VF-UK 2013: The Good, The Bad and The Unsustainable

After what has been yet another successful and record-breaking year for the not-for-profit Voice Festival UK, having successfully overseen five Regional Rounds and a Final of a University Competition, a Community Competition and a Big Weekend, it’s time to take a step back and have a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved for next year.

The University Competition

The Good:

More Groups Than Ever: This year saw 27 groups competing in the university competition, one more than last year, with debuts coming from Vive, The Houghtones, The Scopes, The Treblemakers, The Augmentals, and Illuminations. What’s more, these debutants added two new institutions to the VF-UK repertoire: the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School for Music and Drama, evidence that collegiate a cappella is expanding further afield.

High-Quality A Cappella: There is no doubting the quality of a cappella at every single Regional, and indeed the Final, was much higher than in previous years. Relatively new groups are learning fast from American (and indeed, British) role models and embarking on crucial tours to enhance their stage presence and group image, while groups who had never won awards before picked up awards in several different categories, closing the gaps between themselves and the groups traditionally ahead of them. The competitive side of UK a cappella has never been so fierce, and this can only encourage groups to step up their game even further.

The Bad:

The Judging System: One criticism that has been seemingly forever lodged with the competition side of the Voice Festival is that of the judging system and criteria. While VF-UK have continually argued against having a points-system, because the judges felt in the past “they spent more time looking down at their adjudication forms trying to decide on point values than they did actually watching the performances, which often meant that they would miss out on funny or memorable parts of the performance.” However, whilst at the Final, I sat pretty much next to the judges, and while they were watching the groups for the most part, a great deal of time was still spent jotting down notes on the performances, in order to give the groups feedback at the end of the evening, both orally on stage and privately in paper form later on.
According to an experienced American collegiate singer who was at the London Final, the advantage of the points system not only allows transparency and clarity in the results, and therefore less scope for accusations of bias and subjectivity, but also saves time. This year, at both the St Andrews Regional and the Final, the judges took almost a full hour to deliberate and come up with a result, and at the latter, despite a lengthy half hour interval, pro group and MCs Overboard had to work overtime (and jetlagged, might I add) to continue to entertain us until the judges were ready (not that I’m complaining, though, because they were awesome.) In America, the judges simply tally up their collective scores and declare a winner, and it is all done within ten minutes. While the American system is admittedly not flawless, and controversial decisions are still made at certain times, the system has been tried and tested successfully for years in the States and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be employed over here.

The Awards System: Perhaps even more fiercely debated, particularly on this blog by numerous commenters, is the awards system in place throughout the competition. While awards for Soloist, Arrangement, VP and Choreography are a given (and indeed, the ICCAs religiously stick to these awards), there have been several previously unheard of awards that have seemingly been created on the night to honour certain aspects of performance. While I am not against giving credit where credit is due, I feel it is a little unjust to give out awards when the availability of these awards have not been explicitly written in the Voice Festival Adjudication Guide (sent out to each group before the competition).
I refer specifically to two occasions: initially, the Sons of Pitches claiming the ‘Outstanding Stagecraft’ award at last year’s final, which has now been incorporated into the rules but at the time was a brand new award, and doesn’t seem to be very different to the award for ‘Outstanding Choreography’. One opinion at the time discussed where the line should be drawn: “If the judges are going to just make up awards on the night, then what’s to say that in three years’ time, there’s not going to be an award for the craziest outfits?”, while another believed that it is “inherently wrong to create an award at random.” The second occasion was at this year’s Birmingham Regional Round, where a member of The Augmentals won the award for ‘Outstanding Audience Interaction’, which seems even more arbitrary, and prompted another comment claiming that the Voice Festival UK was “a total farce.” Indeed, quoting from the Adjudication Guide for the award for ‘Outstanding Performance’: “This award recognises a group that demonstrates outstanding performance and presentation, including stagecraft, stage presence, engagement with the audience, and professionalism.” Why weren’t both groups just given the award for ‘Outstanding Performance’, which incorporates both Stagecraft and Audience Interaction? There is clearly some disgruntlement at the way in which the awards are distributed almost willy-nilly at Regional Rounds, and this gives rise to another arguable flaw of the Voice Festival…:

The Festival is ‘Too Nice’: Being ‘too nice’ is a very British problem, something my Russian girlfriend is quick to remind me of every time I apologise for something completely out of my control. While the Voice Festival UK predominantly exists to further a cappella in the UK, the competition element of it is just that – a competition. Awards should be distributed to those groups deserving of them and not dished out to everyone in the interests of making sure everyone gets some sort of recognition (as was discussed in the aftermath of last year’s Final). To be fair to this year’s competition, only three groups received awards at this year’s final, all of which were, in my eyes, just and deserved awards, so perhaps this lesson has been learned.
However, perhaps there is another thing to be discussed here: is the judges’ feedback on stage before the revelation of the winner really necessary and/or in the best interests of the group or the audience? Each group at the end of the competition is sent detailed, tailored feedback forms from their performance, so do we really need the evening to be stretched out even further by the judges saying only nice things about every single group, when this discussion sugar-coats the judges’ real views on each group’s performance, and all everyone really wants to know is the winner? It’s definitely something to consider cutting a little shorter on the night.

The Reward Isn’t Big Enough Anymore: While no official partnership has ever existed between the Voice Festival UK and the ICCAs, for the first four years of the competition, the winners of VF-UK were invited to perform in New York alongside the best collegiate groups in America at what can only be described as the single most exciting opportunity that any UK university group has at its disposal. This, as evidenced by recent developments, is no longer the case, with the Sons of Pitches qualifying ahead of VF-UK Winners Vive in the International Wild Card round.
What place does the VF-UK University Competition therefore have in the wider a cappella world? Aside from the rewards on offer to the winning group of VF-UK, now that there is no guaranteed higher stage on which to showcase the talents of the winning group, what is there to play for? Big name UK groups relish the opportunity to put themselves to the test against US groups, and the fact that the Voice Festival no longer provides a means to do this is definitely a negative progression.

High-Profile Drop-Outs: Certain groups have made decisions in the past couple of years to abstain from competing in the Voice Festival, perhaps due to a combination of the factors mentioned above, or perhaps for other, unknown reasons. While not wishing to do any discredit to any of this years Finalists or indeed, the eventual winners, Vive, but it is inherently more satisfying to win a competition that has a full strength field than it is to win one that has a couple of big hitters missing. Not only that, but groups like Out of the Blue, The Oxford Gargoyles and Cadenza are all previous winners and big collegiate presences in the UK a cappella world, and it is a huge shame for Voice Festival fans to miss out on the opportunity to see these groups perform at the top of their game. I believe the Voice Festival should be doing all they can to reincorporate these groups into the competition in whatever form it may take next year.

The Unsustainable:

The Regional Round System: Despite everything said above, it must not be forgotten that the Voice Festival is run by a team of volunteers, all of whom have full-time jobs to hold down alongside the significant effort that the Voice Festival requires on top of all that. With that in mind, I understand why the initial intention was to cut the Regional Rounds all together and incorporate the entire University Competition into the Big Weekend in London. The decision to have members of the groups themselves organise the Regionals was a good one, but as proved in Oxford when the organising committee pulled out and the VF-UK team had to organise everything themselves, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.
Added to this is the ever increasing number groups popping up around the country, these Regional Rounds will become ever more unmanageable as more of them require organisation. Can the Voice Festival team really be expected to put so much unpaid time aside while sacrificing significant chunks of their personal lives in the process?

The Big Weekend

The Good:

Great Turnout: One thing that was very prominent during the Big Weekend was the great turnout of groups, from both university and community backgrounds, and even some members of the general public or simply a cappella fans. Clearly the event captured the attention of musicians around the country and it was great to see so many people sharing the same passion in one place. On a similar note, the Big Weekend allowed people from all walks of life to come together and sing, something which can be considered a real triumph of organisation.

Productive Workshops and Discussions: The spirit around the City of London School for Girls was great, and there was a lot of productive and stimulating discussions and workshops from all kinds of people, which would have been a huge help for many of the singers present on the day, myself included. Whether it was a debate about all-female a cappella, a jazz workshop led by newly crowned champions Vive or studio recording workshops led by Overboard, the Big Weekend workshops were truly a success.

