Album Review: Vive Album

Vive's debut album is a 6-track record and features several numbers that were used in their Voice Festival UK award- and title-winning set.

Vive’s debut album is a 6-track record and features several numbers that were used in their Voice Festival UK award- and title-winning set.

After their winning performance at this year’s Voice Festival UK, I thought it was about time I got round to reviewing Vive’s short debut album, which was released in January this year and was a taster of what we were witness to at the City of London School for Girls last week. The six-strong group, consisting of five guys and a solitary female, might on first sight be compared to Pentatonix, but their sound couldn’t be more different.

While I’m not the biggest fan of jazz music, safe to say this album shows off the musical ear that the group were so highly praised for at the Final last weekend, and demonstrates a capacity not only to put a fresh, original take on well-known numbers, but also the inventiveness and musical precision that is presented in the two original tracks on the album, Your Motivation and Voices.

The group show off the insane variety of harmonies that can be used for one note during the start of High (Forever You And Me) by the Lighthouse Family, with some gorgeous falsetto from Sam Robson delicately soaring over the top of the blend. Emily Dankworth takes the solo, which is angelic but the complexity of the harmonies throughout the piece means it is probably the least interesting part of the song. There are some exquisite slides up towards the bridge, and I enjoy how the group drops the beat during the first chorus and sings almost in unison, a unique and brave choice which pays off, with some complex jazz harmonies once again shining through. The most impressive thing about this number is the group’s ability to turn a lovely yet uninteresting original into something in which a new and interesting rhythm, chord or beat is just around the corner.

They segue into the second track, Ezekiel saw de Wheel, a spiritual piece, which incorporates some incredible high harmonies and a gorgeous tenor solo from Sam Robson of which I am insanely jealous. Some of his runs are just insane, especially towards the end when everyone else drops out and he is left to have free reign on the solo, which he fully utilises. I enjoyed the group’s slide towards the end note again at the end of this one. The first original, Your Motivation, written by Sam Robson, is great. The group splits the solo between the boys, each one of them proving they are no less talented than the others, with each one of them showing careful control of their soothing voices. Again, great jazzy, original harmonies throughout.

Just as things stray near the danger-zone of becoming ‘too same-y’, the group bring out two more well-known numbers in Kiss From A Rose and Somewhere from West Side Story, the latter of which is the highlight of the album. Kiss is the straightest cover on the record, and it is refreshing to hear the group stick more closely to the original, despite the fact they have a good play about with the rhythms towards the second half of the track. The vocal percussion is used sparingly here but effectively. Somewhere is phenomenal, simply because for forty seconds, the group sings ‘Ooh-Aah’ to about a hundred different notes, with almost every single combination of notes different to the others and thus capturing the attention of the listener. Dankworth’s solo is beautifully floated over the top, and Robson’s falsetto descends, ascends and resolves with precision and delicacy several times. The final chord is unreal. Just unreal.

The final track, Voices, is kind of Your Motivation 2.0, a solid arrangement with some decent solos and gorgeous jazz chords, and this brings me to my only criticism of the album – there is no denying that Vive are a mega-talented bunch of musicians, and that their jazz/spiritual vibe is very much lounge music and not even close to the realms of sing-a-long pop, but there isn’t a huge amount of variety here. They know what they are good at, and they do it superbly, perhaps a little self-indulgently, but I’d love to see them tackle more numbers like Somewhere on their next album that give them the opportunity to blast out and hold some really meaty chords – a lot of the most impressive and unique chords in a lot of the numbers were so fleeting that you weren’t given enough time to really enjoy them.

That said, the group has way more musical proficiency than I could ever dream of, but from the point of view of a listener, this isn’t an album I’d choose to put on – rather, something I’d add to a lounge playlist to stick on during a particularly long and stressful Russian essay. There is no doubting the group’s musicianship, which is frankly phenomenal for a group this young, but it is their ability to entertain and the replay-factor that doesn’t quite come across here. No doubt the group has a massive future ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see how the group develops and further improves in the coming years.

