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.

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



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.


All the King’s Men Set to Defend Title; Vive Pick Up Ward Swingle

In an astonishing night of a cappella at the City of London School for Girls, potentially two groups made it through to the final next weekend – All the King’s Men, as overall winners of the Regional, and Vive, who according to Voice Festival rules, will qualify also, unless a group from Birmingham also picks up a Ward Swingle Award as the six-strong group did this evening.

In a night filled with a high standard of collegiate a cappella, it was reigning champions All the King’s Men that saw of stiff competition from other London groups, including The Techtonics, debutants The Scopes and The Houghtones, and all-female group The Imperielles. But it was Vive who perhaps steal the headlines, becoming the first group since Fitz Barbershop in 2010 to pick up the Ward Swingle Award for Originality, and the second group ever to do so.

Depending on events in Birmingham, both All the King’s Men and Vive will be joining Choral Stimulation, The Oxford Alternotives and Semi-Toned in next weekend’s final, plus the representative from Birmingham that will be announced later this evening. Hold onto your seats.

Results Round-Up
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 Techtonics


Ward Swingle Award for Originality: VIVE

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

Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 3: London

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 third installment, we go to the home of the current champions of the Voice Festival, London, one of the fastest growing hubs of a cappella in the UK. The round will be taking place on 9th March 2013, one week before the final, also in London.

Potted History

The London Regional began in 2011, when the competition expand to five Regional Rounds. In that inaugural year, current champions All the King’s Men qualified for the final, and last year they went one step further by winning the entire competition. That considered, the King’s-based group are therefore the only group to have ever represented London in the final, and as the only former Champions left in the competition, they won’t be giving up that title easily.

Notable Absence

Fitz Barbershop: Alongside fellow Cambridge groups The Fitz Sirens and Cadenza, the last remaining contingent from Cambridge have also pulled out of this year’s competition, meaning there will be no representative from the university which once held it’s own Regional from 2009-2011. Fitz Barbershop are also the only group to have ever won the Ward Swingle Award for Originality (in 2010) with their unorthodox style of a cappella (last year, they impressively blended all four of their songs into one another). The individual style of the group will be missed in this year’s competition, but we wish them well for their year ahead.

Newcomer Alert

The Houghtones: The first of three brand new groups competing in this Regional this year, The Houghtones are the sole a cappella group at the London School of Economics. Having been described as ‘the best a cappella band to come out of the UK since the 19th Century’ by one impressed fan of the group, the mixed-voice group will be hoping the enthusiasm created by the excitement at being at their debut Voice Festival will serve them well in the Regional. Having never heard them live myself, they are very much an unknown quantity and it will be fascinating to see how they do. You can find the group on Facebook.

The Scopes: I conducted a short interview a few months back with Justus Schmidt, founder of The Scopes, about his intention to compete in this year’s Voice Festival. Lo and behold, here they are – the fourth group to come out of Imperial College, London, the group have been slowly building their reputation since their foundation in 2011 and will be taking to the stage this year against the best London has to offer. Whether they will match the standards set by returning competitors remains to be seen.

Vive: Having already established themselves as a cappella giants, with performances at the London A Cappella Festival combined with workshop leading, an impressive YouTube video and an six-track debut album, the group from Guildford School of Music and Drama are by far the most developed and experienced of this year’s newcomers. With a Pentatonix-esque make-up (one girl and five boys) and a very unique, professional style, it will be interesting to be what kind of impact the group can make in their debut year. You can find the group on Facebook.


The Imperielles: I said last year that these girls would be ones to watch in future. As the only all-girl group in this year’s London Regional, they will definitely stand out. Their performance last year in their debut competition was good without being outstanding, and with some strong-looking newcomers as well as last year’s champions in the mix, they will have to raise their game to stand a chance of qualification for the final.

The Techtonics: Despite having never made the final, The Techtonics must be one of the favourites to win the competition this year, after such a successful year since last year’s Festival. The third group from Imperial College in this year’s Regional, they have released a highly acclaimed debut full-length album, with one of the tracks featuring on CASA’s Sing 9 collection, a highly impressive achievement for a UK collegiate group. With such a morale boost behind them, they can build on last year’s award-winning set and really challenge not just for the Regional qualification, but for the entire competition.