New Opportunities: The weekend also gave exciting new opportunities for groups and group members alike. The studio sessions allowed groups to get a taster of the techniques involved with recording a professional studio track, as well as giving them vital experience within a recording environment. Let’s hope this experience prompts yet more groups to release their own albums so that we can enjoy their music on demand.

Big Names From Abroad: One of the highlights of the weekend was the performances and workshops from American super-group Overboard. Despite having worked with the group externally on several recordings with The Other Guys, I had never seen the group perform live and, aided with a pretty slick sound system, they blew me and everyone else away while filling time at the Final of the University Competition. It also gave Overboard themselves an opportunity to perform to a brand new audience, and also to impart their experience and knowledge onto others who would fill their shoes this side of the pond.

Fan of the Year: On a more personal note, it was great to see one of UACUK’s own pick up the new award for ‘Fan of the Year’. We’d like to think John’s work as our ‘Festival Maestro’ has gone some away to helping him claim this award. 🙂

The Bad:

London-Centric: A murmur of discontent at the location of the competition Final and the Big Weekend has been steadily growing stronger over the past few years, especially given the growing number of groups springing up significantly outside of the capital. While I appreciate London is ideally placed in terms of access, there are many other places where a cappella is arguably more popular where a Final would go down like a storm. The Regional in St Andrews sells almost 1,000 tickets every year. Perhaps one way of pleasing everyone would be to change the location every year – have a Final in St Andrews one year, Oxford another, Exeter the next… It would not only allow blossoming audiences in those areas to further develop a taste for top quality a cappella, but also gives each group a chance to perform to a brand new audience year after year.

The Unsustainable:

The Weekend Itself: Certain clues throughout the VF-UK year led many aca-folk to believe that The Big Weekend was the main focus of this year’s calendar, with the competitive side of the Festival sidelined slightly: VF-UK were initially wanting to scrap the Regional Rounds and hold one large competition at the Big Weekend; this was eventually modified after consultation with groups across the country. The result, however, was that groups themselves would organise the Regional Rounds (under VF-UK supervision), while the VF-UK team themselves focused their efforts on making the Big Weekend, as I have indicated above, a huge success. However, having spoken with many of the team (who, I will remind you again, are all volunteers) during the weekend, they were exhausted, pushed to the limits for time, and stretched for numbers (hence their recent #bestself recruitment launch). Can such a monumental event, however successful it was, be sustained year after year in its current format?

The Fringe

This year’s VF-UK Fringe presence was questionable. Having managed in previous years to organise and set up (despite however last minute it may have been) some relatively successful showcases and socials thereafter, this year, after some sustained efforts to rekindle it, for whatever reason the showcase never materialised, and instead groups were invited to a VF-UK social, with mixed success. Out of the Blue, The Alternotives, an All the King’s Man and some Accidentals were in attendance, but all-in-all it did not achieve the same scope as previous years’ efforts had done. Perhaps a hangover from all the hard work put in for the Big Weekend?

What Next?

Perhaps it is time to ask that question again: is the Voice Festival UK an a cappella festival or an a cappella competition? And with more and more groups forming in brand new regions of the country, can it realistically be both for much longer, given the time (or lack thereof) and resources available to the hard-working team of volunteers?

I believe it is time for those at VF-UK to make some difficult decisions, and to fall on one side or another. In order to continue to provide the excellent standard of Big Weekend that they managed to achieve this year, they either need to recruit significantly (which they appear to be in the process of doing at the moment) or to cut back in their ambitions.

Judging by events in the past year, I am inclined to believe that should this cutback occur, it will be the competition element that suffers, as the VF-UK team have been leaning quite significantly towards the Festival side of their work this year. If this does happen, perhaps it’s time to invite the ICCAs back to Britain and once again give the British champions a guaranteed shot at the international Final.

The work that VF-UK does to promote a cappella is hugely beneficial and is well deserving of praise. Without its impact on the UK a cappella scene, several groups may not exist, this blog may never have come into being and several people, including myself, may have never gotten involved in a cappella. But with success comes the need for change – and the time has come to make a big decision.

As always, we appreciate your comments. Do you disagree with anything written above? Feel free to share your views.

To apply to be a part of the Voice Festival team, click here.

