Gargoyles To Hit Hong Kong

interview by Henry Southern

The Oxford Gargoyles, Oxford’s premier jazz a cappella group, are embarking on their debut tour to Hong Kong and Macau from March 20th to April 2nd. We sat down with their Tour Manager, Sam Galler, to find out more.

UACUK: What made you decide to tour Hong Kong and Macau?

SG: The Gargoyles have had a longstanding tradition of traveling to the United States, where we have strong relationships with many terrific collegiate a cappella groups at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, and UPenn. This year, we wanted to try something different, and after discussing it with the leadership of the group, we all decided to take a chance and plan a tour in a completely new place.

This tour has only been made possible by a lot of hard work from the group this year, and we are so thrilled to have the opportunity to share our music with people in Hong Kong and Macau.

UACUK: What are you most looking forward to during the tour?

SG: I am most looking forward to our 10+ school workshops, where we will be able to share our passion and enthusiasm for our music with local youth. We will be listening to choirs and learning from each other, and I think this will be a really special part of our tour. We are very fortunate to be working with a variety of schools in different areas of the city, including local schools, international schools, primary, and secondary schools.

UACUK: We are aware that you have recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the tour. Why did you decide do this and why FringeBacker?

SG: We are so excited to go on this tour, and really want to share our excitement with other people who would like to support our group. We also wanted to find a way to include people both in the UK and in Hong Kong, so we decided to try out crowdfunding and see if we could use it as a way to include supporters in our adventures and experiences we sing and travel. So we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign — FringeBacker offered strong bilingual and international customization, and we have been very happy to have support from their team.

We have done our very best to come up with things that people might really like to get in exchange for supporting us, and will offer limited edition postcards, T-shirts, and concert posters to those who back our trip!

UACUK: Do you think that more collegiate a cappella groups will undertake crowdfunding?

SG: Yes, crowdfunding can be a very helpful thing for small groups with big ideas. Collegiate a cappella groups like the Gargoyles owe so much to the support of their supporters and fans, and platforms like FringeBacker simply make it easier for them to conduct fundraising campaigns to launch new projects.

UACUK: What are your plans for when you get back?

SG: After we return to Oxford, we get to enjoy Oxford’s best season, the Spring. At Oxford, it is called “Trinity” Term, and for those who don’t have exams, it is an amazing time to be here. We are singing at many garden parties and balls, and will be preparing more exciting music for our annual run at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh this coming August!

UACUK: That all sounds very exciting! Thank you very much for talking to us!

For more information and to support The Oxford Gargoyles’ tour, visit their FringeBacker campaign page.

Follow the Oxford Gargoyles on Facebook or on Twitter at @oxfordgargoyles.

Alternotives Reach First Final Since 2009

In the fifth annual Oxford Regional Round of the Voice Festival UK, it was mixed-group The Oxford Alternotives who progressed to the Final in London in a fortnight’s time, despite the rest of the awards being dominated by the all-female groups in the competition.

In a round devoid of the likes of Out of the Blue and The Oxford Gargoyles, it was The Alternotives who stepped up to the mark with an exceptional performance which helped them to qualify from Oxford for the first time: their final place in 2009 was gained through the now-defunct Cambridge Regional. With a repertoire that included one of our favourite tracks of last year, Regina Spektor’s Samson, the Alts capitalised on the notable absences to secure their final spot. Other highlights included three all-girl groups breaking out some amazing all-female a cappella, and The Ultrasounds in their token scrubs wowing with their dulcet tones.

So The Alternotives join Semi-Toned and Choral Stimulation in the final, in a year which is shaping up nicely for mixed groups…

Results Round-Up
Outstanding Musicality: The Oxford Belles
Outstanding Performance: In The Pink
Outstanding Soloist: Georgia Comrie of In The Pink for Both Sides Now

Winner: THE OXFORD ALTERNOTIVES

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

Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 1: Oxford

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 the first blog, we kick off at one of the longest running Regional Rounds, that in Oxford, and the line-up looks slightly different this year. The round will take place on Sunday 3rd March 2013.

Potted History

This is the fifth time the Oxford Regional Round has taken place, having started at the inaugural Voice Festival competition back in 2009. In the first two years, Out of the Blue qualified for the final twice, alongisde The Oxford Belles and The Oxford Gargoyles in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Since the introduction of two extra Regionals, Out of the Blue have gone on to qualify alone in 2011 and 2012, meaning they have made the final in every year possible.