Vive’s album can be bought on Bandcamp. For more information about the group, check out their Facebook Page.

Liquid 5th – Official Partners of University A Cappella UK

Fullscreen capture 20032013 124523.bmpWe here at University A Cappella UK are delighted and proud to announce an official partnership between ourselves and an exciting a cappella company in the United States – Liquid 5th. After meeting with Public Relations Officer Josh Chopak at last weekend’s Voice Festival UK Big Weekend, we are thrilled to be partnering with such an exciting and dynamic company.

Who are Liquid 5th?
Liquid 5th was co-founded in 2005 by current co-owner and CEO Carl Taylor. Carl was later joined by current co-owner Chris Juengel. They currently consist of 9 members. Based in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, three of them live in North Carolina, while the rest are spread out between Boston, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, and Connecticut.

What does Liquid 5th do?
Liquid 5th offers two primary services: live a cappella sound production and a cappella album production. The former requires that they provide all elements of live sound at any given concert: speakers, mics, running the sound board, etc. Their current clients include the Pentatonix tour, the ICCA Finals, as well as numerous semi- and quarter-final events, and the SoJam a cappella festival. The latter of their services involves any and all of the following: recording/tracking, editing, mixing and mastering.

How do they do it?
Liquid 5th’s standard recording technique includes a mobile recording rig that can be set up in any suitable room, which can include classrooms, practice rooms, closets and basements. This allows them to travel to the client such that the process is as easy and convenient as possible.
In addition to their mobile rig, they recently opened The A Cappella Studio, a full-service a cappella studio in Durham, North Carolina. The state of the art studio includes four isolation booths, a live room, a solo room, and a control room, which allows up to eight singers to record at once without bleed between mics.
During the recording process, they take extra care to ensure that the client is the boss to whatever extent that group would like to be. In other words, they will offer expertise as often as they can, but the product is not finalized until the client is not only satisfied, but excited.

Why UACUK?
While Liquid 5th have done extensive work in the States, they are very excited about their new involvement in the UK, particularly with the UACUK. The UK a cappella scene, particularly at the collegiate level, is about to explode and they are so thrilled to be a part of that. Our hope is of course to have the opportunity to work with as many UK groups as possible and immerse ourselves in what promises to be a thriving community for quite some time.

You can find out more about Liquid 5th by heading to their website.

Last Call for International ICCA Applications – March 22 Deadline

Calling all UK university groups: the deadline for applications for the International WildCard for the ICCA Finals in New York next month is fast approaching. Don’t miss out on your chance to perform at the ICCA Finals at the Lincoln Center in New York as the international representative of a cappella.

According to the official website, “For international groups who cannot participate in a live ICCA event, we offer one additional competition space for ICCA Finals in New York City each season.”

“Groups can videotape their competition set, just as though they were performing at a live ICCA event–no stops, edits, or cuts. Three Varsity Vocals adjudicators will evaluate the performances.”

“On April 1, the top-scoring group will be declared the winner of the International Round and will be invited to appear at ICCA Finals.”

You can find out more about how to apply to compete at the ICCA Finals right here.

Event Review: VF-UK 2013 London Regional Round

by Folarin Akinmade

For those of you that weren’t at the London round of the Voice Festival UK on Saturday 9 March, you truly missed a treat. As always, the standard of quality was soaring and a good time was had by all.

Before we get to the review, a quick summary of the show:

The Competitors:
THE SCOPES from Imperial College, London
ALL THE KING’S MEN from King’s College, London
THE HOUGHTONES from London School of Economics
VIVE from Guildhall School for Music and Drama
IMPERIELLES from Imperial College, London
THE TECHTONICS from Imperial College, London

Master of Ceremonies:
Scott Riseborough, Voice Festival UK

The show was opened by newcomers, The Scopes, from Imperial College. Their relative youth seemed to show in a certain timidness at the beginning of their performance, but as their set wore on it became apparent that the group has accomplished a great deal in their short careers, having only formed last year. The second song of their set, Live While We’re Young by One Direction gave them a chance to really settle into the show, and have fun with their performance, and by the time it segued into Starships by Nicki Minaj, their energy and enthusiasm was beginning to rub off on the audience. Though the beginning of their third and final song had a slightly prolonged start, it soon became the best song of their piece with simple, but extremely effective choreography, and a fantastic solo from Will Carr. All in all, it was a good performance and a brilliant debut at the VF-UK.