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In The Pink In Their Prime

In The Pink - Fabulous Female A Cappella

In The Pink – Fabulous Female A Cappella

Rating: 8.5/10

The moment I left the In The Pink concert, I couldn’t help think to myself – this performance was head and shoulders above and beyond the effort they had delivered just one year ago. As I was fighting my way through the crowds of people departing, I took a moment to speculate as to why this was.

Was it because of the more intimate venue they were performing in this time around? Perhaps. The close-quarters three-sided stage of C(+1) was far less daunting, and indeed, less alienated than the high, deep stage of C(-1) that they had braved in 2012.

Was it because each and every member of the group seemed to hold their own, not only on the strong vocal parts but also in the often complex backing? Maybe. The stark contrast between the rabbits-in-the-headlights look of last year and the strong, confident and powerful soloists of this year was definitely a factor.

Or was it because last year I caught them on their first night, a night where nerves would have certainly played a part, whereas this year they had already got past that often difficult barrier? Possibly. The girls demonstrated a confidence and assurance throughout their well-structured set.

However, the most likely reason is this: that they simply sounded a darn sight better than last year.

The most pleasing aspect of In The Pink’s evolution from last year is that they have taken on board past criticisms and worked on the areas in need of improvement. I have accused the girls in the past, rightly or wrongly, of being too ‘cutesy’ and lacking a real ‘oomph’, for lack of a better word, to their sound. To make that claim again after this year’s performance would be highly inappropriate, as they demonstrated from the very start an almost Accidentals-esque feistiness and a real vocal bite.

Their opener, a mash-up of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River and Alex Clare’s Too Close, contained just the right amount of attitude and flair, with difficult rhythms tackled proficiently and a strong, effective VP keeping the beat driving throughout the number. Both soloists sung with aplomb and pizzazz, and the girls showed they weren’t afraid of the wall of sound, building to a thoroughly satisfying crescendo. A superb start.

And then suddenly we were treated to a gorgeous, exquisite cover of The Feeling’s Rose, an arrangement dug up from the ITP backcatalogue and treated with all the delicacy and fragility of a butterfly’s wing. The solo, a soaring, effortless soprano from Gabie Meade, was simply wonderful, and the simplicity of the backing made the solo stand out even more effectively. With these two numbers, the girls probably gave the best first impression of any of the groups at this year’s Festival. One upbeat, powerful, meaty number, and one sublime close harmony piece. Stunning.

The rest of the set, while not flawless, almost lived up to the magnificent opening. Certain numbers blew me away: their closer, Holding Out For A Hero mashed with Destiny’s Child’s I’m A Survivor combined a real belter of a solo in the former with some dropped RnB beats, demonstrating a new and refreshing side of the group I was thoroughly enjoying; Wonderwall and Boulevard of Broken Dreams, while an obvious mash-up opportunity, was tackled superbly, with some effective echoes in the harmony; and the real highlight of the set, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, gave me goosebumps for the first (and only) time in the Festival, Gabie Meade once again proving her soprano is not only pitch-perfect, but mesmeric.

However, no performance is perfect, and the girls fell into many of the same traps as other groups at this year’s Festival: several times in the upbeat numbers, we lost the solo due to overpowering backing. It’s all well and good having a powerful base behind you, but if you can’t belt out the number louder than the rest of the group, then they need to tone it down a bit. Also, in a couple of numbers, the girls failed to sing right through to the end of each bar. This was most notable in the weakest number of the set, Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight, in which the rather same-y backing wasn’t helped by the tendency to peter out at the end of each bar. And while I appreciated the attempt to change things up with some numbers that only included half the group, these may have been more effective if they were close harmony numbers, rather than upbeat ones, which often felt a little sparse.

However, these niggles shouldn’t take away from the fact that this was a outstanding demonstration of not just vocal talent, but also the benefits of active self-improvement and a refusal to rest on your laurels. Seriously encouraging stuff from the girls from Oxford.

The Alleycats Take Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

The Alleycats: Contemporary A Cappella

The Alleycats: Contemporary A Cappella

Rating: 8/10

Something odd is happening to the Alleycats. For years, they played to their strengths, both competitively and in Fringe sets – that strength being an ability to provide an energetic, enthusiastic performance combined with some slick and emphatic choreography, occasionally (but less so recently) at the expense of musicality. Indeed, having won an award for Outstanding Choreography or Performance in three of the last five Voice Festival UK seasons, the Alleycats are renowned across the a cappella scene for their vivacious performances.