Notable Absence

Out of the Blue: The first of two huge absences from this year competition, the boys from Oxford have this year decided to withdraw from the competition in order to focus on other projects. Their departure is a huge loss to the competition and will mean the group relinquish their record of being in every single VF-UK Final. Having proceeded to the ICCA Finals in New York as winners in 2009 and coming second, alongisde huge national exposure on Britain’s Got Talent and having the largest fanbase in the UK, they leave a legacy behind them, while blowing the Regional in Oxford wide open.

The Oxford Gargoyles: The second significant absence from the competition this year is the well-established jazz group. While the group have only ever reached the final once, the year they won the competition in 2010, they are seen as one of the most professional groups in the country, having reached the final of BBC’s Choir of the Year 2012 and appearing on national television as a result. Judging by what I saw of the group at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, their departure is another big loss to the competition, and we hope to see the group back in coming years.

Switching Sides

The King’s Chicks: New name, new location. Formerly the King’s Chix, the group have decided to indicate their maturity by stylising their name slightly differently, and have been re-jigged into the Oxford Regional due to the large number of groups popping up in London this year. With this their third year in the competition, having competed in London in the previous two years, now would seem to be the best time to be relocated to this particular round, given the notable absences above. Having seen them at the Edinburgh Fringe briefly in the summer, there was room for improvement, but a New Year and a fresh batch of members could allow the group to thrive in their new surroundings.

Old-Timers

The Oxford Alternotives: Having competed in Cambridge twice and in Oxford twice, it seems with the lack of Cambridge participants at all this year, the Alternotives are back home for good. Having won an award every year they have competed (last year for ‘Outstanding Choreography’), and having reached the final in 2009, their longevity and experience could hold them in good stead this year.

The Oxford Belles: One of three all-female groups in this year’s Oxford Regional, the Belles are one of only three all-female groups to ever reach the final of the competition, and as such will feel confident going into this year’s Regional. The group blew us away last year with an ‘Outstanding Soloist’ during their cover of Jar of Hearts, which was later awarded 5th place in our countdown of the top tracks of 2012. If they can utilise their members to such good effect again this year, they may well be the favourites to qualify – after all, I had them down as a close second last year.

In The Pink: Credit to In The Pink, since last year’s competition they have strived to build on simply gaining experience from the Voice Festival. Having had another successful Fringe run and toured Berlin, they have been picking up experience here, there and everywhere, and have released a solid studio album. Whether this will translate to a live competition remains to be seen, but the girls should not be underestimated.

The Ultrasounds: After a very solid debut last year, claiming award for ‘Outstanding Vocal Percussion’ and ‘Outstanding Performance’. Having since released a debut studio album, the all-male, all-medic group are now the sole male-only group in this Regional, and if they can build on their impressive debut, they could surprise a few.

Summary

With two previous winners no longer competing, this has blown not just this Regional but the entire competition wide open. As the only two previous finalists left in this round, you have to suggest that the favourites are either The Oxford Alternotives or The Oxford Belles, despite neither group having made the final since 2009. Based on recent performances, I would say the Belles are the closest to making it this year. However, experience does not necessarily mean victory, and the strong debut from The Ultrasounds last year is something that, if properly built upon, could stand them in good stead this year. In The Pink have also had a good year since the last competition, and their experience in Germany and in Edinburgh will have undoubtedly strengthened their core sound. That leaves The King’s Chicks, who I am sure will be well received by the new Oxford crowd, and in their third year of competition, they will also be expecting some sort of progress. This one is really tough to call.

Have Your Say

Best of British 2012: 4. Got To Get You Into My Life

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

Awards:
‘Highly Recommended Soloist’, Voice Festival UK 2012, Oxford Regional
‘Outstanding Performance’, Voice Festival UK 2012, Final

Smashing in at number 4 is the lively cover of the Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life, as performed by Oxford’s finest, Out of the Blue. The track was one of the first track the 2011/2012 generation of the group learnt, with its debut coming at the groups’ annual debut performance at G&Ds Cafe, about 3 weeks after the new group formed, along with other album tracks, With or Without You and Stop. The song made its way into the groups’ Voice Festival set that year, being used as a powerful opener before Lippy Kids and Domino.

