Best of British 2013: 3. Wonderwall

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.

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 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)
Furthermore:
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.

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:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day
6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow
5. All the King’s Men – Higher Love
4. The Other Guys – Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

3. The Sons of Pitches – Wonderwall

In at number 3 is one of the tracks from The Sons of Pitches‘ well received VF-UK set from 2013 and arguably one of the numbers which took them to the ICCAs in New York last April, their cover of Oasis’ Wonderwall. I’ve already raved about their album, Not Too Shabby, a masterpiece from the back end of last year, and so it’s no surprise that the group feature highly on our list.

Something the group prides itself on is their ability to make a song their own. Wonderwall is far from a straight cover of the Oasis original; in fact, the song was inspired by a swing cover by Paul Anka, and was written and arranged over one late night by the group’s vocal percussionist and now Liquid 5th employee Jack Blume. “The song immediately appealed to Jack’s sense of humour,” says Joe Novelli. “The whole concept seemed so funny and had so much performance potential for The Sons. He went home and transcribed and arranged right through the night, turned those high horn riffs into the ‘boyband’ falsetto BVs that seem to get every audience laughing, and sent us all a message saying ‘Ok, it’s 3am, but I’ve finally finished. I may be tired, but I’m pretty sure it’s funny!'”

Despite conforming to the group’s tendency to take songs apart and put them together again in their own unique way, the style of the song itself is very unusual for the boys from Birmingham, and indeed, the rest of the group were initially unsure of Blume’s arrangement. “We tend to cover a lot more chart stuff these days, throwing in dubstep, drum & bass, and occasional reggae and latin inflections for flavour,” said Novelli, before continuing: “We were all a little sceptical when Jack brought the arrangement to us and we saw he’d written ‘doo’ and ‘ba’ syllables. But as soon as Belham took the solo and the other Joes did their thing, it just kinda worked.”

The song made its début in the group’s Voice Festival set at the Birmingham Regional, where it was received raucously by the crowd. “We had a big audience full of our friends and they were laughing throughout. The YouTubers commenting on our videos may hate the ambient laughter, but we were loving it on the night!” As much as the group love performing the song, one of the other tracks from “Not Too Shabby” is held to high affection by the group. “Lose Yourself is probably our favourite from the past year, partly because it was our first ever ‘group arrangement’, and partly because it was never really notated, so it only really exists in our heads! There’s something special to be said about a song like that.”

As for the success of Wonderwall, Novelli concluded by saying: “Our performance aims to bring the very silly British humour out of all us! I think it just makes people smile in a way that more serious arrangements might not. And isn’t that sort of the whole point of a cappella?”

You can buy Not Too Shabby, which contains this song, right here.

Album Review: Not Too Shabby

Not Too Shabby

Not Too Shabby

This is the best album of the year.

I’m talking about 2013, of course. Although I’d be surprised if this was topped in 2014, to be honest, such is the simply exquisite nature of this record. The Sons of Pitches have topped off what has undoubtedly been the best year of the group’s existence with a flawless four-track album that knocks any potential pretenders to the throne firmly off their perch. It’s modern, it’s funky, it’s unique, it’s stylish, and it’s bloody brilliant.

I sound like I’m gushing. Fine. Let me guide you through the reasons why this album is so flippin’ awesome.

The Sons of Pitches do not cover songs. They take songs, rip them apart, put an entirely new spin on them, add in some highly unconventional backing techniques, and put them back together again. They do this with flair and buckets of talent which any group would kill to possess – and the fact there’s only seven of them make it that much more impressive. The beatboxing is at worst excellent, at best frantically awe-inspiring; the bass has brief moments of glory which are taken with aplomb; some of the falsetto makes you wonder if they haven’t snuck a couple of girls in at the last minute; and even the more ‘common’ baritone and tenor voices have a little something extra than most other groups, whether it be a flicker of soul, a high, biting belt or an ooze of charisma.

