University Groups to Submit Videos to VF-UK

The Voice Festival UK will not be holding Regional Competitions as part of the University Competition in 2014.

The news comes early today as an email from the new University Co-Ordinator, Zoe Banfield, was sent to all the groups involved in the Festival.

Instead, in order to apply for the semi-final and final (taking place in London in March), groups will need to submit a video to VF-UK. Further details of this video are yet to be revealed. Furthermore, showcases will be organised across the UK as replacements for the Voice Festival competition.

The full email from the Voice Festival can be read below:

University Programme 2013-14

As you will be aware, the Voice Festival is run by a team of volunteers, and in order to develop and sustain the work we do, we have recently taken on some new team members. However, this does mean that we will be going through an initial period of transition this year whilst the new members settle into their roles. More details about the new team members and their roles can be found on the Voice Festival website.

Based on feedback from last year, we know that the Big Weekend was of great value to groups, and so we want to build on this aspect of our offering and find a way to bring even more groups together. We also know that the competition aspect is something that helps provide focus in pushing groups on and we still want to encourage this as well.

With this in mind key activities of our 2013-14 programme will include:

University Competition

This will consist of:

– An initial round with online video submissions. (More details to follow, but we anticipate a submission deadline of end of Jan/early Feb 2014).

– Festival Weekend across two days (potentially 8th – 9th March 2014, but we will confirm this in December) which will include a live Semi-final knock-out and the University Championship Final. (More details to be announced in due course).

As you can see the University competition has a few changes to previous years, with an initial video submission round and then a Festival Weekend featuring Semi-finals and the Competition Final. We can confirm at this stage that the judging criteria will remain consistent with previous years, with only some small tweaks for the online video submissions.

Showcases… in collaboration with you! – these are events for helping you to deepen connections with youth and community singers in your regions, and providing focus on originality, collaboration, learning and performance. They will be held at different venues and times across the year (pre or post the university competition – pending your calendars) and every event will be tailored to the singers in your area.

What do you think of the new changes? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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Poll: Who will win the Voice Festival UK 2013?

With three weekends of top quality a cappella having whizzed past absurdly quickly, we are all set for a fifth Voice Festival UK University Final this weekend, taking place at the City of London School for Girls on Friday 15 March. With three groups having had experience in finals before, as well as three debutant groups, it really is wide open. Who is your favourite?

All the King’s Men

The reigning champions are in their third final in as many years, and having once again won the tough London Regional, must be feeling confident in their third straight final. The Men are currently the third best collegiate group in the world, having placed 3rd at last April’s ICCA Finals in New York, and will have been honing their VF-UK set while touring the US again this February. Losing their founder and long-time Musical Director Henry Southern will have been a blow, but it appears they have gone from strength to strength and look a good bet to defend their title.

Choral Stimulation

The hugely unfancied Glaswegian group (having only secured 4% of the vote for the St Andrews Regional Round in our previous poll) took everyone by surprise with their phenomenal set in St Andrews, becoming the first group outside of St Andrews to qualify from that particular Regional. This is their fourth year in the competition, which gives them more experience than all but one of the other groups, and they have been on a steady incline of improvement since their debut back in 2010. Will their lack of Final experience count against them though?

The Oxford Alternotives

The Alternotives last qualified for the final back in the first year of the Voice Festival UK, in 2009. That year, they made it through the now-defunct Cambridge Regional, whereas this year they progressed in their hometown in Oxford. The group have picked up several awards in the years they haven’t made the final, demonstrating they have always been there or thereabouts when it comes to qualification, but this is the year to really capitalise on their Final berth. They sounded fantastic at the Edinburgh Fringe over the summer – to what extent will this be continued?

Semi-Toned

Having made a strong debut last year, despite not making the Final, Semi-Toned secured one third of the vote to win the Exeter Regional and proved they had built on last year’s strong foundations with an astonishing set, picking up the majority of the awards at the Regional as well as securing qualification. As one of three all-male groups at the Final, they will need to do well to stand out, and a question marks lies over whether they have quite found their unique personality as a group, but they are definitely on their way to becoming one of the biggest male groups in the country. Can they rubber-stamp that fact with a win on Friday?

The Sons of Pitches

Having arguably been close runners-up in last year’s Final, the Birmingham-based group will feel in a strong position to further challenge for the VF-UK title this year, having picked up no less than three awards at the Birmingham Regional yesterday night. The boys claim that their success at last year’s Festival was a springboard for their spring and summertime successes, so imagine what the boys could achieve were they to win the thing? Praised for their masterful stagecraft and energetic performance in recent years, do the boys have enough musicality to win them the entire competition?