The song’s origins came about very much by chance, according to the group’s MD, Nick Barstow: “The arrangement came when Laurie [Cottam, the soloist on the song] and I were in the car on our way to the airport one day – Laurie only has Beatles albums and Brahms string quartets in his car, and we’d gone for Beatles. Got To Get You Into My Life came on, and I didn’t know it well, but Laurie really liked it. I did too but I thought it was missing something.” That ‘something missing’ was resolved when Laurie revealed the Earth, Wind and Fire cover of the same song. “At 7 minutes long, it was a little self-indulgent, but the arrangement is insane. I cut it down, mixed the best of the original and the cover together, and we had the basis for the arrangement.” Barstow’s addition of Isn’t She Lovely? was prompted by the desire for a strong baritone solo. “The solid baritone solo matched the epic tenor solo really well, partly because of the similar pentatonic motif.”

From the perspective of the group, the song has had its highs and lows throughout the year. “It’s definitely one of my favourites,” said Barstow, before continuing: “But we fell out of favour with it a bit halfway through the year; sometimes you go off a song when you sing it too much.” The group decided to use it more sparingly at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which gave it a much needed rest, before breathing new life into it during their tour of Japan. “We sang at a special Beatles and Jazz circuit in Tokyo in September which was incredible and kicked it back into life. At that point, we all began to remember why it was so great in the first place.”

Barstow believes the song has become such a hit due to the variation contained within the arrangement. “There are some really chromatic passages and you’re constantly changing the vocal sound between scat vocal, instrumental style a cappella and real voice singing. Also, there’s nowhere to breathe.” Despite some snags the song hit during the year, because it was such an early part of their set, Barstow claims it maintained some of that initial, start of year hype. As or the album track, Barstow gives credit to Bill Hare, who is “fantastic in general but also a big fan of the Beatles so really got into it.”

Nick’s favourite song of the year remains their cover of Elbow’s Lippy Kids, because of the sentimental value it held for him. “Without being overly sentimental, it summed up my year with the group, and it is pure and poetic.” He is unsure whether Got To Get You will make a return to the group’s set in the near future. “There are some songs that you associate so much with one particular year and group of people that it wouldn’t be right without them.” However, he does concede that it might “come back in a year or two.”

You can buy Out of the Blue’s album, Music Up!, which contains the track, on iTunes.

Best of British 2012: 5. Jar of Hearts

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

Awards: ‘Outstanding Soloist’ – Voice Festival 2012, Oxford Regional Round

In at number five is our highest placed track that hasn’t been released on a recording this year, the powerful rendition of Christina Perri’s Jar of Hearts by The Oxford Belles. We certainly hope the song might be forthcoming on an album soon, but as it is, this was one of our favourite live performances of the year.

Surprisingly, the girls themselves were expecting a slightly different reaction when the song debuted at the Oxford Regional of the Voice Festival back in February. “We were actually expecting our standout song to be our TV Medley,” said Alicia Gayle, current MD of the group. “I thought Jar of Hearts was a good arrangement, but other than that I wasn’t expecting a prize for it,” added the ever modest Sophie Giles, who took the lead vocals on the number. The arrangement itself wasn’t actually one done by a member of the group, but by someone else in the a cappella world. “The song was arranged by Lauren Barreiro, who is a part of fellow all-female group Musae,” mentioned Gayle.

Regardless of who arranged the song, the girls really took it by the scruff of the neck and continued to perform the song for the remainder of the academic year, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, where it was also highly praised, being described as “the best a cappella solo […] all year,” alongside mentions of being a “standout solo performance” by audience members and reviewers alike. The girls feel it’s not suitable for every occasion though: “I do like the song, but there are other songs I really enjoy performing,” said Giles, before adding: “I think that it is a great song for certain occasions, but for some gigs it’s just not appropriate.”

As far as I’m concerned, though, I want to hear it whenever and wherever they sing. As the girls suggest, everyone in the group really commits to song when it’s being performed and are able to convey the necessary emotion in both their voices and their expressions as they sing the number. “It’s quite a powerful song in itself,” concluded Gayle, and we are inclined to more than agree. We definitely hope to hear this one again.

You can watch the award-winning rendition of Jar of Hearts right here.

Best of British 2012: 6. Dancing in the Moonlight

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

Dancing smoothly into the half -way spot is the second track from The Oxford Gargoyles, their mash-up of Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight. A real cracker of a blend, it incorporates Ain’t No Mountain, I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Fight For This Love and Tears Dry On Their Own, and seamlessly jumbles them all together with a typical Gargoyles’ jazzy twist to form a track that is perhaps one of the best arrangements on our countdown.