Talent is one thing; displaying it in the right way is another. The Sons of Pitches know their strengths and play to them, track after track. The first, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, is a marvellous romp that demonstrates everything the boys are good at. The awesome swelling “wah wah wah” backing vocals throughout the first verse add so much more than a simple “ba” or “da” that other groups might employ; they take this to another level with “shwah, shwah-dah, swiggedy-dah, shwiggah-dah” during the chorus (listen to it if you don’t know what I mean) followed by an awesome breakdown with an African feel, brought about by the “kum-ya-te” and the (admittedly highly produced but in the best way possible) muffled beatbox. I haven’t even touched upon the solo yet – Joes Hinds and Novelli harmonise seamlessly and produce a soaring lead throughout. Even the end is highly creative, with the solo dropping to a funky and playful close. A roaring opener.

The second track is Lose Yourself by Eminem, although it becomes apparent from the off that it brings in elements of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River. Considering the first half of the track is predominantly rap, the arrangement is surprisingly highly musical. The eerie opening drops marvellously into the deliberate beat of Lose Yourself and correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure they got Eminem in especially to rap on the track. Either that or some sort of identically-sounding doppelgänger. The thematic eeriness continues in the staccato, echoing “ah-oh-ah-oh” behind the rap before the song drops into what is a moment of genius: a pause to hear the crackle of a record player before a slowly rising pianissimo of “You betta lose yourself in the moment…” which is a perfect example of how playful a cappella production can work like a dream. It’s the best moment on the album. Upon melding into Cry Me A River, many of the themes from Lose Yourself remain, which is vital for a successful mash-up, as well as the addition of yet more playful nuances which make each and every second of listening to the track new, fresh and exciting. This is a stonkingly good track.

Having ticked the rap and disco boxes, the boys move on successfully to a jazz version of Oasis’ Wonderwall, with baritone Joe Belham leading the solo with bags, nay, bucketloads of charisma. One minor, minor criticism of this track is that it doesn’t quite come off as entertaining as it does when it’s performed live, although that’s more testament to the Sons’ humorous choreography than a comment on the state of the arrangement itself. Belham’s saunter through the song is reminiscent of Robbie Williams in his Swing When You’re Winning days, while the comical yet perfect high-pitched “And all those roads are winding” from Hinds and Novelli add an extra lace of frivolity to the feel-good number. Topped off with Hinds’ belt of a top A at the end and you have a slick, smooth arrangement with a rich solo – top marks again.

The final track is the original track, You Are The One. It has everything good from the previous three tracks and more: a reverberating beatbox breakdown, echoed backing, more unusual vowel sounds, some frankly phenomenal bass and a really catchy solo that is great to sing along to. I would know. It’s a short track, under three minutes, but gets everything done that needs to be done while remaining very fresh.

I’m genuinely running out of superlatives for this album. If you haven’t bought it yet, you should, even if you don’t like a cappella. I repeat: this is the best album of the year. By far.

You can buy Not Too Shabby right here.

Sons of Pitches Release Début EP

Not Too Shabby is the Sons' first ever studio release.

Not Too Shabby is the Sons’ first ever studio release.

One of the biggest groups in recent years, University of Birmingham’s Sons of Pitches, have (finally) released their début EP, entitled “Not Too Shabby”.

Recorded, Edited and Mixed by Eric Scholz and Carl Taylor at Liquid 5th Productions, the EP contains the group’s fantastic VF-UK Final set as well as Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

From the small amount we’ve heard here, the album sounds pretty damn good, and is available here for the measly price of $4 (that’s roughly £2.50) – or more, if you feel that way inclined.

Keep your eyes open for a review over the Christmas period!

Sons of Pitches Reach Second Final in Award-Crazy Regional

In a Regional Round full of top drawer a cappella, it was The Sons of Pitches who made it through to their second successive London Final, picking up no less than three awards in the process. The boys from Birmingham made it count on home turf once again, as they beat off stiff competition from experienced and debutant groups alike at the Elgar Concert Hall this evening.

With four groups hailing from the University of Birmingham itself joined by Birmingham Conservatoire based The Augmentals and Leeds-based The Songsmiths (who have had as many names as they have had years competing in VF-UK), it turned out to be a hotbed of raw talent as awarded were dished out left, right and centre for all manner of things, including a brand new award for the Augmentals for ‘Outstanding Audience Participation’.