All the King’s Men: Let’s not rule out last year’s winners just yet, though. The current champions, who also happen to be the third best group in the world having held their own at the international final in New York, they are the only former champions in this years competition, without Out of the Blue, The Oxford Gargoyles and Cadenza, and this will surely encourage them to push for further success. They have lost a chunk of their group, including founder and all-round musical maestro Henry Southern, so it will be interesting to see how they patch up the holes left from departing members. In such esteemed company, it could be difficult to repeat their success this year.


On first glance, All the King’s Men are the hot favourites as last year’s winners. However, with such strides being made by fellow all-male group The Techtonics in the past year, they will definitely not be complacently strolling into the final, and will still need on the top of their game in order to progress. Of the newcomers, Vive, as music school students, will undoubtedly bring a higher level of musical professionalism and nuances that regular university students might not have, and this could hold them in good stead. The Imperielles will need to step up in order to challenge for the places, while other newcomers The Scopes and The Houghtones have a big task ahead of them (namely, beating the third best group in the world) to have a successful debut. It’s a tough call, as always, but I have a feeling we might have a surprise winner of this one.

Have Your Say

Audition Alert! (6)

Audition fever has been rife over the past few weeks: here a short round-up:

The University of Cambridge’s The Fitz Sirens are calling for new members to message them through their Facebook page to book a slot; The Oxford Belles are auditioning this weekend on both Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5.30pmm, with more information available here; The Techtonics from Imperial College, London held their first auditions yesterday, and are also auditioning Sunday and Tuesday of the coming week – more information is available on their page also.

Potential auditionees for Oxford’s In The Pink are being encouraged to email itp@hotmail.co.uk; The Imperielles are holding auditions this Saturday and Sunday (find out more here; Cadenza from Cambridge have auditions continuing from this Monday 8th, which you can sign up for here); and finally, Blue Shakti are looking for vocalists and beatboxers to email them at blueshakti.acappella@gmail.com

If you’re at university – make sure you get involved in all the action!

Techtonics & Friends Set to Bring A Cappella-Fest to ICU Metric

The Techtonics have once again organised a huge a cappella evening at the Imperial College Union Metric, with groups from London, Cambridge and even the US joining the Vocal Marathon participants for what is sure to be an a cappella sensation not to be missed.

The Techtonics are joined by fellow Imperial College groups The Imperielles and, in their first public outing, The Scopes, as well as Voice Festival UK 2012 Winners and 3rd placed group at the resulting ICCAs All the King’s Men from King’s College. Also joining them are the King’s Chix, also from King’s College, and award-winning group The Refrains, who competed this year in the inaugural VF-UK Community Competition. If that wasn’t enough, a new group, The Dynamics, will be making their public debut as well.

But even more excitingly, the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, will be kicking off their world tour that very evening.

It really is a show not to be missed. For more information about the event, check about the Facebook Event Page. To buy tickets, click here.

Event Review: VF-UK 2012 London Regional Round

On Saturday 11 February 2012, the Voice Festival 2012 University Competition kicked off in fine style at The Greenwood Theatre in London before a willing and sizeable audience.

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

The Competitors:

ALL THE KING’S MEN from King’s College, London
THE KING’S CHIX from King’s College, London
THE TECHTONICS from Imperial College, London
THE IMPERIELLES from Imperial College, London
FITZ BARBERSHOP from the University of Cambridge

The Hosts:


I was really looking forward to the newcomers and the first all-female group The Imperielles. They were wearing black and white but there was otherwise no real conformity to their outfits. They opened the evening with Bruno Mars’ Grenade, which, considering the group are newly formed, was very impressive. They did suffer from a classic a cappella problem, that of hopping aboard the rhythm rollercoaster and speeding up significantly throughout the song, but otherwise it was a solid effort, with solid vocals and solid backing, although their decision to incorporate Rollin’ In The Deep into the song was an odd one, and the transition into it was rather awkward, but otherwise it was a strong finish and a strong first impression from the newbies.

Their next song was by the late Amy Winehouse, Back To Black. The backing was a little repetitive in the first verse and chorus, but when the solo turned into a duet, the song livened up considerably, despite the backing not changing all that much. Some great harmonies on the duet. After the breakdown, which involved some nice blocked chords, there was a key change (gotta love a key change), but unfortunately this was marred by a few pitching issues. All in all a good middle song, but the lack of variety to the backing made it a little stagnant towards the end.