Arranging maestro Euan Campbell found the mash-up came about rather spontaneously though: “It developed quite naturally over time – I definitely didn’t intend to mash five songs together at first! The addition of each track came upon the realisation that the chord sequences were the same. Thing Called Love was originally intended to be a stand alone track, but once I sat down to work out the chords, I figured out they were the same. I was reluctant to add Cheryl Cole into the mix because it’s not really our style, but I gave in eventually. Tears was a very late addition.” The hardest part was the very end, claims Campbell. “When you attempt to sing all five songs together, it’s a completely different kettle of fish. The chord sequences aren’t EXACTLY the same, as you can tell when you listen to the bass line at the back end of the track, but after a lot of playing about, I eventually found a suitable combination!”

The song made its debut at the Voice Festival UK Oxford Regional in 2012, and although Campbell claims it was far from their best performance of the song, it still received a semi-standing ovation. “It arrived quite late into our repertoire, because the arrangement was only completely finished by January of this year. As such, it does seem like we’re saying goodbye to it a little too soon!” The rehearsal process of the song was apparently quite a comical one: “No-one knew quite what to expect from it after I had been raving about it for so long, and it really was a joy to learn because it had so many twists and turns.” The last performance of the song was at the BBC Choir of the Year final, and Campbell says there couldn’t have been a better send off for the number. “Singing the song on national television was unbelievable, and perhaps a fitting way to say goodbye to it.”

The song has been subject to much acclaim since its introduction into the Goyles’ repertoire, and Campbell claims it’s the varied nature of the song that is the cause of this. “So much is packed in that it’s impossible to get bored!” The Goyles’ energetic nature and utter commitment when performing this song, coupled with their tone, diction and choreography, have made this number one of the stand out tracks of the year.

You can buy Dancing in The Moonlight, as well as the rest of the Gargoyles’ album, Up The Scale right here.

Best of British 2012: 8. Fields of Gold

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

Awards: ‘Outstanding Musicality’ – Voice Festival UK 2012, Oxford Regional Round

Breezing in at number eight is the first of two tracks from The Oxford Gargoyles, the only group to have two tracks in this year’s top ten. Their cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold made its debut at the Goyles’ annual kick-off gig at the Turf Tavern in Oxford, meaning it was also the first time some of the members of the grup had performed to an audience as Gargoyles! The song since made its way into their Voice Festival set and was one which stood out in their Fringe Festival setlist too.

So where did the idea for the arrangement come from? Some credit for inspiration is due to Musical Director Euan Campbell’s predecessor, Alex Kaiserman, who had taken a popular song and given it a jazz twist in the past. “Alex had arranged Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You for the group in 2010, and was part of the VF-UK winning set that year. I decided to use that idea for Fields, arranging it together with an old school friend, Joe Mason, and actually had the song ready for when we auditioned in October. Thankfully, we found two perfect duetists for the number in Sasha Ockenden and Rebecca Sharp.”

Campbell was always aware of the momentous task he faced, though, in rearranging a very popular classic number, and tried to add as much originality as possible without losing the essence of the original: “To settle the listener’s ear, the first two bars have exactly the same chord sequence as the original, but then in the third and fourth bars, I changed the sequence to something a little more crunchy!” Despite this, Campbell was still cautious of the potential the song had to become a little repetitive, and took action against that: “I think arranging the song as a duet kept the arrangement on its toes, while nicely reflecting the lyrics of the song. I also added two key changes, varied rhythms and lyrics for the ensemble parts, and threw in a couple of bell tones for good measure! This helped the arrangement create its own feel, whilst still remaining true to the original.”

The song has remained a favourite of the group, despite its early beginnings way back in October. “It was the second piece we learnt as a new group, but we have never got tired of it! We fondly remember singing it for the first time in rehearsals with our eyes closed. It might sound lame, but it really helped us to connect and to listen to each other. Singing it for the last time at auditions for the new generation a couple of months ago was pretty emotional.” Campbell thinks this emotional connection to the song is noticed by their audience during performance, which is what has made it so highly regarded in the past year. “Over the course of the year, each member of the group has brought their own ideas to the table as to how the arrangement should be sung, resulting in a completely cohesive and united performance. A good arrangement is only half of it – often the way you connect with and perform the song is much more important, and we think the ease in which we can inject emotion into this song is what makes it such a crowd favourite.”

You can purchase Up The Scale, which contains this track and the rest of the Gargoyles’ 2011-2012 repertoire, right here.