The Best of British 2013 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.
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 OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.
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 begins here:
10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
Awards: ‘Outstanding Vocal Percussion’ and ‘Outstanding Choreography’ – Voice Festival UK 2013, Exeter Regional
Starting our countdown is the bold, big and boisterous version of Muse’s Knights of Cydonia, as performed by Semi-Toned. Those of you who were at the Voice Festival Final in London back in March will remember the bizarre twist of fate which saw Semi-Toned and The Oxford Alternotives perform this song back-to-back – while both versions were of the highest quality, we felt the dexterity, versatility and sheer brashness of this version made it just that little bit more impressive. Indeed, the story of the song pre-Voice Festival is an interesting and impressive one.
The song’s origins came about almost by chance, according to departing Musical Director and founding member Eddie Henley. “Joe Lane, Ed Jillings and I came together one evening ended up singing ‘No-one’s gonna take me alive’ in super falsetto!” After that, it was a no-brainer that the song would become a part of the group’s repertoire – indeed, debuting the song in front of 1,000 people and the Military Wives Choir back in September 2012 was a baptism of fire, but one which kick-started a monumental year for the group. “It was an epic performance to a huge audience, and it went down very well with the crowd and gave us a lot of confidence at the start of a new year with new members.”
Commenting on the coincidence of the song being performed back-to-back in a competitive sphere, Henley was complimentary of both arrangements, and inferred that the very nature of the song makes it perfect for an a cappella group to perform: “There are a few different arrangements of Knights circulating on the Internet, and it has a sort of inherent, prescribed structure, which all arrangements have to follow in order to hit the mark, and therefore many arrangements of the song are likely to follow that structure.” However, Henley was confident that their version stood out above the rest: “When it came to the meat on the bones, the performance, musicality and general wow moments, I think our arrangement really hit the spot.”
Although the arrangement followed a prescribed structure, and Eddie claims this version as his own arrangements, he gave a lot of credit to the rest of the group for fleshing the number out in their own unique way. “It’s something all of the group had a part in creating: from the addition of instrument mimicking through choreography to the 6 beat break we put in before the last refrain. It’s a piece that is really representative of the hard work the Semi-Toned class of 2012-13 put in during the immensely successful year we had.”
The song received immense praise wherever it was performed: from the Military Wives concert in September, to the Exeter Regional of the Voice Festival in February through to the group’s début year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Ed expressed his excitement at reading Tobias Hug’s comment on their VF-UK feedback form – “YOU NEED TO RECORD THIS!” He continues: “It’s my personal favourite, mainly because of the fantastic memories and emotions I associate with performing the song. We got a standing ovation from the 400-strong crowd at the Exeter Regional. However, for me, the first time we performed the song on the Royal Mile was so amazing – literally seconds before we were shaking with nerves and full of worries about our upcoming run and how we all felt like we were out of our depth, being these twelve singers from Exeter taking a show up to Edinburgh. But we opened our mouths, drew a great crowd in and had an amazing time, and ended up having an amazing début run up there.”
Why was it so successful? “It really showcases the best of the group. Semi-Toned are blessed with an immense range, with their highest note being well in the whistle register, and this range is something that is seen in Knights; every part has a hugely important role to play and every single member has their own moment to shine in the song. But most importantly, it’s a fun song to perform. It is exhausting but exhilarating. The audience can see that we love performing it and we really feed off that. For me that’s absolute fundamental first rule of a cappella arranging – do something that you know you’re going to enjoy performing and something that the audience is going to know you enjoy performing.”
As for the legacy of the song, Henley believes it epitomises what the group is all about. “The guys, generally speaking, steer clear of chart toppers and tend to go for alternative and indie classics; that’s their niche and it’s something that’s been really successful at home and in Edinburgh. Knights has been our flagship song in that respect and is our ‘hand down’ arrangement that we expect will be passed down through the years, as is the case with many other groups in the UK.”