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

The Best of British 2013 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
Furthermore:
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day
6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow
5. All the King’s Men – Higher Love

4. The Other Guys – Christmas Gets Worse Every Year

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

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

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

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

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

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Best of British 2013: 6. Ode To Glasgow

The Best of British 2013 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live OR competitive debut since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
b) A song that was featured on an album released since our last countdown commenced (Dec 2012 – Nov 2013)
Furthermore:
c) No tracks considered for last year’s countdown are eligible this year.
For example, although The Other Guys‘ Christmas was released in 2012, last year’s countdown started before the release of the album, so all the tracks on the album were eligible. On the flip side, although The Oxford Alternotives wowed with their rendition of Regina Spektor’s Samson at this year’s VF-UK, because it was released in album form in 2012, it was considered last year and therefore was ineligible this year.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues:

10. Semi-Toned – Knights of Cydonia
9. The Oxford Belles – This Is Titanium
8. The Alleycats – Dancing On My Own
7. The Oxford Alternotives – Lovely Day

6. Choral Stimulation – Ode To Glasgow

Award: ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ – Voice Festival UK 2013, St Andrews Regional

Staggering drunkenly into sixth place on our countdown is the hilarious, hugely varied and frankly wonderful ‘Ode To Glasgow’ from Glasgow’s only university group, Choral Stimulation. The song was part of the group’s award winning Voice Festival set earlier this year, and indeed went some way to helping the group to their first ever VF-UK Final. However, had the group not débuted the song in a small room at Glasgow University’s Students Union in preparation for the St Andrews Regional, the outcome may have been slightly different. “It didn’t go well,” admits David Ragg, MD of the group and arranger of their entire VF-UK 2013 set. However, some jokes were reworked and a few of the harmonies were tweaked, and the second public performance came on stage under the pressures of VF-UK competition, a performance which, according to Ragg, went “considerably better.”

The origins of the arrangement came about after the group for the first time decided to capitalise on their perception as ‘outsiders’ at the St Andrews Regional. “I had wanted to do a ‘super-medley’ for a long time,” said Ragg, “And we had been throwing about ideas in the group what this could be. We hit on Glasgow as a theme because we have, in the past few years, been the outside contender in St Andrews; we wanted to acknowledge and be proud of this. When I suggested it to a Glaswegian I was sat down and given a list of songs that HAD to be in there. It then evolved from others’ input into an Ode to Glasgow, with an overarching storyline to it that I hope can be seen in the finished thing.” Incorporating music from Love Actually, several Glasgow folk songs, Travis, the infamous ‘There’s been a murder’ line from Taggart, and even a solo for Ragg himself, the song really caught the imagination of the audience, although more so in St Andrews than at the Final in London.

“The final was an entirely different dynamic for the group,” said Ragg, “As well as being our first performance as a Final and outside Scotland, the audience was significantly smaller than the extremely popular Scottish Regional stage. Some of our Scottish humour may have fallen slightly short at times!” Despite the popularity of the song, it was not Ragg’s favourite from the groups’ setlist this year. “My favourite song would be ‘Feeling Bad’, the last song in our 2013 set. I had come up with an idea and came with it unfinished to the group. We then worked on it together as a group to make a funny and fairly silly song that has really grown on me. It is special as it is the first song I’ve co-written and I’m glad it came off so well.”

Despite this, Ragg understands why ‘Ode’ has become so highly regarded, and trumps the variety of the song, both in the arrangement, and also in the distribution of solos, as one of the main factors for its success. “We gave everyone in the group a solo to give everyone a chance; too often in a cappella, MDs, myself included, give the solos to a few good tenors or female voices because it is easier to write for these voices; in one way this was an exercise to help stop myself doing this, and I think audiences enjoy it because you get to see everyone in the group equally, and I think in our video you can see that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously and having a lot of fun.”

You can hear ‘Ode To Glasgow’, as well as the rest of the group’s Voice Festival UK 2013 right here. I’ve also been told that this track will feature on the group’s brand new EP – release date TBC!

So, only the top 5 remains. Who will be named the Best of British 2013? Stay tuned…

Fringe Focus: The Alleycats

The Alleycats: Contemporary A Cappella

The Alleycats: Contemporary A Cappella

In the lead up to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, every week we will be producing special focuses on our collegiate groups who will be performing at the world’s largest amateur arts festival in 2013. In the third of this series of articles, we will be looking at one of the most impressive groups from last year’s Festival, the Alleycats.