Vive

The wild-card entry (literally) in this year’s final, Vive have taken a leaf out of Pentatonix’ book by being a small, male-dominated group with one exceptional female lead to add the extra-dimension to their numbers. While the group focus on an entirely different repertoire to their American counterparts, the Guildhall-based group inherently have a huge amount of musical proficiency behind them and to qualify ahead of the likes of The Techtonics from the London round is quite an achievement, even if it was through the use of the Ward Swingle Award for Originality. I cannot wait to see these guys live, and see what they can offer. Will their lack of experience hamper their ability to win? Time will tell.

Have Your Say

Our poll is now open. Who do YOU think will win this year’s final?

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.

Old-Timers

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.

Summary

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

Best of British 2012: 3. Earthquake

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 here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight
5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts
4. Out of the Blue – Got To Get You Into My Life

3. The Techtonics – Earthquake

Awards:
‘Outstanding Performance’, Voice Festival UK 2012, London Regional
Featured on Sing 9 compilation album.

Shaking the foundations of our list at number three is the frankly phenomenal final track from the debut album by Imperial College’s The Techtonics, their cover of Labrinth’s Earthquake. The song, which made its debut at the London Regional, has since become only the second track from a British collegiate group to feature on CASA’a Sing compilation, featuring on the ninth edition, Supernovem. But the track started out in less esteemed surroundings. James Hayward, arranger of the track and last year’s MD, came up with the idea in the lead up to Christmas 2011. “I remember hearing the original tens if not hundreds of times in the lead up to Christmas that year, as it had just been released. After a while I began to realise I wasn’t getting sick of it. Obviously, at that time we were in need of tracks for our Voice Festival set, and the more I thought about it, the more the track seemed to fit so perfectly into the repertoire of the group: we had been experimenting with dubstep and more commercial sounds; such was the talent of the group at the time that we were able to use an obscene range; and the symmetry of a group called ‘The Techtonics’ covering a song called ‘Earthquake’ was too good to miss.”

The arrangement itself was one which in the first case was one which the group wanted to make as original as possible, but was partially based on a Radio 1 Live Lounge version of the song. “Actually, that version of the song involved the Swingle Singers doing the Ah-vocal at the start, which brings it nicely full circle to a cappella music!”

It was a quick turnover from idea to arrangement and from rehearsal to performance, though, but Hayward claims it was worth it. “Despite only learning it a month before VF-UK rolled into town, upon talking to the judges after the show, the song definitely made the right sort of impression.” He remains, however, reserved about that premiere performance. “Being a massive critic, I hate looking back at the video of it, because it improved so much from that point in time.” Despite its many forms and transformations, the song remained a favourite of the group throughout the rest of the year for that very reason. “With regards to the live performance, it has come a long way since the slightly rushed (both in preparation and tempo!) version we threw together at VF-UK. Adding microphones adds an extra element to it, while there is a lot of scope for improvisation within the track,” said Hayward, adding: “We’ll put that down as a deliberate creative tool rather than a lazy arrangement!” When asked about the album version of the track, Hayward continued: “It took many forms during recording too, before we eventually settled on the track that can be found on the album.”

When asked about the track’s selection for Sing 9, ‘surprised’ and ‘delighted’ were two words that were abundant as James spoke. “Even from when we sent the initial bare bones track to the States for mixing, the idea was to win things. But to be selected for something as prestigious as the ‘Sing’ compilation was a real honour and a privilege.” Hayward proceeded to thank several of his team, both singers and producers, for the hard work they put in: “To say all the hard work was worth it is a massive understatement.” Thanks go to Matt Chinery, Alex Koutzoukis, James Cannon and Dave Sperandio.

As for why the song has become such a hit outside of just the group, the young man came up with several suggestions. “It’s a real crowd favourite,” poses Hayward, while adding: “The energy of it builds perfectly. Thanks to Labrinth himself for that! It’s also perfect for closing sets, or indeed an album, as it’s kind of become our token song.” Hayward goes on: “The edits on the album track were nothing short of remarkable. As one of the only people who heard it from start to finish, I an honestly say I never imagined such a drastic change. And when I heard they were jamming along to it at SoJam, I was blown away – I think it’s partly down to the commercial nature of the song: the big hits, big bass and synth FX on the high vocals make it something a little more accessible to those outside of the a cappella community.”

Suitable for any occasion, especially parties an on loud speakers with a sub-woofer (trust me, I would know), Earthquake can be bought on the Imperial College Website as part of the Groundbreaker.