It seems, though, that times, they are a-changin’. While the ‘Cats put just as much tireless energy as ever into their Fringe performance, the mixed results demonstrated the continued emergence of a new, tightly blended and musically precise group, while casting question marks over the relevance of their choreography.

It wasn’t that their choreography was bad; on the contrary, it established each and every member of the group, at the very least, as a competent dancer, and was performed with vigorous energy and beaming smiles the whole way through. It was more the fact that it was irrelevant and, at times, unnecessary. This was evident from the very first number, As Long As You Love Me, in which the choreography, while not affecting the music at all, ended up being more of a distraction than an addition to the number. It looked fun, don’t get me wrong, but as an audience member, it didn’t do anything for me.

Choreography aside, the Alleycats were really impressive, and demonstrated a great deal of musical variety throughout the set, with some real gems, both individually and collectively. The standout performer of the afternoon was undoubtedly Ollie Hayes, who took on most of the male lead vocals with great proficiency, but was really in his element during the sole jazz number of the set, Moondance, displaying some Michael Buble-esque vocals in a tight and compelling arrangement that made me feel like I was still in the Gargoyles concert I had just left.

Highlights were plentiful throughout the set: Steph Bown delivered a gorgeous soprano solo on Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, although the backing did seem a little murky at times; Ayanna Coleman impressed as always with her soulful rendition of Dancing On My Own, who despite having a tired voice, was still able to bring a tear to my eye through the sheer emotion she brought to the number; and the powerful finale, Shake It Out, remains my favourite Alleycat track of the year, so I was delighted that they chose it for the audience participation number of the set. I heartily joined in.

There were a couple of musical issues, however – the lack of amplification has caused soloists Festival-wide to struggle to be heard over the rest of the group, but this seemed to be a particular issue in this performance, with a lot of the up-tempo numbers remaining firmly at mezzo-forte throughout and drowning out the talented soloist. The group did seem to be lacking tenors too, especially when Hayes or MD Brendan Macdonald took lead vocals, leaving the middle of the chord sometimes a little empty. And bizarrely, despite it being a firm Alleycat classic year after year, there were tuning issues in Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I’m pretty sure that was just a one-off.

All-in-all, I really like what seems to be happening in the Alleycat rehearsal room. The group sound better than I have ever heard them, and if they were to tone down or simplify the choreography slightly, or even make it vaguely relate to the song, then they’re not far away from being the complete package.

Gargoyles Stagnate With Play-It-Safe Set

The Oxford Gargoyles: Jazz A Cappella

The Oxford Gargoyles: Jazz A Cappella

Rating: 7.5/10

Previous years’ incarnations of the Gargoyles have been quite something to behold – musicality awards galore from the Voice Festival; five-stars and critical acclaim dished out year upon year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; and Up The Scale was one of the a cappella albums of the year, with two of the tracks featured on our top 10 tracks of 2012.

So it was with a whole heap of expectation that I went into see the usually flawless Gargoyles at this year’s Festival, and whether it was my heightened expectations or a slight dip in standards of the group since last year, something didn’t quite click in the same way as it had done in previous years.

For me, this was more an exhibition of talent than top quality entertainment. Let me elaborate:

Musically, the Gargoyles were, as ever, unmatchable from start to finish. A couple of the sopranos have been accused of being a little shrill this year. I didn’t find that; on the contrary, the challenging soprano lines prevalent throughout the set were just right, occasionally dropping on top of the rich chords with the utmost delicacy. The blend, too, was magnificent, especially in the slower numbers – their rehash of And So It Goes from a previous generation was quite astonishing, although it did lack some of the emotion required. Even the beatboxing, which was shared between two or three of the male group members, was impressive, with Henry de Berker in particular showing off more than just his vocal talents with some unique and original VP sounds.

However, while the musical intricacies and wealth of vocal talent was plain to see, I just wasn’t gripped, fixated, enthralled by their performance as I was in previous years. Classical jazz numbers such as Mas Que Nada and Dream A Little Dream formed part of the at times soporific opening few minutes. I enjoy it when the group put jazzy twists on existing numbers, but efforts such as The Turtles’ Happy Together and the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life just didn’t quite work as jazz adaptations, mainly due to a lack of meaty crescendo that each song cries out for.