Fringe History

The Alleycats made their Fringe debut back in 2010 with a short six-day run, which earned them much critical acclaim and an official Fringe Sell-Out award. They have since been back every year, becoming ever more popular, and last year was arguably their best yet, expanding their audiences and receiving some of their highest praise since they graced the Fringe scene.

Previous UACUK Ratings

2011: 8/10 – “Thoroughly entertaining”
2012: 9.5/10 – “Impeccable blend”

This Year

The Cats will be hitting up the Fringe in a week’s time, starting early on 31 July and performing until 13 August. They will once again be in C Venues’ main venue on Chambers Street, and will be part of an a cappella afternoon feast, starting their 50-minute show at 15:30. After what many were calling the ‘Golden Generation’ of the group last year, they will surely be one of the hottest tickets in town, so get them fast!

What To Expect

The Alleycats in recent years have become the complete package: no other group has the energy, dynamism and ‘hipness’ combined with the solid musicality that the mixed-voice group from St Andrews provide. While many groups will offer slick musicality, a highly-tuned blend and the so-called ‘wall of sound’, The Alleycats bring this and more: last year, they proved that they sacrifice no amount of musical intricacies for their energetic choreography. This could partly be down to departing musical director Brendan Macdonald, who has overseen two CDs (one forthcoming) in his two-year tenure and has a real ear for blend. If the group can muster up the same variety as last year, this could be one of the stand-out shows at the Festival.

Further Details

Fringe Listing

Album Review: Just For You

justforyouby John Lau

As the Guys sing at the end of their first piece on this 5-track EP, ‘Life Is A Mystery’, but one thing I do know and can say with confidence now is that The Other Guys’ most recent offering to the public, their Valentine’s Day release entitled Just For You, is a typically good offering from the most prominent male a cappella group in Scotland, and I am sure that they are still basking in the attention that they attract in St Andrews and wider afield on the back of it. It will undoubtedly be a springboard into their summer plans for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which I will be covering in more detail later this week.

This particular EP is a good present to give to the woman in your life, with tracks such as their Valentine’s Day single I Only Bought You Flowers Because I Love You So, their YouTube smash hit St Andrews Girls and three other classic numbers, ranging from the romantic Baby I’m Yours to the sleazy Ladies Choice from Hairspray.

The actual group takes a vocal back seat for the first track and let their close friend and songwriter Oscar Foxley dominate the solo for Flowers, the token original number on this album, written by Foxley, and the song establishes the fresh and crisp vocal ability that Oscar Foxley is capable of. The song is suitably twee and cutesy, and the closing section with the choral blend plays to their strengths as well as demonstrates the vocal variety the boys have.

The next piece, Ladies Choice almost reminds me of something that Wham could have produced in the 80s, because of the boombastic quality to the piece. While the arrangement was fairly faithful to the original and maintained the upbeat, energetic flavour, the boys made good use of imitating instruments throughout the number, and departing Musical Director Matthew Pattie took on the solo with Zac Efron-esque pizzazz.

The middle track, a rendition of Uptown Girl arranged by Ted Haxby featured a dual solo from Andrew Pattie and Mark Gregory. Sadly, this was the most disappointing of the five pieces, as there was something missing in this rendition compared to other recent covers of the track, including the Westlife hit and the more recent a cappella cover from Out of the Blue on their 2011 album Rush. There was a couple of moments when the boys seemed to get lazy, and this led to moments of almost dead space within the track, but thankfully this was probably the lowest point of my listening experience on this album. It’s a shame that on a five track album the boys were unable to produce five tracks of real quality – this seems to have been a bit of a filler.

The boys burst back into life with their signature piece, St Andrews Girls, which was carried off fervently, seamlessly transitioning between the different mash-up parts of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Katy Perry’s California Gurlz, rap included, One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful and even the Chariots of Fire (or should that be Chariots of Fife?) theme tune to close. Listening to this rendition again made my day listening, as I was reminded me of the fun-loving nature of the group’s antics on the stage when they perform this piece live, and of course of the video that accompanied the piece back in May of last year. The brothers Pattie ought to be commended for the work that they contributed to this piece, as they not only teamed up with Richard Phillips to arrange and interweave the different tracks together into this crowd favourite, but also took the lead solo duties in the actual piece.