All The King’s Men, King’s College London’s all-male group were next to the stage, and as the reigning champs they had a lot to live up to, and they didn’t disappoint. They opened with Steve Winwood and James Vincent McMorrow’s Higher Love, and immediately demonstrated the slick, togetherness that carried them to victory last year. It was clear that they’ve been doing this a while. Their second song was Slow Dancing In A Burning Room by John Mayer, a fantastic arrangement that played with the texture and emotion of the original, even adding choral elements whilst still retaining the raw emotion of John Mayer’s classic. The final song of their set was Forever by Chris Brown. This number, fronted by one Eunseog Lee had the men showing off their boy band credentials with dance moves that would throw teenage girls into a frenzy. The judges later awarded them the award for ‘Outstanding Choreography’ with judge Paul Howard Davies noting that it was not just for the elaborate moves, but also for the times when their subtle or non-movements were just as effective in conveying the power and emotion of a song.

The Houghtones of LSE were the third group to take to the stage, and they opened with a fantastically original idea. The theme of radio jingles cleverly ran through their first number. They opened with the BBC Radio 2 jingle, segueing into Queen’s Radio Gaga, Ignition (Remix), and even Beethoven’s fifth symphony combined with When I Get You Alone, Robin Thicke number based on a sample of A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy, before ending on the ‘This Is Heart’ jingle. In that fantastic introduction – complete with a William and Kate parody – they established themselves as having a fantastic sense of humour, great stage presence, and fantastic, simple, but extremely effective arrangements. They clearly enjoy a good medley and so I was already sold, but then their next number, an arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water that borrowed elements of Aretha Franklin’s version of the song, really brought the good stuff, combining a brilliant soloist with an arrangement that was both subtle, pretty, powerful and full on. Their set culminated in a mash-up of We Are Young by fun. and Take A Walk by Passion Pit. This is definitely a group to look out for.

And now, time for something completely different. Vive of Guildhall School of Music took to the stage next, and we simply were not prepared for them. With a distinct lack of choreography, they were not what you might usually expect from an a cappella group competing at VF-UK, but the fact of the matter is, they simply don’t need to conform, the music speaks for itself. I’m struggling to know where to begin, but let it suffice to say that I am in love with Vive. As individuals they all have fantastic voices with Soprano Emily Danworth’s heavenly tone beautifully piercing the blend (though we would be remiss to forget Sam Robson’s beautiful falsetto). They opened with Your Motivation, an original by group founder, James Rose. I had always thought that it would be hard to keep the attention of an audience with an original song in this sort of competition, but Vive were captivating, and the judges recognised this, later awarding them this song the ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ award for its beautiful use of melody. Though Your Motivation was fantastic, for me it was their next song Somewhere from the musical ‘West Side Story’, arranged by alto Sam Robson that really showed what they could do with a beautifully complex arrangement, rich in crunchy, almost-dissonance. Their set ended with a stunning rendition of the spiritual Honour Honour. Vive brought a certain relaxed cool, and an absurdly high level of musicality to their set, and watching them was an absolute pleasure.

The Imperielles of Imperial took to the stage with a very strong opening and a fantastic soloist, though a little steam seemed to be lost towards the end of the song, it was firm start to the set. We then saw their arrangement of the aforementioned fun. song, We Are Young, putting them in direct competition with The Houghtones. The Imperielles take on the song was perhaps more delicate and they held their own beautifully. They ended their set on a high with an arrangement of I Knew You Were Trouble. It was a fantastic arrangement, with brilliant choreography. All the while, their performance was strengthened by the skills of their beat-boxer, a fact noted by judge, Yvette Riby-Williams, whose use of vocal percussion was very imaginative, not simply constraining herself to the standard techniques heard in such a context, but creating interesting and dynamic accompaniment.

