Best of British 2013: 4. Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

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

Sleigh-riding into fourth place is The Other Guys’ festive effort from last Christmas, Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, written by and featuring good friend of the group, Oscar Foxley. The song reached number 32 on the Official Scottish Charts last Christmas, and so while the group’s number one campaign didn’t quite succeed, they definitely made a splash. According to MD at the time, Matthew Pattie, however, the group never intended to release the track as a single. “We had wanted to do a Christmas album for over a year but hadn’t been able to. A single was never on the horizon until I spoke to Oscar Foxley who mentioned he had written a Christmas song. The idea of an original track was so exciting we jumped on it and I commissioned him to arrange it for us.”

The ‘album track’ quickly became popular within the group, and when the suggestion was made to record and release a video to accompany it as a potential Christmas single, the group lapped up the opportunity. “We felt it was such a wonderful song and so unique that we had to make more of it,” said Pattie. “We decided first to release it as a single. The idea for a video came afterwards. Then, freezing cold on the side of The Cairngorms mid-filming we all agreed, in a state of delirium, why not go for Christmas Number 1? We didn’t manage it – but we had a good crack. Charting at all was an amazing achievement.” The group are well known for their YouTube video successes (with last year’s St Andrews Girls charting at number 10 on our countdown last year), and Christmas Gets Worse proved more successful than the former, racking up 150,000 views at time of writing. The single also raised over £2000 for Student Bursaries in St Andrews. Pattie continues: “We couldn’t be happier. Well, we could – we could have been at Elton John’s Christmas party celebrating number 1, but you can’t win ’em all…”

Following its YouTube exposure, the song made its live début at St Andrews’ Christmas Concert. “The home crowd loved it, and bizarrely, because of YouTube, some of them were singing along,” revealed Pattie, also adding that it was definitely his personal favourite track from his final year in the group. “It’s so special and has so many memories attached to it. That whole album does – it was a really special one to make, because it really captured so much of the group’s personality. As a stand-alone track though, yes, I think it would be my favourite. It’s a great sing.”

The popularity of the song comes not just because of the arrangement or the performance, but also because of the story behind it, according to the former Musical Director: “I think people love the love story. It’s something they can connect with. It’s a beautiful piece of music, arranged wonderfully for us to sing. Also the uniqueness of it – it’s a genuine, heart-felt original Christmas song. You don’t get those very often anymore and I think people appreciated that.”

You can watch Christmas Gets Worse Every Year again right here, or listen to and buy the whole album on Bandcamp.

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Album Review: The Other Guys’ Christmas

The Other Guys' Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys' fifth studio album.

The Other Guys’ Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys’ fifth studio album.

by Carys Evans

The Other Guys have once more delivered a stylish, unique and highly commercial production, and just in time for Christmas! There is no doubt that this will make a wonderful present for pretty much anyone, but it also shows just some of the breadth of The Other Guys’ abilities.

With its over-the-top Season’s Greetings to their holiday ‘broadcast’, the album immediately gets you into the mood for Christmas, though it is immediately apparent that they have their tongue placed firmly in their cheek. It’s easy to dismiss some of the fare as quite standard – with most of the tracks being very familiar, and even very traditional – but they have worked their own spin on every one, whether it’s through changing the lyrics, such as in Carols Not From Kings, which incorporates carols with pop songs and a whole new set of wonderful, hilarious lyrics, changing the harmonies, such as in the slightly experimental-sounding Silent Night, or giving the songs a whole new beat – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’s soulful beats make it one of the best tracks on the album!

The album’s single, Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, sums up this album in one song. It sounds familiar, like all good Christmas songs should, it references other Christmas songs, with the ‘Ding Dong’s beautifully done and the nod to Hark the Herald Angels Sing emphasising these boys’ strong choral ability, but it is also an original song, with a provocative title and heartwarming lyrics. Few a cappella groups seem brave enough to sing original songs, but this shows just how much it can pay off, with Oscar Foxley’s song having received praise from the likes of Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, and even the Scottish Parliament. These boys are not afraid to take risks, whether it’s in their lyrics, their decision to do a seasonal album (which may only sell at this time of year – though I’m sure it will sell a lot!), or indeed by putting themselves out there and getting themselves on to the charts.