The Sons of Pitches therefore become only the second group to have reached the Final before to be in the same situation again this year, and it means we will yet again have an all-female-less final for the second consecutive year.

Results Round-Up
Outstanding Vocal Percussion:Jack Blume of The Sons of Pitches and Lizzie Jones of the Uptone Girls
Outstanding Arrangement: The Sons of Pitches for Lose Yourself
Outstanding Musicality: The Songsmiths
Outstanding Audience Participation: Andrew Wilson of The Augmentals for Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Outstanding Soloist: Lorcan Byrne of The Songsmiths for Big Love and Charlye Simpson of the Uptone Girls for Landslide
Outstanding Performance: The Sons of Pitches

Winner: THE SONS OF PITCHES

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

Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 5: Birmingham

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 fifth and final installment, we’re checking out what’s on offer in the Birmingham Regional, taking place for the third time on 9 March 2013.

Potted History

In the two previous years that the Voice Festival has visited Birmingham, two different groups have won the Regional. In 2011, Augmented Seven, a group which disbanded last year, won the inaugural round ahead of three other groups from the University of Birmingham. Last year, with the net cast a little wider, it was all-male group The Sons of Pitches which claimed the victory, ahead of award-winning performances from the likes of Voice Versa and 95 Keys from the University of Leeds.

Newcomer Alert

The Augmentals: One of two new groups this year, The Augmentals hail from Birmingham Conservatoire and are very much an unknown quantity. They were founded in November 2012 and currently consist of 11 members, but aside from that we don’t really know much about them! We look forward to hearing them in the upcoming event. You can find the group on Facebook.

The Treblemakers: The second of the new groups, the Treblemakers become the sixth group from the University of Birmingham to compete in the competition, and the fourth currently. With a name identical to the all-male group in the recent Aca-Film, Pitch Perfect, they will be hoping to have just as much success in competitive a cappella as their namesakes.

Old-Timers

The Songsmiths: The name might not be familiar, but the group certainly will be: Leeds based group The Songsmiths were known last year as 95 Keys, and impressed in their debut performance at this Regional Round, picking up the award for ‘Outstanding Arrangement’. Not many groups manage that upon their debut, and with the entire of Leeds’ student body to choose from, they do have some talented singers in their midst too. Definitely ones to look out for.

The Uptone Girls: Another name you may not be familiar with, but whose members may be recognisable – formerly The Birmingham Songbirds, the all-female group have returned with a much punnier name, and will hope this improve their fortunes on stage too. Having not picked up an award in their two previous competitive efforts, they will be hoping that will change this year. With more experience than the majority of the groups in the competition, they could be in with a shout.

Voice Versa: Back for a second year, the award-winning mixed group (‘Outstanding Musicality’) looked very tight last year, and if they can add a little more spice and originality to their set compared to last year, they too could do well. They showed a spark of invention last year with their Feel Good Medley, as well as a lot of soul during their opening number, so if they play to their strengths they may find themselves through to the final.

The Sons of Pitches: For The Sons of Pitches, life really began after the Voice Festival last year. After they progressed to the final, they began to secure gigs left, right and centre, and their YouTube on-the-spot arrangements were vastly popular, and help them to develop a huge new fanbase. That just shows to show how much of an impact winning a competition like this can have. This year, the all-male group return as clear favourites, and having won awards in both previous years they have competed, as well as ‘Outstanding Stagecraft’ in last year’s final, they have the energy, the know-how and the vocal ability to qualify again. Can any of the other groups defy the odds?

Summary

In a strong turnout in Birmingham, all four groups that competed last year are back, with two newcomers making it one of the most competitive rounds in the competition this year. It’s hard to look past The Sons of Pitches, simply because of their incredible set and success last year – there were some at last year’s final who believed they should have won. However, they must not rest on their laurels, because there are five groups wanting to nick that final spot away from them. The most likely to do so is difficult to pinpoint, though – The Songsmiths had a great debut last year, as did Voice Versa, but The Uptone Girls have more experience and this may work in their favour. Not much is known about newcomers The Treblemakers or The Augmentals, although the latter, coming from a music school, could well provide us with some very tight Musicality, if nothing else. It’s all to play for.