The Techtonics‘ set was an absolute delight. It seemed to centre around their desire to subvert and parody every a cappella cliché, other groups and even their own past, and make us wet ourselves with laughter in the process. They started their performance with a rendition of Bangarang by Skrillex, setting the scene for their entirely electronic (mostly dub-step) set that included the likes of Bonkers, Harlem Shake, We Will Rock You, and The Veldt. At this stage it seems pertinent to mention that their deft interpretation of dubstep a cappella was made possible due to the monstrous vocal percussion of Max Hunter who was later presented the ‘Vocal Percussion‘ award. A highlight of their set was Harlem Shake in which they managed to incorporate the dance seen in the viral videos, complete with a man in a horse mask to start it off. As well as not taking themselves to seriously, at one point singing “We really like this song but it’s a little ridiculous”, they also took the time to parody the moving V for which All The King’s Men have gained notoriety for, as well as poking a little fun at VF-UK sets in general – “Now’s the time in a Voice Fest set where everyone knows how it goes”. It was truly rip-roaring stuff, but they took the time to show us that they are fantastic singers with lovely arrangements, particularly at the beginning of the instrumental song, The Veldt, which was a genuinely beautiful moment, and one of their number who asked to be referred to as ‘The Sexy Baritone’ walked away with the ‘Outstanding Soloist’ award.

Awards:
Outstanding Choreography: All the King’s Men
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Max Hunter of The Techtonics
Outstanding Arrangement: Sam Robson of Vive for Your Motivation
Outstanding Soloist: ‘The Sexy Baritone’ of The Techtonics

Ward Swingle Award for Originality: VIVE

WINNER:

ALL THE KING’S MEN

Ultimately, All The King’s Men won the round, with judge Paul Howard Davies saying it was their complete package that won them the day, and Vive were given the ‘Ward Swingle Award for Originality’, meaning the two groups went through to compete in the final.

Vive Triumph in Debut Season; Fifth Different Winner at Fifth Final

In a night full of passion, intricacy, humour, style, sophistication and most of all, music, it was debutants Vive that took this year’s Voice Festival, triumphing over the likes of The Sons of Pitches, The Oxford Alternotives and last year’s champions All the King’s Men in the final at the City of London School for Girls.

With the group from Guildhall College of Music and Drama only reaching the final via a Wildcard after winning the Ward Swingle Award for Originality at the London Regional in the same venue last week, they put together a set never before seen in recent Voice Festival memory, with breaks in between each song to outro and intro the songs either side – something most other groups rarely have time for. The group were clearly the best musicality and indeed in terms of originality – their set contained two songs penned by group members themselves – but the audience favourite appeared to be The Sons of Pitches, who toyed with the audience deliciously throughout their set, and more than deserved their awards for ‘Outstanding Vocal Percussion’ and ‘Outstanding Choreography/Stagecraft’, the latter of which they picked up at last year’s final. Special mention must also go to Jessie Reeves of The Oxford Alternotives, who took the audience on a real emotional journey through her solo of Regina Spektor’s Samson. Surprisingly, reigning champions All the King’s Men left empty handed, as did Glaswegian group Choral Stimulation and Exeter based Semi-Toned, but these were by no means poor performances – each and every group could have made a point for why they were deserved winners on the night; it was merely a case of which group was the most outstanding.

So Vive it was that claimed the title ahead of the rest. What next for the group from Guildhall?

Results Round-Up
Outstanding Musicality: Vive
Outstanding Choreography/Stagecraft: Joe Bellum and Joe Hinds of The Sons of Pitches
Outstanding Arrangements: Sam Robson of Vive
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Jack Blume of The Sons of Pitches
Outstanding Soloist: Jessie Reeves of The Oxford Alternotives for Samson

Winner: VIVE

A full review of last night’s show will be available shortly.

St Andrews to Add Third All-Girl Group to Line-Up

With exciting expansion in the world of university a cappella happening all over the country, with new groups emerging in several hubs across the country, it is no surprise that the urge to quench that a cappella craving has emerged once again in one of the most prolific hubs in the country, at the University of St Andrews.