I hope that other groups can learn from them – it may not be the perfect album, with some over-produced vocal percussion, and a reliance on the fact that those buying the album will like Christmas songs (believe it or not, some people don’t), but it is quite unique in the university a cappella world. And for that reason alone, this should be Number One on your Christmas list.

The Other Guys Release Christmas Album

The Other Guys, from the University of St Andrews, have today released a Christmas studio album, entitled The Other Guys’ Christmas, and in doing so have become the first UK collegiate a cappella group to release such a festive record.

The CD contains seven tracks, including an original number entitled Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, alongside various other covers of Christmas classics. The album was released at ten o clock this morning and is already 5th on the BandCamp sales charts.

Rumours are that the boys will be releasing another YouTube video and single in conjunction with the album, with more news to follow in the next few days.

You can buy the album right here.

TOG Spread Christmas Cheer Across the Country

Following the success of their Royal Wedding-inspired video ‘Royal Romance’ in April, University of St Andrews-based all-male group The Other Guys have barely stopped, and the Christmas Season was no exception for the Kate Middleton fans.

We spoke to the current Musical Director of the Guys, Matthew Pattie, during a rare moment off for the final year student.

UACUK: You’ve been extremely busy during this Festive Season. Let’s start at the beginning.

MP: Ok, so firstly we did a bit of charity busking with the University Charities Campaign. The Press Office at the University caught wind of it and we ended up filming a video inside St Salvator’s Chapel of our Backstreet Boys Medley with Rory McLion, the Charities Mascot of the University. That was pretty fun, and we raised a fair bit of money for CHAS, too.

UACUK: Then you had an insanely busy weekend a couple of weeks ago – how did that start?

MP: First up we had the University Christmas Concert, organised by the A Cappella Society. This was the first big outing of, barring 4 of us, a completely new group from last year. As such, we wanted to do something completely different to not only the other groups, but also of the previous incarnation of the group. Therefore, we decided to open our set by processing from the back of Younger Hall, wearing our academic gowns, with our countertenor singing the opening verse of ‘Once in Royal’, up the octave, and it was something completely new and took the audience by surprise. We think they enjoyed it!

UACUK: Would you say the group has become a little bolder since the success of the video, doing things that you previously might not have gotten away with?

MP: Bolder? Perhaps. There was always a danger that anything the group did after the video would only result in an unfavourable comparison. In that way, the album [Barely Regal, released September 2011] was a great next step, cataloguing the sound of the 10/11 group and building on the momentum of the video. The album has been received really well, and so can be seen as a success. However, like I say, now we’re a very new group, a much younger group, and one with a very different sound. Because of that I think we just wanted to, not make a break from, but define a clear distinction between what has gone before and what we’re going on to do. We’ve got a lot to build on – we just want to do ourselves justice.

UACUK: Did the group bond well before the Christmas Concert, considering six of you were brand new?

MP: Yes. We bonded remarkably well and remarkably quickly. We had to, really, as we had a couple of gigs at the very start of term, so we were rehearsing pretty much every day to make sure we had not only a great sound, but also enough material to perform.

UACUK: The weekend didn’t stop at the Christmas Concert did it?

MP: Absolutely not! We then headed down to London for the 7th Annual St Andrews Alumni Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral. We performed ‘O Holy Night’ in front of loads of people, and blasted out those descants during the rest of the service – it was a really good evening. There were a couple of ‘unofficial’ performances towards the end of the night as well, and all in all a great time was had by everyone.

UACUK: How did that come about then?

MP: The Southwark gig? I’m pretty sure we got contacted in April following the video, and the organiser in particular really wanted us to be a part of the service. I think it was a nice way to get an active university group part of the service, especially as we were singing with the original video group, rather than the current group, so it showed both the past and present of the university, which was perfect for the Alumni nature of the service.