The highlight of the album was followed by something a little confusing. The intro to Baby I’m Yours somehow reminded me of frogs legs plodding along with a harmonic sounding background, and I found myself wondering where on earth the song was headed. Thankfully, this did not last long as the dulcet tones of the competent soloist Ted Haxby took over. As the piece continued, I began to sink into a lull that transported me into a jazz lounge from way back when, the song bringing a laid back, chilled quality to proceedings which worked well in contrast to the previous four upbeat numbers. It was a pleasing and soothing close to the album.

In summary, a very good, polished offer from The Other Guys, one which we have come to expect since their partnership with Overboard and Diovoce on editing, mixing and mastering duties. This was perhaps not as strong as their Christmas effort, but the light-hearted nature of the release was parodied throughout the album and it makes a solid gift for any time of the year. An Other Guy is for life, not just for Valentine’s Day.

St Andrews to Add Third All-Girl Group to Line-Up

With exciting expansion in the world of university a cappella happening all over the country, with new groups emerging in several hubs across the country, it is no surprise that the urge to quench that a cappella craving has emerged once again in one of the most prolific hubs in the country, at the University of St Andrews.

With the university’s a cappella groups having been taken down a peg or two due to the recent qualification of Glasgow’s Choral Stimulation from the St Andrews Regional of this year’s Voice Festival UK, it appears they will be joined in the coming years by a third all-female group, adding to the list which already contains the UK’s best all-female group, The Accidentals, and the ever-increasing stature of The Hummingbirds.

The group, tentatively called the Belles, has three American girls at its roots, Laura Fabius, Emily Hallinan and Brooke McGrath, and they took their first steps in November last year as a five piece, who formed to sing Christmas Carols around the picturesque university town during the winter months. Since then, the girls made the decision to continue with their passion into the second semester: auditions were held, several applicants were accepted, and the group now finds themselves with the biggest all-female contingent at the university, numbering fourteen in total, most of whom are either first- or second-years at the university, clearly indicating longevity is at the core of their decision.

While modest about their intentions, the girls want to bridge a happy medium between The Accidentals and The Hummingbirds without stepping on anybody’s toes, and simply give more girls the chance to do something they enjoy.

With the fledgling group having only fully come together less than a month ago, they feel it is early days to speculate what kind of personality or uniqueness the group will have, having only made small steps since their inception through workshopping and improvisation as a group. Several of the members have little or no experience in a cappella, and so time will be needed to bed them in.

Regardless of their infancy, though, it is exciting to see yet another group springing up in what is already a hotbed of a cappella. With more interest fielded from Newcastle recently, it seems the UK university a cappella scene is set to explode.

Event Review: VF-UK 2013 St Andrews Regional Round

by John Lau

Saturday 23 February 2013 was the night when the Road to the Voice Festival UK Final started in Scotland, with the first of five regional competitions throughout the UK taking place at the Younger Hall in St Andrews. Six groups from three different universities competed for the sole place on offer at the Final in London on 15 March.

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

The Competitors:
THE HUMMINGBIRDS from the University of St Andrews
ABERPELLA from the University of Aberdeen
CHORAL STIMULATION from the University of Glasgow
THE ALLEYCATS from the University of St Andrews
THE OTHER GUYS from the University of St Andrews
THE ACCIDENTALS from the University of St Andrews

Master of Ceremonies:
THE ST ANDREWS REVUE

The first group to grace the stage (literally) were The Hummingbirds, who entered the stage in little black dresses and some fetching pairs of turquoise feather shaped earrings, a sight in itself. Their set kicked off with a mellow & soulful rendition of Poor Wayfaring Stranger, a spiritual-folky kind of song covered by many, most recently the Swingle Singers at LACF. As soulful as this piece was, I felt it was dragged out a little – indeed, the girls remind me of the early Belles from Pitch Perfect: making some gorgeous music but music that bops along in a cutesy kind of fashion without any real oomph to it.

