep our plans for the ‘Big Weekend’. as we felt it would be a great opportunity for groups to come and meet each other, learn from each other and from professionals, and to perform with each other in a less tense and competitive atmosphere. It will take place 15-17 March 2013 in London, and all groups from the regional rounds are invited to attend, with the idea being that transport will be paid for by the profits from each Regional Round.

This will be made possible by one of the other differences this year. Instead of the Voice Festival team organising each Regional Round, volunteers from the groups competing will be forming what we’re calling ‘Event Co-Ordinator Teams’, which will work in partnership with a Voice Festival representative as the ‘Event Manager’. This gives each region more of a say in the format of their round and will hopefully lead to more regional character. It also encourages local groups to work together and become a central hub for growing a cappella in their region. Obviously, the adjudication side of the events will still be taken care of by us to ensure fair competition.

UACUK: Are you happy with the progress that the Voice Festival has made, both in the past four years and with the introduction of the Big Weekend? Are you happy that the majority of the groups appear to be on board with the developments?

CG: Absolutely. It’s a new, exciting journey for us as a team and for UK a cappella. In the feedback, people always tell us that one of the most rewarding aspects of VF-UK is the opportunity to sing to new audiences and in new environments, and so promoting those opportunities is central to what we are doing – adding to opportunities that groups make for themselves throughout the year. But also, we feel a bit of competition is healthy, because it leads to groups pushing themselves and pushing the boundaries of what they are capable of as a vocal group. So I think it’s definitely lining up to be a fantastic season.

UACUK: You’ve confirmed the date of the Big Weekend as 15-17 March. With regard to the Regional competitions, will you be suggesting dates to the team organising each event, or will it be up to them when they take place?

CG: A balance of both. We’d like it to be a collaboration between the Event Co-Ordinator Team and Event Manager so that a stretch of weekends are found that work best for everyone. Obviously they have the guidance of when the events have occurred in previous years to help them, and are encouraged to hold them at times that would be good, depending on term times and exams etc., but at the same time we’d like them to be roughly at similar times as in previous years, simply because those dates have worked well in the past. I think we’ll probably end up with Regionals sitting in the same time period as before.

UACUK: However positive it is that you’ve got a record number of groups competing in this year’s university competition, why do you think groups such as Cadenza, Out of the Blue, The Fitz Sirens and The Oxford Gargoyles have decided to pull out of the competition in the past two years, and is this a concern?

CG: I think it’s partly due to the nature of university groups. Because they change membership year on year, they also change their priorities. It depends on the group make-up. Obviously, we provide a service for the groups, giving them new opportunities and experiences, so it’s completely up to the groups whether or not they want to take that opportunity. While Out Of the Blue have decided they don’t want the competition to be a feature of their year, they are still keen to support the Oxford event and join the activities for the Big Weekend, as well as being involved in future years. And even though The Fitz Sirens didn’t compete last year, they still came and performed at our showcase up in Edinburgh in August. So it’s not a case of ‘if you don’t compete, you don’t get anything’; rather, groups are free to take part in our events as they see fit. It’s not a concern for us – the competition is still growing and we are still achieving our aims, and we are positive the groups not involved will still have thoroughly successful seasons.

UACUK: Are there any kind of plans to extend the competition to involve Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals as the competition element grows in the future?

CG: We can see the rationale for doing it that way, definitely, but what we’d like to focus on more is this idea of the Big Weekend. We don’t want to put up metaphorical ‘fences’ around different regions and only ever have groups meeting and competing with each other from certain regions. We want to encourage, for example, groups from St Andrews to really listen to and take interest in, say, the groups from Exeter, and vice versa. And the Big Weekend is, for this year, our way of doing that. Obviously there will be a post-Festival evaluation, as ever, analysing whether or not it worked. However, at least for 2013, the idea is to hang the Festival around our Big Weekend in London.