With the university’s a cappella groups having been taken down a peg or two due to the recent qualification of Glasgow’s Choral Stimulation from the St Andrews Regional of this year’s Voice Festival UK, it appears they will be joined in the coming years by a third all-female group, adding to the list which already contains the UK’s best all-female group, The Accidentals, and the ever-increasing stature of The Hummingbirds.

The group, tentatively called the Belles, has three American girls at its roots, Laura Fabius, Emily Hallinan and Brooke McGrath, and they took their first steps in November last year as a five piece, who formed to sing Christmas Carols around the picturesque university town during the winter months. Since then, the girls made the decision to continue with their passion into the second semester: auditions were held, several applicants were accepted, and the group now finds themselves with the biggest all-female contingent at the university, numbering fourteen in total, most of whom are either first- or second-years at the university, clearly indicating longevity is at the core of their decision.

While modest about their intentions, the girls want to bridge a happy medium between The Accidentals and The Hummingbirds without stepping on anybody’s toes, and simply give more girls the chance to do something they enjoy.

With the fledgling group having only fully come together less than a month ago, they feel it is early days to speculate what kind of personality or uniqueness the group will have, having only made small steps since their inception through workshopping and improvisation as a group. Several of the members have little or no experience in a cappella, and so time will be needed to bed them in.

Regardless of their infancy, though, it is exciting to see yet another group springing up in what is already a hotbed of a cappella. With more interest fielded from Newcastle recently, it seems the UK university a cappella scene is set to explode.

Event Review: VF-UK 2013 Exeter Regional Round

On Saturday 2 March, groups from Exeter and Bath descended upon the University of Exeter’s The Forum for the second Regional Round of this year’s Voice Festival UK. Four groups from the two universities were competing, with a solitary place on offer at the London Final in a couple of weeks’ time.

Before we get to the review, a quick summary of the show:

The Competitors:
SEMI-TONED from the University of Exeter
THE SWEET NOTHINGS from the University of Exeter
AQUAPELLA from the University of Bath
ILLUMINATIONS from the University of Exeter

Interval Act:
THE ROTTEN APPLE ORCHESTRA

Master of Ceremonies:
SCOTT RISEBOROUGH, Voice Festival UK

First up were the sole all-male group in this Regional, Exeter boys Semi-Toned. Wearing black and all sorts of maroon-based accessories, they opened in a compact triangular formation into a mash-up of Bright Lights Bigger City by Cee Lo Green and Living For The Weekend, a Hard-Fi classic. After a lovely blocked chord start to Bright Lights, the beatbox kicked in to open the Hard-Fi track. The soloist, while good, wasn’t outstanding, but mixed in with some frantic backing and some simple pose choreography, this made for an engaging opener. The drop back into Bright Lights was well executed and unexpected, despite the forced rhythmic change, but the two worked well when blended together towards the end, and Eddie Henley looked as if he belonged at the front of the stage during his solo. There was impressive beatboxing from Jack Telfer St Claire throughout, which gained its own exhibition towards the end, along with some silky solo dance moves. A solid start from the boys without ever being outstanding musically, but definitely demonstrating their potential.

Their second number was a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Smile Please. The arrangement allowed them to play with a few humorous actions, despite this being the typical middle ‘slow-song’, which kept the mood light and cheesy, but a couple of the falsetto harmonies weren’t quite on point, particularly at the very start of the piece. I felt there was an abundance of bass and falsetto and not huge amounts in between, which made the chords throughout feel a little empty. The final chord was gorgeous, but all-in-all this lacked a certain completeness and didn’t engage me in quite the same way as I would have liked.