UACUK: Then you headed over to the Savoy…

MP: Yeah, we were performing for a charity fundraiser for the Muir Maxwell Trust in the London Savoy. We had worked with them during the summer at a similar event at Fettes College in Edinburgh, and were delighted when they asked us to be a part of their event again. The event was hosted by Natasha Kaplinsky and Angela Rippon, and Martin Bayfield conducted the auction, so we got a little taster of the showbiz life. Natasha even got my email address, so we might have a potential gig or two off the back of that. We were also delighted to donate £400 to the charity – not much compared to a lot of what was been thrown around during the auction, but we were glad to do our part.

UACUK: Sounds like a great weekend! Did it stop there?

MP: Not even close. We then headed back to St Andrews for our very own Christmas Concert, entitled ‘Carols Not From Kings’. The title speaks for itself, but the basic concept was one of parody. We did a set of Christmas music and non-Christmas music, which were mixed with so-called ‘lessons’, which weren’t Bible verses, but instead quotes from films like Love Actually and the Muppets Christmas Carol. We also led some communal carols with the ‘congregation’, which was a group of friends we had personally invited.

UACUK: How many people did you have there?

MP: We’d invited a group of about 50 friends, so 5 for each of the guys, plus a few extras. They all received a ‘Christmas Present’ at the end, which was a goodie bag with a signed CD, an Other Guys Christmas Card, some chocolates and an orange. We also served mulled wine and mince pies during the break. We had a really good time and we hope they all did too – it’s definitely an event to build upon in the coming years, we’d love to do something similar next year.

UACUK: I bet you were exhausted after that weekend!

MP: Yeah, we were completely exhausted. A lot of us sing with other groups and choirs too, so we had other concerts in the preceding and following weeks as well. One of us was doing 9 concerts in 9 days, and another two had 8 in 8. But that Monday was a nice way to let off some steam with our friends, enjoy ourselves and detox a little bit!

UACUK: Sounds like you needed it! You can’t have had much more after that, with it being so close to Christmas?

MP: Actually, we did. We had one final engagement. After hearing us at the Dunhill Links Gala Dinner in September, Colin Montgomerie invited us to his home for a Christmas Dinner Fundraiser. It was held in aid of the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, set up in the memory of his mother. The current aim of the project is to bring a Maggies Cancer Care to Aberdeen. Colin and everyone involved were really nice and we sung three times, the third time as an encore after a request from the guests. It was a great way to end our 2011.

UACUK: Sounds like it! So, The Voice Festival is next. Have you started preparing for that?

MP: In a way, everything we’ve done so far this year is great preparation for The Voice Festival. Having said that, we’re kinda just catching our breath at the moment, as you can imagine. But we’ll be getting together in the New Year for some preparation. The event seems bigger than ever this year, and it’s one of the highlights of the a cappella calendar, so we can’t wait to get stuck in.

UACUK: Do you think you’ll be ready, given the younger nature of the group?

MP: I think the gigs we’ve already done this year stand testament to the fact that we’re ready as a group. Like I say, it’s a different sound, a younger group, different banter, but I’m sure we’ll rise to the challenge.

UACUK: How do you rate your chances of winning?

MP: I think any group who entered the competition saying they didn’t want to win would be being a little dishonest. Obviously we’ll give it our best shot, but making predictions on the St Andrews Regional is difficult at this stage, let alone the final. It’s always a tough round, and it’s a fickle game. It was refreshing to see Choral Stimulation from Glasgow again last year, and it will be interesting to see Aberpella, the group from Aberdeen. But with only one group from six going through to the final… Well, we’ll just give it our best shot, like we do every year.

UACUK: Well, we wish you the best of luck, both with the Voice Festival and with whatever plans you have for the rest of 2012!

MP: Thanks

The Other Guys can be found on Facebook, Twitter and on their Official Website. They have also currently made a track from their 2009 album ‘Well Sung’ available for free download: ‘Auld Lang Syne’.