UACUK: One final question: as you may or may not have seen, we’ve been running a ‘Best of British’ countdown of our favourite tracks from 2012. Do you have a personal favourite from the past year?

CG: That’s a tricky one- I have too many favourites! There’s just too much great UK talent to choose from….hence.. the Voice Collection 2013! Now there’s another exciting Voice Festival project to look forward to for 2013.

The Voice Festival Regional Round dates are now confirmed as follows:

London: Sat 9th March
St Andrews: Sat 23rd February
Exeter: Sat 2nd March
Oxford: Sun 3rd March
Birmingham: Sat 9th March

The ‘Big Weekend’ and University Final will take place on the weekend of the 15-17 March. Don’t worry! We’ll keep you in the loop as we learn more.

Best of British 2012: 1. Hide and Seek

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 concludes 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
3. The Techtonics – Earthquake
2. The Alleycats – Titanium

1. All the King’s Men – Hide and Seek

Sneaking into the number one spot is the only track on our list that failed to win an award of some sort in 2012, partly due to its omission from the group’s Voice Festival set, it’s the magnificent Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap, covered superbly and precisely by our current UK Champions of A Cappella, All the King’s Men. It is testament to the strength in depth the boys had over the past year that they managed to win the Voice Festival despite this track, in our opinion their finest, not featuring on their set. Upon hearing that the group had claimed the number one spot, former MD Henry Southern was delighted. “That’s great news! The song definitely became the one we were most proud of in our repertoire last year.”

The song is, admits Southern, the first number the group have performed that was not arranged by a member of the group. “I’d wanted to do the song as I thought that it would work well with the voices we had for the ’11-’12 group. Our blend, musicality and ensemble singing was quickly coming together, particularly on the slower songs, and I thought it would fit the group perfectly.” However, just as Southern was about to start arranging the song, fellow group member Josh Cooter chimed in with a suggestion. “Josh said that he had done Tom [Recknell]’s arrangement with him at school and that Tom kindly granted us permission to use it.” Southern was delighted with the arrangement, and having heard it himself, Recknell was also pleased with the results. Henry adds that “it was great to have Josh’s guidance when we were rehearsing the arrangement, as he was already so familiar with it.” The group were also honoured to be able to work on the song with their patron, Paul Phoenix from The King’s Singers, who had recorded the track back in 2010. “His input was invaluable,” says Southern.

The debut performance of the song was recorded at Hollywood High School and was a warm up to a larger performance at Claremont later that evening, during the group’s early 2012 West Coast US Tour. “The reception was always very positive and it is probably one of the songs that people remember the most – partly because we almost always had it at the end of the set. “The tight musical control that is evident throughout the song was something that was worked on from the very beginning of the performance process. “Because we were so diligent about the musical points from the very beginning, the performance of it didn’t change that much over the months we performed it. Usually an arrangement gradually develops and improves through time, but we only performed this when we felt we were 100% ready – it took a lot of work!”

The story of why the song didn’t make their Voice Festival set, not to mention their ICCA Final set, is a long one with many factors for and against the song. “We already had a strong ‘slow song’ lined up with Hallelujah which we had been singing all year and so we were very comfortable with it.” Despite the perhaps overdone nature of the song, Southern still claims this was a good decision. “We felt that Noah Mosley’s arrangement was very unique, it fitted with the style we were developing, and above all Tom Aldren nailed the baritone solo every time! It ticked all the boxes for a competition piece.” Added to that, Southern didn’t feel Hide and Seek was ready for the Voice Festival. “As mentioned before, we only started learning it in January, and the very nature of the piece meant it had to be perfect otherwise it could have fallen a bit flat.” Timing was also an issue. “If we were to have replaced Hallelujah in our set with Hide and Seek, it would have been too long to fit within the assigned 12 minutes and if we’d taken out another number in its place it would have been detrimental to the overall set – it wouldn’t have been balanced or demonstrated everything the group could do.” The group did toy with the idea of performing the number as a part of their ICCA Final set after speaking with Dominic Peckham post-Voice Festival final, but the group decided to stick with their winning combination, finishing 3rd in the final in New York in the process.