This dissatisfaction was immediately remedied by their final number, Muse’s Knights of Cydonia. Three words: Oh. My. Days. I would be surprised if this track doesn’t feature highly on our Best of British 2013. From the very moment the eerie whistling set the overarching tone for this Muse classic, I knew we were in for something special – and I was not wrong. Contrary to the previous song, the falsetto reached the necessary high standard required by this number, and the imitation of instruments was not only hilarious, but also accurate and energetic, which added hugely to the piece. The beatboxing too was difficult and relentless, and executed with aplomb. The first two minutes were taken up by complex instrument imitation, and gave the lead vocal a lot to live up to. Thankfully, the boys decided to go with a duet from the off, which added a further dimension to a piece that was already exceptional. The two boys singing the layered vocal complemented each other delightfully. The real highlight of the piece came when the group came back together to sing “No-one’s gonna take me aliiiiiiive!” etc., with the falsetto shining gloriously through at the top of the chord – the wall of sound produced by the boys was phenomenal. The ONLY disappointment was the final chord which, while good, didn’t quite do justice to the rest of the song, in my opinion.

Second up were all-girl group The Sweet Nothings, clad in black skirts and red ‘Sweet Nothing’ t-shirts. With only nine of them, I feared they might not be able to provide as much of powerful sound as the boys before them, but was ready to be proven wrong. They kicked off with a huge song, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which was a very, very brave call. I did enjoy how the girls split the solo to match specific voices – each soloist stepped up the the plate with confidence and delivered their solos powerfully and melodically. The alto parts were massively overpowered by the sopranos though, unfortunately, which made the song a little shrill at times. This was by no means a bad number, but when you cover such an iconic song, it’s hard to live up to the expectations, even with a great arrangement and a talented bunch of singers, such as the Sweet Nothings have. It just didn’t have the fullness and depth of sound that the original had and that this cover desperately needed.

Their second track, Coldplay’s Fix You, was another that suffered from the expectations built up by the original track. Once again, as each soloist stepped up to the plate, they delivered robust vocals that were perhaps not as tender as they could and should have been, and while the harmonies were delightful, I feel they were lost on occasion, perhaps due to the slightly faster tempo of this cover compared to the original. Emily Barrett’s solo in particular stood out above the rest, with her powerful and soulful alto reminiscent of a former Accidental favourite, Gemma O’Brien. Again, a solid number, without ever being outstanding.

Their third number, like with Semi-Toned, was the highlight of their set. Again, the girls split the solos evenly, but with songs from various artists such as David Guetta, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Phil Collins and more, this was probably necessary. The arrangement was the real triumph, with each song blending seamlessly into the next, and was a real indicator of what the girls could do if they allowed themselves to arrange their own music, rather than borrow from others. Not only this, but you could tell the girls enjoyed this performance more than the other two, simply because it was clearly music they all loved. Musically it was tight, fairly original and very poppy – just how I like it. My favourite of their set, but definitely not reaching the same standards set by the boys previously.

Third up were the sole representatives from the University of Bath, the aptly named Aquapella. With seven girls and eight boys, they almost doubled the number assembled in the Sweet Nothings, and were clad in black with blue accessories. They began with a cover of The XX’s VCR. Some impressive beatboxing and an unusual starting formation were the things that struck me from the word go, but the perfectly tuned ‘Ding’ sounds from the high sopranos, despite being difficult to maintain, were spot on almost every time. This tune felt very summery, and this was emphasised by the cheery nature of the backing, especially from the male section, and the song bobbed along nicely in the ears of the audience, without ever threatening to get out of first gear.

Their second track was title ‘Titanium Bulletproof Grenade’. Have a guess as to the original artists. Some really gorgeous female voices displayed at the very start. I really liked the simple yet effective choreography, and the decision to have some of the males singing the hook for Bulletproof worked really well, although the solo section during Grenade felt a little half-hearted. Another short arrangement, indicating the group were intending to do four songs.

Their third number was Just The Two Of Us, originally by Bill Withers. Again, this was an inoffensive track, with some solid solos, tight musicality, effective vocal percussion, not really much to say against it, to be honest. It just lacked the real Wow! Factor that seems to be so important in VF-UK competitions these days. It was pleasant, but not enthralling or captivating. Also, where was the tenor? I half wanted a massive tenor solo to come and take this song by the scruff of the neck, but it never happened.