The group finished with Florence and The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, which began with a choral feel which translated through the entire song, but there was a moment before the first chorus that had a twang of jazziness to it which I thought was rather cool. The soloist was on the whole superb, despite a little shoutiness towards the top end, and their was a lovely break for one of the natural sopranos to take over towards the middle, which was very pleasant. Overall a good first outing for the girls, who will improve in the future and will definitely be ones to watch in the future.

Fitz Barbershop were up next, and wore their typically quirky attire of straw hats, varying coloured waistcoats and, like the other all-male groups, dark trousers, a combination which instantly made them more interesting to look at than any of the other groups in this round. They introduced themselves, both in song as a group and then in the spoken word individually, which was different, before launching into a love-based set, kicking off with a upbeat version of Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love, which contained more ‘Doo-Wop”s than a Hansen song. While the soloist wasn’t as strong as in the previous groups, the choreography was quirky and amusing, and I admired their efforts to quicken-up a slow song, which they managed generally very well.

They merged effortlessly into Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, in which the group mimicked the lyrics by turning around with varied and amusing facial expressions each time the lyrics were sung. The piece was far from perfect musically, with the falsetto solo efforts probably the weakest, but again the choreography was thoroughly entertaining and really showed off the reason why the group made the final in 2010 through winning the Ward Swingle Award for Originality, as they are like no other group in this competition.

Again, without pausing, they moved into the barbershop classic Heart of My Heart, at which point they moved off the stage and began to serenade one lucky audience member. Again, they weren’t musically perfect, but they were the closest they had been since the set began, with chords blending nicely together and allowing the group to really revel in their roots. This song was quickly replaced by Jose Gonzalez’ Heartbeats, which again demonstrated the group were able to sing in close harmony without the quirky choreography. While both songs were good, neither really required an outstanding soloist, and this is probably the weakest area of this group. However, I admired their boldness to merge their entire set together, really playing to their strength, and they deserved the gratuitous applause at the end of the set.

The Techtonics, in their simple but effective red-shirt and black-trouser combination, prepared us for an ‘evening of ground-breaking a cappella’ during their opening Overture, despite it being halfway through the evening, before kicking straight into Orson’s No Tomorrow. The problem with a group covering a song which is a personal favourite is that you tend to know the song almost back to front: where it swells, fades and climaxes. On the whole, the song was covered well, with an excellent soloist, but the group took a while to fully get into the song – whether that be through nerves or just due to the arrangement – and there was little dance routine to speak of, although the poses that the boys struck during the second verse were amusing, if a little unoriginal. However, the song became most effective when the group broke it down to two soloists and a beatboxer, before launching once again into the impressive chorus after a sweet money note from the soloist. All in all, an energetic and generally impressive start.

The group then went into their third song, which was U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, which started off slowly with a beautiful lead bass vocal and some nice locked chords, which was then followed by a tenor soloist taking over on the slightly more upbeat part. Unfortunately the top of his range occasionally sounded a little crass and, for me, ruined the lulled effect that the opening had created. I appreciate that the song did become more upbeat, as the backing vocals indicated, but I feel a little more of a softer approach was necessary on this solo. Nevertheless, the two soloists combined towards the end of the piece for the best moment of the song, despite the tenor harmony drowning out the bass melody somewhat.

The fourth and final song from the boys was Labrinth’s Earthquake, not only living up to their name but their promise towards the start of their set. The song began with the boys singing in choir-stall fashion to another bass soloist, and for a moment I thought: “Haven’t we already seen this?” However, my fears were quickly quelled as the boys bounced (literally) into the quick-paced chorus, led by yet another impressive tenor, which became a fun-filled a cappella romp, with the boys clearly enjoying themselves. It really was a superb performance which unsurprisingly got the audience going, and while not perfect musically, the song received deservedly the biggest applause of their set.

The King’s Chix looked rather stunning in their all black dresses, and they opened with a rather fun adaptation of Everybody Wants To Be A Cat, or in their case, a chick. The only really interesting thing about the song was the changed lyrics however, as the actual arrangement was pretty plain, but they received a good reaction from the audience and it was nice to have another more personalised number to open the set.

The girls then spread out across the stage for Adele’s Someone Like You, which was suitably toned down and slowed down and the soloist was note perfect. The song did drag a little bit, but the soloist’s voice was extremely pleasant and one which I could have listened to for hours on end. Indeed, the whole song was very easy to listen to. Whether or not it was competition standard is a matter of opinion, but it was certainly very easy on the ears. It did, however, really pick up in the final couple of minutes, with some superb descants and harmonies, and all in all was a very impressive second song from the girls.