To close, Henry gave us some words of wisdom that can translate to any performance of a song. “I really think that if you enjoy singing something, it comes across to the audience. We knew the effect that this arrangement could have on an audience and we milked it for all its worth! Something which Paul worked on with us is not being afraid to express the meaning of the words. If you want to make the audience cry, you have to feel like you are going to cry. That sounds very pretentious, but it is all too easy to switch off when singing an arrangement you’ve sung countless of times – when we all locked in it was magic!”

Hide and Seek has been specially uploaded onto Soundcloud for your pleasure and enjoyment. We recommend closing your eyes and taking in the breathtaking blend.

Our countdown is now over! We hope you enjoyed reliving 2012 with us. Here’s to an even better 2013!

Best of British 2012: 2. Titanium

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
3. The Techtonics – Earthquake

2. The Alleycats – Titanium

Awards: ‘Outstanding Vocal Percussion’, Voice Festival UK 2012, St Andrews Regional

Prowling in at number two is a hard-hitting ballad from St Andrews’ mixed group, The Alleycats, from their latest album, We’re Not Kitten. The track, a cover of David Guetta ft. Sia’s Titanium, debuted at the St Andrews Regional Round of the Voice Festival UK but, according to Musical Director Brendan Macdonald, the group weren’t quite up to the standard they had hoped for that night. “We were a bit nervous and weren’t as satisfied with that performance of ‘Titanium’ as we have been with others, but nevertheless, we were still told by friends and family that they absolutely loved it.” The song was such a hit that it featured prominently on their Edinburgh Fringe setlist, and was an instant crowd-pleaser during their BBC Choir of the Year Section Final set.

The arrangement itself was a little rushed, but had very original intentions behind it. According to Macdonald, the group were looking for “a track which would not only highlight Cammy [Dobbie]’s incredible vocal percussion skills, but change the idea of what a slow a cappella ballad sounded like. We only actually decided on Titanium in January.” Having mentioned the premise of their ballad to fellow group member Annie Faichney, Brendan received a response almost immediately. “A few days later she messaged me with the idea of Titanium. It was the perfect track. I started coming up with different parts for the song, and quickly wrote out an arrangement that could work for the group.” As for where Brendan got his inspiration from, a specific Alleycat alumnus is to thank for that: “Lizzy Weintz’s arrangement of Violet Hill for our ’08-’09 litter really influenced how I came at arranging Titanium. Violet Hill is a complete departure from its original, and does what I think any great cover should do: gives the listener a completely new understanding of the song. We wanted to do the same thing with Titanium.”

Since its debut, the song really became one of the favourites of the group as the a cappella season progressed, but Macdonald claims the complexity of the song also helped the group improve as an entity. “The arrangement forced us to adopt better singing habits, and as such, really strengthened us as a group.” Macdonald went on to reveal why the song was so enjoyable for the group to perform. “The dynamics of the song, with the ever-growing crescendo until the very final chorus, are so enjoyable to execute. And of course, any chance to get to hear Heather [Robertson, the soloist on the track]’s unbelievable alto voice completely commit to that solo is worth taking.”

Having been asked about how they would tackle the song now the soloist, Heather Robertson, has left the group, Macdonald made a poignant point. “There are, in my eyes, two soloists in Titanium – Heather (obviously), and Cammy as well, because the beat-boxing is relentless, and drives the entire emotional arc that we intended to create.” Having said that, “Heather’s haunting rendition of Sia’s part is so powerful.” With regards the future of the song, Brendan suggested the emotional ties to the original soloists would not be released so readily. “To me, I still think of the song as Heather’s and Cammy’s, and so at the moment we’ve decided to put it on the shelf for a while.”