This lack of pizzazz continued into their second song, as four of the girls donned blonde wigs in order to prepare for their rendition of Taylor Swift’s recent offering, Never Getting Back Together. The jump in terms of tempo between their opener and this rendition was admirable, but I always felt that there was an edge missing in this rendition I heard on the night compared to what we have all seen on the music video for this piece. Nevertheless, this was a hilarious number, backed up by some humorous spoken ad-libs, and it was the first piece of the night to really get the audience going.

The last piece in the Hummingbirds bid to qualify for their first national Final was a mash-up between 2 memorable pieces from 2012: Don’t You Worry Child from Swedish House Mafia and Adele’s Skyfall, two tracks with very different tempos, and I was intrigued to hear how they would juxtapose the electronic hook of Don’t You Worry with the soulful solo of Skyfall. In the end though, I was pleased to hear this pretty adequate combination of two quality tracks where the vocal performances in each part were competent. And with this end-piece the Hummingbirds exited the stage in the hope that they had done enough to qualify. I couldn’t help but to feel though that there was a sense of looseness about the set which may prove to be their undoing on the night. Could the group be blamed once again for a lack of competitive edge?

The next group on the stage was the first half of the non-St Andrews contingent, Aberpella from the University of Aberdeen, the mixed group who were, for the most part, wearing black suits and black shoes. Their first piece was a rendition of Alex Clare’s Too Close To Loving You, which sounded somewhat moody at the time, but having since listened to more of Clare’s work, the Aberdonian students’ rendition of this piece has proven highly effective, even if it was the most forgettable of their three pieces.

The next piece was a more brighter and positive effort, a mash-up of feel-good pieces When The Going Gets Tough and Build Me Up Buttercup, which was made memorable in terms of spectacle by some fancy footwork from the soloist, Nathan Chadwick, who implored the audience to get going when the going got tough. The soloists and their hysterical dance moves were indeed the real highlight of this piece – while the backing was solid, it wasn’t hugely original, which will have been picked up on by the judges, but from the perspective of an audience member it was a playful and witty middle song, and so credit to the group for winning over the crowd with this number.

The Aberdonians appeared to leave their best till last, when they came out with their rendition of Read All About It from Emeli Sande, interspersed with the chorus of The Cranberries Zombie. I do not generally have much time for the vocal output of Emeli Sande, so my expectations of this mash-up were relatively low. However, the vocal performance of Victoria Metcalf was one that made me, and everyone else in the audience, sit up and take notice. It was truly exceptional – controlled in all the right places, it rose and fell as necessary an really told the story of the song. It was a masterful solo, and I was therefore convinced that this vocal performance would struggle to be matched or exceeded by anyone else in this competition. A very strong finish to the set from the Aberdeen representatives.

Next on the stage were the 11-strong group Choral Stimulation from the University of Glasgow, this year with an unusual abundance of males in the group – almost double that of the girls, in fact. The group looked like some kind of unofficial ambassadors to the city, because they all had some form of tartan on them. This perception was reinforced when their first piece was an ‘Ode To Glasgow’ medley with no less than 14 tracks which all had a connection to the City of Glasgow, from Squealing Pigs by Admiral Fallow to the TV Theme tune for Taggart and even Why Does It Always Rain On Me? from Travis to name but three. This was an act of immense imagination and was pulled off with great aplomb, and I imagine that their arranging maestro David Ragg will have been up all night for quite some time trying to work out the complex ties between each song, not to mention figuring out which solos to dish out to whom.

The next piece was a somewhat less memorable one, as the group stepped into a rendition of Michael Jackson’s Will You Be There? The backing vocals from the rest of the group provided an apt contrast to the soloist’s voice, which sounded remarkably like Joe Cocker, and his gravelly voice was a refreshing change of pace from the more familiar vocal purity that is found in many of the modern day soloists.

The last piece of the Glaswegian set was another mash-up, officially titled ‘Feeling Bad’ – a mixture of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, Michael Jackson’s Bad, Show Me Love from Robyn S and even Psy’s Gangnam Style hit from 2012. Although it carried parts of another Michael Jackson hit, I thought it was a good touch for the Arranger to allocate the vocal parts of Bad to the women of the group, who seized this opportunity to show off their phenomenal vocal skills – one could argue that they were a little underused throughout the set, but it was worth it to see them shine through on this number. This was another fantastic mash-up to close, and the amount of work done behind the scenes by arranger David Ragg really shone through in this set. This was, in my opinion, by far the most memorable set of the night, and that could only be a good thing.

