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.
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)
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.
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:
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
Strolling in at number eight is the gorgeous ballad from The Alleycats, Robyn’s Dancing On My Own, which was the group’s middle song in this year Voice Festival UK competition and part of their recently released EP, Furplay. The song shows off what The Alleycats arguably do best these days – taking an originally more upbeat number and slowing it down, allowing the voice of the incredible soloist, in this case, Ayanna Coleman, to shine through. Last year, the group hit number 2 on our countdown with Titanium, and while this number hasn’t reached those dizzy heights this time around, it certainly had a similar impact on its début public performance – at the St Andrews Regional of the Voice Festival UK.
“As always with VF-UK numbers, it was accompanied by some pretty intense nervous energy, but in a way I think that helped,” said former MD of the group, Brendan Macdonald. “Because it has never been heard by anyone apart from ourselves within a rehearsal setting, those first performances can be a bit of an experiment, but it was received well and, of course, Ayanna was spectacular.” The origins of the arrangement are an indication of the group’s never-ending desire to look to the future. “During 2012’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival,” explains Annie Faichney, another graduated member of the group, “Robyn’s version of the song was playing in C Main all the time. Despite the fact we were focused on the Fringe run and the current setlist, everyone was still speculating as to how it would make a really good a cappella number, especially if it was slowed down further.” Macdonald was initially doubtful at the suggestion of the latter, feeling the impact of the power-ballad would be lost with the removal of some of the tempo in the song. “However, when the new aca-year rolled around, Annie showed me Robyn’s acoustic version of the song, and it was just perfect – so I went right ahead with the arrangement.”
Macdonald credits another ex-Cat as a source of inspiration for this and many of his arrangements – Lizzy Weintz. “Lizzy was seemingly an expert at taking faster numbers and slowing them down, and as such this has become almost an Alleycat tradition. I also took inspiration from some of Out of the Blue’s older stuff, specifically Cold Water [which featured on BOCA 2008], a number which focused specifically on the solo while being simplistic yet effective in its execution.” On the subject of the solo, Macdonald confirms that Ayanna was always at the top of his list: “Ayanna was definitely in mind when arranging this number, and the arrangement is built to highlight her strength as a soloist and a performer. We knew that she would absolutely nail the song, and bring the power into the song that it might have lost from slowing it down.” However, he adds that she is not the only one to have blown audiences away on lead vocals over the year. “Melissa [Wilkie] deputised for Ayanna for a few nights during this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and absolutely nailed it as well!”
Faichney believes the song’s success works on two levels: “While our slowed-down version initially sounds like a heart-wrenching ballad, when you listen to the lyrics it becomes clear that really it’s all about empowerment, and how great it feels to rise above that awful feeling. Ultimately the song’s effectiveness is in its universal familiarity – it definitely portrays a feeling we can all relate to at some ungodly hour in a nightclub!”
In terms of legacy, Faichney is unsure if the song will be handed down from litter to litter: “The arrangement was specifically written for the 2012/13 litter, and as such I think it really reverberated as the sound of that year. It was definitely one of our favourites from the year, as it’s a relatively simple number to perform but so enjoyable and always garners a brilliant reaction from any crowd. But because it was so special and unique to last year’s group, I don’t know how it will develop in the new group – I guess that’s up to them to decide!”
So, the hard-hitting Dancing On My Own ballad, complete with stunning solo, makes number 8 on this year’s list. It’s going to take some beating to top that! Who will be at number 7? Stay tuned…
You can buy The Alleycats brand new EP, which includes this track, on Bandcamp.