That said, some of these adaptations did work, and were funny to boot. Jamie Cullum’s Twentysomething was perfect for the group, referencing an ‘expensive education’ and proving they’re not afraid to poke fun at themselves. That solo, as well as the one on Tainted Love/Maneater was tackled by Jacob Swindells, a tall, lanky male with a dyed blonde fringe who was rather conspicuous throughout the set, but his unorthodox appearance and technique seemed to work well for the more humorous numbers. Their encore, Cruella de Vil, was on the same lines as the previous two, and was a pleasant reminder that the group don’t take themselves too seriously.

However, the fact that two of the final tracks, the aforementioned And So It Goes and one of the highlights of last year’s set, It Don’t Mean A Thing, were also the highlights of this year’s set, gave rise to some food for thought: there is no doubt the group still possess musical proficiency in spades, but this year’s group have ducked significantly under the high bar set by previous generations. There was no stunning arrangement a la Euan Campbell’s Dancing In The Moonlight; no breathtaking slow number like last year’s Fields of Gold; and even It Don’t Mean A Thing didn’t quite seem to make the same impact as it had done on first listen last year.

I am not saying this was a bad performance; far from it. I would recommend anyone to go and see the group and marvel at their musical magnificence. But the set felt a little safe, a little stagnant, and a little bit below the high standards that I know the group hold themselves to.

Semi-Toned Sparkle at Symposium Hall

Semi-Toned: The Exemen

Semi-Toned: The Exemen

Rating: 9/10

For a group making their Fringe dĂ©but after just three years of being in existence, you would have forgiven the boys from the University of Exeter for not quite being up to the same standard as the rest of the groups at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, there was no need for forgiveness: indeed, Semi-Toned shone through a mass of a cappella at the summer Festival, emerging glorious and triumphant at the end of it all, five-star reviews and all.

The potential of the group was perhaps properly noticed when they pipped the other Exeter-based groups to make the Final of this year’s Voice Festival UK. Although their Final performance felt tired and a touch lacklustre, any momentum they lost back in March was completely ignored, as they powered onwards with their Fringe preparation and delivered a hilarious, varied and musically tight showcase of some frankly phenomenal a cappella.

The beauty of the Edinburgh Festival is that it allows groups to show a diversity within their group that the short 12-minute VF-UK sets don’t quite allow, and Semi-Toned made the utmost of this opportunity to show off what they could do, dazzling the audience with some ‘Semi-Toned classics’, as well as a host of surprises pulled out of thin air, in a set that was reminiscent of All the King’s Men’s stellar effort this time last year.

So we had the two big bombastic numbers from the Voice Festival topping and tailing the set, somehow cranked up to be even more energetic and musically far stronger and meatier than they had been back in March. Living For The Big City opened the 50-minute masterpiece, and my personal favourite Knights of Cydonia wrapping it up in riotous style, imaginary horse riding and all. But what was the most impressive was the unexpected flashes of brilliance that the group just kept on providing.

The first glimpses of something truly special came during Panic! At The Disco’s I Write Sins Not Tragedies, whose introduction, despite being very similar to a version featured on BOCA 2008 by University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers, still required a great deal of rhythmic discipline and skill to get right. Lady GaGa’s Americano involved singing in Spanish, hilarious imaginary moustaches and lip-trills, as well as some mock-flamenco dancing which was truly a sight to behold. Then, to top it all, they did Pokemon. BUT IN JAZZ FORM. The only criticism I could ever have of Pokemon in jazz form would be that it didn’t last for long enough – alas, that was the case here.

Many groups have a tendency to excel in either upbeat, dance-heavy numbers or slower, close harmony numbers. After a slightly uninteresting middle song at the Voice Festival, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from the Exemen’s slower numbers, but once again I was happily surprised. Their VF-UK filler was nowhere to be seen: instead, they gave us a gorgeous Arctic Monkeys number, Only Ones Who Know, led delicately by Michael Luye, whose tender tones suited the song perfectly.