Next on the stage were the pioneers of St Andrean a cappella, the six young women and seven men who form The Alleycats, looking their usual best with black suits or dresses and white trainers. Their set started with what I will describe as a ‘Love Medley’ formed of parts of tunes such as What Is Love from Haddaway, Let Me Love You from Ne-Yo and Justin Bieber’s As Long As You Love Me, a young man who we seemingly cannot escape from these days. The piece was sung professionally and, as always, competently choreographed and performed by the energetic group.

Ayanna Coleman then stepped onto the spotlight in the middle piece, a rendition of Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. As I was listening to this, I couldn’t help but to feel that there was an high quality emotional element to this soloist’s performance, which countered the relative mellowness of this piece. Coleman has an angelic voice, and this shone through against the bare-bones backing, which was highly effective in conveying the mood of this piece.

The final piece was very much the highlight of their set, a rendition of Florence and the Machine’s Shake It Out. Not only was this a highly intricate arrangement, but in having a trio of soloists, we were taken through the feisty tones of Jill Wyman, the delicate, soulful tonality to Steph Bown’s gorgeous voice, as well as the powerful tenor of Tommy Rowe. There was a real build to this piece, which culminated in a huge climax of money notes, belted harmonies and an overall gorgeous sound. Credit must go to MD Brendan Macdonald for the arrangement of this one, and knowing how to best utilise the voices at his disposal. Definitely an award-winning track. Despite this magnificent final number, though, I was convinced that as competent a set as this was, there was something missing to equal the success of the previous years’ group

Next on the stage were the twelve Other Guys in suits of all hues and colours all set to entertain us with their set which was heavily reminiscent of their recent visit to the recording studio. The first piece was their very own I Only Bought You Flowers Because I Love You So, a song which had previously been released as a Valentine’s Day single, with moderate success. It sounded a little different than the original, with Ted Haxby and Matthew Pattie splitting the solo and the tempo significantly faster, which meant we lost a few of the words, but I have to say that it is brave and admirable to sing an original song at the Voice Festival – something that has not been done before by any group, and it was a most impressive start from the well-established group.

From something new to something borrowed, their next piece was a King’s Singers arrangement of When She Loved Me from Toy Story 2. While there were a couple of tuning issues, perhaps self-created due to the difficulty of some areas of the arrangement, I’m not sure I have ever seen an audience stunned to silence as they were when Laurie Slavin began singing: his beautiful counter-tenor was definitely the last thing you’d expect to come out of a bearded man who looks more like a bass! This rendition had the audience captivated, and unsurprisingly so.

This mood was destroyed somewhat too early as the boys prepared to close their set with a mash-up of Justin Bieber’s Beauty and a Beat and Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble. The most remarkable part of this number was the boys’ decision to strip off into vest and all manner of (very short) shorts, unfortunately at the expense of the vocal performance, which dipped significantly here. The dance routine was typically humorous, and Andrew Pattie’s lead was complemented by Mark Gregory on the Taylor Swift number, with the two songs blending together nicely after a hard-to-hear rap from Ted Haxby. The set epitomised what The Other Guys are all about in terms of taking things seriously (in other words, they don’t), but this is the principal reason as to why they are so popular: choreography like the show on display and the propensity the group has in filming and recording for charity more often than not.

The last group on the stage were The Accidentals who are still, officially speaking, the best all-female collegiate group in the UK following their appearance at the Voice Festival Final in 2011. With the ten girls in their group donning their white Accidental tops, black sheer leggings and black shoes, they kicked off with a piece new to my ears, Bottom Of The River, an original from Delta Rae, an American folk-rock kind of group, which was powerfully delivered in terms of lead vocals by Anna McDonald, who, as always, demonstrated her huge set of lungs with an emphatic vocal performance.

The middle piece reminded us all of their urban style of music and how they can deliver such pieces so well, with a mash-up between Flo Rida’s Good Feeling and Taio Cruz’s Dynamite, among others. As you can imagine from the pieces chosen for this mash-up, the girls wasted no time in dropping successfully back into their hip-hop roots, with some lovely high harmonies that, while impressive, further emphasised the absence of the lower register in the girls’ range – the altos were slightly overpowered throughout much of the set, particularly in this number.