So, Titanium charts at Number 2 on our list, a track which can be found on their album, We’re Not Kitten. But who will chart at Number 1? Stay tuned…

Best of British 2012: 3. Earthquake

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

3. The Techtonics – Earthquake

Awards:
‘Outstanding Performance’, Voice Festival UK 2012, London Regional
Featured on Sing 9 compilation album.

Shaking the foundations of our list at number three is the frankly phenomenal final track from the debut album by Imperial College’s The Techtonics, their cover of Labrinth’s Earthquake. The song, which made its debut at the London Regional, has since become only the second track from a British collegiate group to feature on CASA’a Sing compilation, featuring on the ninth edition, Supernovem. But the track started out in less esteemed surroundings. James Hayward, arranger of the track and last year’s MD, came up with the idea in the lead up to Christmas 2011. “I remember hearing the original tens if not hundreds of times in the lead up to Christmas that year, as it had just been released. After a while I began to realise I wasn’t getting sick of it. Obviously, at that time we were in need of tracks for our Voice Festival set, and the more I thought about it, the more the track seemed to fit so perfectly into the repertoire of the group: we had been experimenting with dubstep and more commercial sounds; such was the talent of the group at the time that we were able to use an obscene range; and the symmetry of a group called ‘The Techtonics’ covering a song called ‘Earthquake’ was too good to miss.”

The arrangement itself was one which in the first case was one which the group wanted to make as original as possible, but was partially based on a Radio 1 Live Lounge version of the song. “Actually, that version of the song involved the Swingle Singers doing the Ah-vocal at the start, which brings it nicely full circle to a cappella music!”

It was a quick turnover from idea to arrangement and from rehearsal to performance, though, but Hayward claims it was worth it. “Despite only learning it a month before VF-UK rolled into town, upon talking to the judges after the show, the song definitely made the right sort of impression.” He remains, however, reserved about that premiere performance. “Being a massive critic, I hate looking back at the video of it, because it improved so much from that point in time.” Despite its many forms and transformations, the song remained a favourite of the group throughout the rest of the year for that very reason. “With regards to the live performance, it has come a long way since the slightly rushed (both in preparation and tempo!) version we threw together at VF-UK. Adding microphones adds an extra element to it, while there is a lot of scope for improvisation within the track,” said Hayward, adding: “We’ll put that down as a deliberate creative tool rather than a lazy arrangement!” When asked about the album version of the track, Hayward continued: “It took many forms during recording too, before we eventually settled on the track that can be found on the album.”

When asked about the track’s selection for Sing 9, ‘surprised’ and ‘delighted’ were two words that were abundant as James spoke. “Even from when we sent the initial bare bones track to the States for mixing, the idea was to win things. But to be selected for something as prestigious as the ‘Sing’ compilation was a real honour and a privilege.” Hayward proceeded to thank several of his team, both singers and producers, for the hard work they put in: “To say all the hard work was worth it is a massive understatement.” Thanks go to Matt Chinery, Alex Koutzoukis, James Cannon and Dave Sperandio.

As for why the song has become such a hit outside of just the group, the young man came up with several suggestions. “It’s a real crowd favourite,” poses Hayward, while adding: “The energy of it builds perfectly. Thanks to Labrinth himself for that! It’s also perfect for closing sets, or indeed an album, as it’s kind of become our token song.” Hayward goes on: “The edits on the album track were nothing short of remarkable. As one of the only people who heard it from start to finish, I an honestly say I never imagined such a drastic change. And when I heard they were jamming along to it at SoJam, I was blown away – I think it’s partly down to the commercial nature of the song: the big hits, big bass and synth FX on the high vocals make it something a little more accessible to those outside of the a cappella community.”

Suitable for any occasion, especially parties an on loud speakers with a sub-woofer (trust me, I would know), Earthquake can be bought on the Imperial College Website as part of the Groundbreaker.