Have Your Say

Best of British 2012: 9. Club Medley 2

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:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls

9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2

Awards:
‘Outstanding Stagecraft’ – Voice Festival 2012, Final
‘Outstanding Performance’, ‘Outstanding Choreography’ – Voice Festival 2012, Birmingham Regional

Dropping in at number nine is the second of the seemingly annual medleys of classic club anthems from Birmingham’s finest, The Sons of Pitches, aptly titled, Club Medley 2. With the track mashing up the likes of Taio Cruz’ Dynamite, Dead or Alive’s You Spin My Head Round and Tik Tok from Ke$ha to name but a few, it has become a staple in the Sons’ repertoire in the past year, and has sung and danced its way into the audience’s hearts and memories.

Strange to think, then, that three months before the Voice Festival, the arrangement wasn’t even in existence. “Mark Nathan arranged the number around Christmastime last year,” said recent Sons’ alumnus Tom Mackley. “The Sons at the stage only had a repertoire of about three songs, so we knew over the holiday we had to go away and build our VF-UK set, with Club Medley 2 being one and Settle Down being another.” The song actually debuted before the Voice Festival, at a live music venue hosted by Jools Holland called ‘Jam House’. “It went down really well, and we kept editing and improving throughout the first half of the year – the arrangement at the final was different to the one at the Birmingham Regional. I think that’s the beauty of the song – bits can be added and taken away quite easily, and members of the group can add their own individual parts as they go along. It’s really quite a collaborative effort, and that’s what makes it one of our favourite songs to sing.”

And the fans’ reaction to the song? “It’s certainly our most popular song,” continued Mackley. “Whenever we perform, it’s usually our finale. It’s current, beat box/bass heavy, different and fun, and it has songs that everyone recognises contained in it. OK, so it’s not a gloriously rich, full-bodied ballad, but it allows people to dance along and really lifts the energy in a room whenever it is performed.” The group also feel it’s one of their most important songs, and one that helped to define their style as a group. “Without Club Medley 2 I’m not sure the back end of the last academic year would have been so successful – it really was the catalyst that allowed us to find our identity as a group.”

When questioned about the comparisons to the first Club Medley, Mackley believes the second one trumps the first: “I think the reason Mark decided to create another one was because the first one had won the ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ award at the 2011 Regional. But this one has a slight edge, I think: the beat box battle, the sub woofer effects, the break dancing and the whole bus stop sequence just added an extra touch of originality and a stamp of individuality that the other one didn’t quite possess.” It’s clear the boys enjoy performing the song, too: “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we’re around to mess around and pretend we’re the best thing to come out of the University of Birmingham since Lizo Mzimba for three-and-a-bit minutes!”

We look forward to seeing if The Sons of Pitches have anymore award-winning Club Medleys in their back pockets in the coming year. For now, enjoy this one again as we continue our countdown at number nine.

You can watch the Club Medley 2 at the VF-UK Final right here

Audition Alert! (5)

More groups are auditioning around the country as the new academic year get well underway.

Firstly, we must apologise for missing out on the auditions for Leeds group 95 Keys and Exeter group Semi-Toned – it’s not only their first few weeks back at university, but ours too, and as such we have been swamped with a host of work from over-keen lecturers. We hope these auditions went extremely well for the two groups involved, and we look forward to seeing the results in the near future.

Meanwhile, the University of Birmingham is stepping it up a gear in terms of recruitment, with auditions for all three of their groups happening all at once. The University of Birmingham A Cappella Network (UBAN) is holding auditions this Thursday and Friday for people who wish to join either The Sons of Pitches, The Uptone Girls or Voice Versa. Auditions are being held from 5pm-8pm at the Beorma Bar at the Guild of Students in Birmingham, and you would be mad to miss out on becoming a part of one of the UK’s fastest growing hubs of a cappella.

More information on the auditions can be found here.