Their third piece was Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac, which against demonstrated the girls’ ability to incorporate some gorgeous, delicate harmonies in numbers where they are less focused on the brash, boisterous RnB that they are so fond of. Grace Hardy in particular showed off her heavenly soprano at the very top of the range, which never fails to be perfectly tuned.

Their last piece brought them back to hip hop with a mash-up of No Diggity from Blackstreet and Niggas in Paris by Jay-Z and Kanye West, stylised as ‘Accidentals in Paris’, complete with lyric changes. The highlight was a particularly memorable rapping performance delivered by Tessa Stokes, which was almost up there with the like of The Boxettes, despite the hurried pace meaning a few of the lyrics were rendered unintelligible. This was a classic demonstration of what the girls do best, and was received rapturously by the ever-captivated audience.

Verdict:

During the interval, as I wandered about the hall, the opinions were divided as to who had been the best group of the evening. I must admit, I was almost in agreement, and definitely didn’t envy the job of the judges at the end of the night. However, there were strengths and weaknesses to all of the performances: The Hummingbirds make gorgeous music, but never seem to bring a ‘Wow!’ moment to proceedings – they were guilty of this again this year. Aberpella were definitely hugely improved from last year, but whether or not this was good enough to see them through to the final was another matter. They clearly have a gem of a soloist in Victoria Metcalf, though. Choral Stimulation were probably the most consistent group of the evening, with some great arrangements fulfilling their potential on stage. The Alleycats were as solid as ever, but lacked a number like last year’s Titanium that really blew everyone away. The Other Guys had the whole package – some great blending and rhythmic nous in the first two songs, coupled with their typical barrel-of-laughs final number, while The Accidentals demonstrated why they are still the best all-female group in the country with their typical feistiness, and delivered a gutsy performance that rivalled that of anyone. From a personal point of view, it was between The Other Guys and The Accidentals. But it was too close for me to call – any of the groups had a good case for being declared the winner.

Awards:
Outstanding Musicality: The Other Guys
Outstanding Soloist: Miss Victoria Metcalf of Aberpella for Read All About It
Outstanding Arrangement: David Ragg of Choral Stimulation

WINNER:

CHORAL STIMULATION

So, Glaswegian group Choral Stimulation were classified as the Winners of this regional heat, and in doing so become the first non-St Andrean group to qualify for the National Final, and it was hard to argue with a result like this, for everything was memorably good, whether it was the tartan on show, the fantastic first piece ‘Ode To Glasgow’, the high standard of vocal percussion which may have been a little underused, or indeed their final piece, used as their encore, ‘Feeling Bad’. The group were delighted, and will compete again in the Final next weekend.

Choral Stimulation Make History in St Andrews

In one of the most closely fought Regionals we have ever seen, Aberpella, The Accidentals, The Alleycats, Choral Stimulation, The Hummingbirds and The Other Guys battled it out last night in the sold-out, 1,000 seater Younger Hall in St Andrews, where Choral Stimulation of the University of Glasgow made history by becoming the first group outside of St Andrews to qualify from the St Andrews Regional, and the first group to qualify for this year’s final in London.

Their set, which included a hilarious ‘Ode to Glasgow’ and a mash-up of Feeling Good with selected snippets of Gangnam Style, was masterfully arranged by David Ragg, who deservedly won the award for ‘Outstanding Arrangement’ for the entire set. Other highlights of the evening included several magnificent solo performances, with Victoria Metcalf of the much improved Aberpella picking up the award for ‘Outstanding Soloist’, while The Other Guys were the only St Andrews-based group to pick up an award, winning ‘Outstanding Musicality’.

The standard was absurdly high and the judges deliberated for an extended period of time, such was the quality of each act. In the end, though, the pride of Glasgow are going to the final, and we will be following them there to track their progress. Who will be the next to join them?

Results Round-Up
Outstanding Musicality: The Other Guys
Outstanding Arrangement: David Ragg of Choral Stimulation for the entire set.
Outstanding Soloist: Victoria Melcalf of Aberpella for Read All About It

Winner: CHORAL STIMULATION

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