The Accidentals to Sing at UK Pitch Perfect Launch

The most successful all-female group at the University of St Andrews, and the last all-female group to reach the final of the Voice Festival UK back in 2011, The Accidentals, have been invited to sing at the launch of what could potentially be the biggest influence on UK a cappella in recent years: the first ever a cappella movie, Pitch Perfect.

The movie, which has already been released to generally positive reviews in America, is coming to screens on 21 December, and the girls will be heading down to London in a couple of weeks’ time to help Universal with the promotion of the film, in the hope that viewers will be attracted to the film due to the similarities between The Accidentals and the fictional girl group portrayed in the film, The Bellas.

It comes as no real surprise that the girls, who are technically the UK’s best all-female collegiate group, have been invited to this event, and we wish them all the best as they head down for what could potentially significantly boost the popularity of a cappella in the UK permanently.

Album Review: It’s Reigning Men

All the King’s Men latest 5-track EP was recorded live

by Carys Evans

“It’s Reigning Men” is a wonderfully diverse showcase of the talented All the King’s Men, with a wide range of styles and vocal performances. For a group that, for me, works so well because of the fantastic energy and comedy in their performances, I was worried that the album would not be able to live up to the live experience. However, the group has managed to successfully convey the personality and individuality that you would expect from a live performance – with the soloists in particular showing flare and occasional cheekiness.

One of the most impressive aspects of the recording are the incredible dynamics. Whether in the upbeat Born This Way, or the slow-building Hide And Seek, the dynamic contrasts and swells are extremely impressive, and show fantastic control. Coupled with wonderful blend, the group show themselves to be very professional in their singing capabilities, often with quite a choral-sounding tone, which works extremely well on the ballads (Hallelujah and Hide And Seek). The chorister sound can sometimes sound at odds with the music in the up-tempo numbers, though this can work to their advantage – for example in Livin’ La Vida Loca, the soloist’s more classical sound works to great comic effect. Indeed, I have to congratulate the entire bass section in general – not only can their wonderful low notes be occasionally hilarious (the bass solo in It’s Reigning Men has got to be the highlight of the album), the sound is absolutely wonderful, particularly in Hide and Seek. Similarly, there are some amazing high notes in Hallelujah, which are perfectly in tune and with a beautiful tone.

Although some of the arrangements of the poppier numbers are quite simple musically, some of the sounds and the backing vocals are absolute genius: the use of ‘gaga’ in the backing to Born This Way not only creates a great sound, but is the kind of move that I’m sure Gaga herself would love. Similarly, the changing of lyrics in It’s Reigning Men, as well as the great backing lyrics would make The Weather Girls proud. There are some fantastic solos, with one of the best being the Let Me Entertain You section in It’s Reigning Men. I’d say that the album seems to be quite lacking in vocal percussion – this may be due to the more choral nature of some of the arrangements – although there are some great ‘dv’ bass drum sounds in It’s Reigning Men. Nevertheless, I think that Born This Way and It’s Reigning Men would have benefited from more beatboxing, particularly as the upbeat nature of both songs can be brought across more in choreography when live, which of course the album cannot portray.

If I had to find criticism with the album, I would say that there were the occasional balance issues – with various parts coming on too strongly, or some not at all, and sometimes the words are slightly harder to make out, for example in Hide And Seek where the syllables are so long that they can get lost. Of course, it is impossible to capture all of the exuberance of the boys’ live performances, but what we have here is a tantalisingly short snippet of what they can do – and what they do is extremely good.

The Refrains are Recruiting – Male Singers Wanted!

Although not technically university a cappella, we at the blog like to look after our groups’ alumni because, well, a lot of us are alumni ourselves. And so we were delighted to hear that one of the UK’s newest alumni-based groups, The Refrains, are not only gigging very soon, but are also looking for new meat to join their ranks.

‘Please Refrain from Smokin” is a joint gig between The Refrains and fellow London-based group In The Smoke, two of the most exciting young groups on the thriving London scene, and it is happening this Friday. As in, tomorrow. Don’t miss out on your chance to see these groups by clicking ‘Join’ on the Event Page to find out where to buy your tickets.

More importantly, perhaps, is the auditions. The Refrains are packed full of uni group alums, and so are the perfect group to join if you’ve just graduated from university and haven’t quite filled that a cappella-sized hole that you’ve been left with. They are only looking for boys, though, at least one tenor and one bass, so lads, if you fancy it, click here to find out more and keep up to date with how to audition. Auditions are taking place week beginning October 8th, so keep your eyes peeled for more information.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy seeing the groups in action tomorrow night!