The remainder of the set maintained the hugely high standard throughout: the nod to Naturally 7 with two adaptations of their work in the middle was tackled with aplomb and verve; the simple choreography was at times laugh-out-loud hilarious without detracting too much from the musical side of things; and Justin Timberlake was arranged intricately and the tough falsetto solo was solid; and I haven’t even mentioned the incredible beatboxing from Jack Telfer St Claire. The rest of the set was so good that it almost went by unnoticed.

Occasionally, the boys (especially the baritones) would get a little carried away and drown out the soloist, but this did little to detract from the masterful performance that the boys delivered. Fringe débutantes, maybe, but definitely giving a demonstration on how it should be done.

UK groups, watch out – Semi-Toned are the new rising stars of collegiate a cappella.

Fringe Focus: The Alternotives

Alternotive A Cappella

Alternotive A Cappella

In the lead up to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, every week we will be producing special focuses on our collegiate groups who will be performing at the world’s largest amateur arts festival in 2013. In the ninth of this series of articles, we will be looking at this year’s VF-UK Finalists, The Oxford Alternotives.

Fringe History

Despite being one the oldest groups in the country, it wasn’t until 2010 that the Alternotives made their Fringe debut, but it was well worth the wait, with rave reviews flying in left, right and centre. Since then, they have kept up the standard of high quality, as well as original, a cappella, and offered something just that little bit different, last year in particular providing a ‘Blind Date’ element to the show, in which an audience member would be serenaded by various group members and asked to pick their favourite.

Previous UACUK Ratings

2011: 9/10 – “To take something complicated and unpredictable and pull it off with such panache was massively impressive.”
2012: 7/10 – “I was blown away.”

This Year

Following a successful visit to London for the Voice Festival UK Final, the Alternotives are back for their fourth year on the trot, and return to the venue they did so well in last year, theSpace @ Symposium Hall. They kick off their run today, Monday 12 August, and will perform until Saturday 24th., at 14:05. After some excellent reviews all around last year, and a very solid year competitively, they will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of this year’s Festival – and they stand out, compared to the more straight-laced groups out there.

What To Expect

The unfortunate thing about the Voice Festival UK is that it allows very little scope for being different. Fringe sets are over four times as long and have no guidelines – in this atmosphere, therefore, the Alternotives thrive. They take the musical tightness that they develop for the Voice Festival and add to that smatterings of humour, comedy, sketches, and general frivolity that makes the group unique. Hopefully the group will keep true to their core principles and not only provide classy music but also a barrel of laughs. Miss it, miss out.

Further Details

Fringe Listing

Fringe Focus: The Accidentals

Who Runs The World?

Who Runs The World?

In the lead up to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, every week we will be producing special focuses on our collegiate groups who will be performing at the world’s largest amateur arts festival in 2013. In the eighth of this series of articles, we will be looking at the returning Accidentals, who, after a successful debut year, are back again.

Fringe History

The Accidentals made their Fringe debut last year, performing at theSpace Cabaret @ 54 in a last-minute choice of venue that didn’t quite match their abilities as a group. On a crowded stage they were unable to unleash the fierce choreography that they are renowned for – although the sound they produced was unmistakably theirs, mixing mash-up after mash-up and sticking firmly to their hip-hop preferences.

Previous UACUK Ratings

2011: N/A
2012: 8/10 – “Feisty, fierce and brimming with attitude.”

This Year

The girls have made the wise decision to perform at a venue more well-known for a cappella, theSpace @ Symposium Hall, where the likes of All the King’s Men, The Oxford Alternotives and, this year, Semi-Toned have performed. It’s a much more suitable venue and one which will enable to them to show off their unique and substantial talents. The girls sounded their usual feisty selves at the Voice Festival UK this year, and will be keen to show Edinburgh another side to themselves this year.

What To Expect

The girls have soloists to spare. With the return of year abroad absentees Ellies Mason and Kutylowski and stalwarts Anna McDonald, Grace Hardy, Vicki Robertson and Tessa Stokes (and that’s not an exhaustive list by any means), they will sound stronger than ever in that department. If you’re into hip-hop and RnB, these girls are the group for you – they are skilled at mashing-up two numbers and dropping a beat somewhere in the middle, and will undoubtedly pull out a rap or three throughout the show. Go and be entertained by the Accidentals. You will be.