Their final song was a mash-up of Lady Marmelade and I Love Rock and Roll, which had a couple of pacing problems, but was certainly more of a mash-up than All The King’s Men’s final song. Despite tuning issues towards the end, and a couple of moments of deadness during the song, it was received well on the whole and was a relatively good ending to a solid set, and one which probably highlighted their strength as being slow, tuneful ballads rather than upbeat numbers.

Last year’s finalists All The King’s Men closed the show, wearing their classic blue/purple shirts and dark trousers, and opened with a mash-up of two Lady GaGa songs, Born This Way and Edge of Glory. I have criticised the group for their over-reliance on mash-ups before, but in this case, it was a masterstroke. Right from the start, you could tell the group had just a little more musicality to the chords than in The Techtonics’ opener, and although the soloist wasn’t as strong, the arrangement (not to mention the choreography) was better. The boys were strongest while harmonising in unison, but the whole song was fun, bouncy and well arranged, particularly the transition into Edge of Glory and the glorious ritardando and blocked chords of the finish, ending the song in a very classy way. Impressive start.

Their second song was Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song which has been covered to death and is also rather repetitive, and as such I was slightly worried that they would be unable to offer anything new or interesting to the song, while quietly hoping they would prove me wrong. The first couple of verses did drag a little bit, but by the time they reached the second chorus, and were adding dainty little descants, the song became less of a cover and more their own arrangement. However, despite their efforts in the final verse and chorus, they were unable to really bring the song to a real climax, and while the soloist was good throughout, the song was never anything sensational – well sung, well arranged and well performed, but decidedly normal, and I definitely think they could have chosen something more unique.

The group closed with a cover of The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men and Robbie Williams’ Let Me Entertain You, which was slightly stylised to coincide with their ‘punny’ nature as It’s Reigning Men. The outstanding feature of this song was the choreography, which, when in unison was almost always synchronised, and when not in unison provided each and every member the opportunity to unleash their creativity in a way other than singing, which was extremely refreshing and meant you could never take your eyes off the stage. I was almost disappointed when they merged into Let Me Entertain You, as I felt the original song still had a lot more to offer. Indeed the second half of the mash-up was weaker, as I felt the chords on the chorus could have been more interesting and varied, and towards the end of the piece they began ‘step-clapping’, which I am not a fan of. An amusing finish didn’t quite make up for it, and I sometimes just feel the boys should have more confidence in their ability to arrange one song, rather than mash a second one into it. A mash-up should involve both songs being sung at once, and this one only provided one after the other. A solid effort nevertheless and a great finish to a top evening of a cappella.


For me, it was a two-horse race – I feel The Techtonics had the better arrangements and slightly better soloists than All The King’s Men, whereas the latter were better choreographed, had an extra sense of musicality to them, and their overall set was probably just a little bit tidier than the former. Fitz Barbershop were my outside choice, as their quirkiness and boldness to maintain a flow-through set may have earned them credit with the judges. The King’s Chix did well, but weren’t quite as consistent as the all-male groups, and The Imperielles were very good in their first outing but I think it would be unfair to expect them to qualify. So for me, I saw All The King’s Men reaching their second final, despite the stiffer competition this year.


Outstanding Performance: The Techtonics for ‘Earthquake’
Outstanding Soloist: David Verhoeven of the Techtonics for ‘No Tomorrow’
Outstanding Choreography: Henry Southern and All The King’s Men



So our readers were correct in predicting that All The King’s Men would reach the final. Who else will join them? Find out next weekend at the Birmingham (25th Feb) and Oxford (26th Feb) Regionals!

All The King’s Men Make Second Successive Final

In the first of the five Regional Rounds of the Voice Festival UK, which took place earlier this evening, it was revealed that All The King’s Men were to become our first 2012 Finalists, after they saw off competition from Fitz Barbershop, The King’s Chix, The Imperielles and The Techtonics to reach their second successive final.

The boys from King’s College London have had a very successful year since last year’s tournament, including a US Tour and a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August, and will be hoping to build upon these experiences as they head to the final on March 10th. The group are actually flying out to America next weekend for another US Tour, so stay tuned for a exclusive interview with the group about that.

In the meantime, congratulations to All The King’s Men, and we’ll see you at the Final in March!

A full review of tonight’s competition will be up in the next few days.