Their final song was Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. I loved the fact the group took this song down a little bit, not only tempo-wise but also dropping the solo down an octave, which also suited the soloist’s voice deliciously. Ben Oddy sang with a gorgeous dulcet baritone, and the slowed tempo allowed him to really show off his soulful tone. A lovely interchange into Beyonce’s version of a song with the same name. This again was the highlight of their set, with some tender backing harmonies and a real appreciation for the songs they were covering. Not enough to set the world on fire, though.

The final group on stage were debutants, Illuminations, wearing black tops and an array of multi-coloured trousers. At first, I thought they had come on stage with their sheet music, which seemed a bizarre decision, and began to sing your typical choir song in a straight line, but then they opened up their ‘scores’ to spell the phrase “This Is Africa”, before one-by-one, each member of the group discarded their music and joined in the mini-party this was kicking off on stage. I half wanted to join them. The group really captured the ethinic feel to the Shakira original, and for the first time in what seemed like an age, I heard some strong male tenor voices piercing through the blend, which was a welcome addition to the evening. The whole song was bursting with energy that I felt lacked in the set from Aquapella, and the group were clearly enjoying themselves. The music wasn’t half bad either.

The group continued their African theme with Paul Simon’s Under African Skies, again portraying the African theme effectively with the ‘dum-dum’ drum sounds, with a gorgeous layered lead vocal with a mezzo-baritone combination that worked really effectively. The group definitely produced a fuller sound than a lot of the groups this evening, but I did feel they were hampered slightly by the similarity between the two songs, meaning they weren’t necessarily able to show off a different aspect to the group’s abilities. Nevertheless, this was another engaging performance, solid musically and led expertly by two lead vocalists.

The group donned masks for their final song, a Lion King mash-up of King of Pride Rock and a personal favourite, Circle of Life. For the first time in their set, the very high harmonies from the girls were a little squeaky, and from the boys a little shouty. I must admit, though, the group did well to keep the engagement levels up during Pride Rock, given that the majority of the sung words are not in English. The transition to Circle of Life was smooth, but I do feel they would have benefitted from taking the key down a tone or two to make things a little more comfortable for those at the very top. Again, the lack of variety in this set may well have hampered their chances of making the final.

A final note – several of the groups couldn’t pitch their notes from a single starting note, with the Musical Director having to sing the chord or even, at times, the entire first bar of music for certain parts. While it is obviously vitally important to make sure you’re all singing the right part, it does look unprofessional to be humming notes before you start singing the actual song – something to bear in mind for future competitions.

Verdict:

Unlike a lot of the Regionals, I felt this one was a fairly easy call. While all four groups demonstrated the capacity to arrange well, perform well and sing well, there was one group that stood out above the rest, and it would have been a surprise had they not made the final. The Sweet Nothings were good, but I feel suffered from their song choices slightly, especially the first two, and I feel if they focused on their own arrangements, as they did with their final number, they might be more successful. Aquapella were one of the best groups in terms of slick, tight musicality, but there were no peaks or crests to their set – they simply drifted along in a sea of easy-listening music which, while pleasant, is not award-winning stuff. Illuminations were perhaps closest to qualifying outside of the boys, as they bursted with energy, flair and a real grasp of where their music had come from. But they suffered from a lack of variety. In the end, that just left the boys from Semi-Toned, who probably won because their setlist was the best thought-out, but the bonus of a cracking final number will have definitely helped them along the way. They still have some way to improve to reach the likes of current champions All the King’s Men in next weekend’s Final, but this was definite progress since last year.

Awards:
Outstanding Musicality: Aquapella for Crazy
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Jack Telfer St Claire of Semi-Toned for Knights of Cydonia
Outstanding Choreography: Semi-Toned

WINNER:

SEMI-TONED

So, while I wouldn’t have given them the award for Choreography (surely they merited Outstanding Performance over Choroegraphy?), Semi-Toned became the second group to reach this year’s final, and I do hope to see a closer such as Knights of Cydonia on a studio album at some point in the near future. It’s one of those that would never fail to be epic. See you at the final!