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.

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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.

Voice Festival UK 2013 Preview – Part 2: St Andrews

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 second blog, we go to the only round aside from Oxford that has been going since the Festival’s inception, that in St Andrews, which also happens to be the only round with the exact same line-up as last year. The round will take place on Saturday 23rd February 2013.

Potted History

Traditionally, this round has been fought out by three groups in the past four years: The Accidentals, The Alleycats and The Other Guys, with each group having qualified for the final twice in four years: The Alleycats in 2009 and 2010, The Accidentals in 2010 and 2011, and The Other Guys in 2009 and 2012. This three-group domination is emphasised by the fact that those three groups scooped all the awards in last year’s Regional; in fact the only other group to have won an award in this round is Choral Stimulation, who won two, in 2010 and 2011. With no group gaining a dominant foothold, this round is always one of the closest to call.

Notable Absence

The Vocal Bandits: The unauditioned group from the University of St Andrews may not have competed in the Festival before, but that didn’t stop talk of them potentially taking part this year. After impressing at the university’s Christmas Concert in November, there was talk that the group would take the number competing in the round to an unprecedented seven, but have instead chosen to remain spectators. We wish the group all the best for the future and hope to see them try their hand in future.

Old-Timers

Aberpella: Competing for the second year in the competition, Aberdeen’s mixed group will be hoping for more success than in their debut season. With a year of experience in the bag, they will have learnt from last year’s outing and will almost certainly be stronger this year. However, in one of the notoriously toughest Regionals, they will have to show significant improvement to beat some of the more established acts. They are still the most inexperienced group in this round, and that could count against them.

The Accidentals: Technically still the UK’s best all-female a cappella group, thanks to their final performance in 2011 and the absence of female groups in last year’s finale, the girls will bring their fierce brand of female feistiness to the Regional as always. Having kept the majority of their members this year, and having recruited three exceptionally talented girls, this continuity could hold them in good stead as they look to reach their third final.

The Alleycats: In my opinion, they were unlucky not to win this Regional last year with what could be considered as their golden generation. One of last year’s competition numbers, Titanium, was selected as the runner-up in our countdown of the best tracks of 2012, and if they put together a similar masterpiece this time around, they will definitely be challengers again. However, having lost a huge number of members and having replaced their entire bass roster, you have to wonder whether this will hamper their chances.

Choral Stimulation: The Glasgow group could arguably be seen as the nearest challengers to the ‘Big Three’, having been the only group outside of St Andrews to have picked up any sort of award in this Regional. Having competed since 2010, they are renowned for bringing a very original brand of a cappella to St Andrews, having sung Lonely Island’s I Just Had Sex at the recent Christmas Concert. They could be ones to watch this year as their group progresses and matures.

The Hummingbirds: Despite having competed since the Festival’s inception in 2009, St Andrews’ newest all-girl group have never reached the final or picked up any awards at the St Andrews Regional. Their style of a cappella is completely different to that of the Accidentals, focusing mainly on cutesy pop numbers, which does add variety to proceedings. I feel good about the group’s chances of ending their barren streak this year, having gained a lot of stage experience since last year’s competition and having recruited a lot of talented members. If they can seize some sort of competitive edge, they might shock a few.

The Other Guys: It cannot be denied that The Other Guys have had a successful few years; in the past year they have run (unsuccessfully) for Christmas Number 1, released a successful Christmas record and have recently announced another EP will be available for Valentine’s Day, just 9 days before the Voice Festival rolls into town. Commercial success does not translate to competitive success, though, and despite reaching the final last year, the group were thought to fall quite short of eventual winners, All the King’s Men. The group has fleshed out a little this year, losing just one member last year, and this continuity could help them reach their third final in five years.

Summary

As always, the St Andrews Regional is one of the hardest to call. It’s difficult to look past the ‘Big Three’, as historically The Alleycats, The Accidentals and The Other Guys have dominated without any of the three qualifying consistently. The last time The Alleycats qualified was in 2010, and they will be desperate to make amends this year, but with solidarity from their main rivals that could be difficult. The other three groups are hardly there to make up the numbers though: Choral Stimulation have improved year on year and were unlucky not to pick up any awards last year. Their originality and fresh take on a cappella will always be admired in this Regional. The Hummingbirds have also been sounding excellent recently, and could break their qualifying duck, while Aberpella will have improved massively since last year. I wouldn’t want to judge this one.

Have Your Say

Audition Alert! (4)

The audition opportunities keep on coming. We have news of three groups recruiting to tell you about right now, stretching from all corners of the country.

Rounding off the groups at the University of St Andrews, The Hummingbirds, St Andrews’ newest all-female a cappella group, are holding auditions this Tuesday and Wednesday the 18th and 19th of September during the evenings. For more information about how to audition, you can contact the group on hummingsbirdssta@gmail.com, look up their Facebook Event Page or find them on Facebook.

Heading south of the border, fresh from their successful Fringe run, The Oxford Gargoyles are also advertising for new members. They will be holding the auditions from 7th-9th October from 9am-6pm at Worcester College, and in order to book a timeslot, you should email auditions.oxfordgargoyles@gmail.com, or comment on the wall of the Facebook Event. For more information about the group, you can find them on Facebook or on their Official Website.

Finally, UK collegiate champions All the King’s Men are also recruiting. Their auditions will be held from 23rd-25th September at Strand Campus, room TBC, from 6-10pm. For more information about the auditions, check out the Facebook Event, and for more information about the group, try their Facebook Page.

Event Review: VF-UK 2012 St Andrews Regional Round

by John Lau

The Saturday evening of March 10th before the Universities Final of the Voice Festival UK saw opportunities for a cappella fans on both sides of the border to enjoy some excellent a cappella sets from the oldest University in Scotland. With the highly popular night out in Younger Hall starting about half an hour late due to the backlog of a cappella fans still wanting to squeeze into the hall to watch the entertainment, it was a testament to the growing popularity of a cappella at the place where it all began for Prince William and Kate Middleton.

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

The Competitors

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

The Hosts

Blind Mirth

With their black & pink sweatshirts and pink denim shorts, The Accidentals opened the show, hoping that their performance would be satisfactory enough to grant them a pass to the London Final for the third year in a row. The initial impression as they took to the stage was that they had had quite a turnaround in terms of personnel, as I could only recall a maximum of three singers from the last time I saw them, at the VF-UK Final in 2011.

They opened with a mash-up of Tinchy Stryder’s Number 1 and Shorty Fire Burning by N-Dubz ft. Sean Kingston, which was a decent, auspicious start to their set.

The opening piece was followed up with some samples that formed what was described as a ‘Disco Medley’ including samples from tracks such as Music Sounds Better With You from Stardust amongst others, which, aside from allowing me to reminisce of summers past, continued their solid start, in that there were very few opportunities to pick faults in their performance.

Their third piece was perhaps the most challenging of their set, I reckoned, as they changed tack totally from disco music to a soul/gospel-like affair from Christina Aguilera in the form of The Voice Within. It was noted that in the second rendition of the chorus that the original soloist was joined by another, which at the time was unexpected, but ended up as something of a masterstroke, as the second soloist provided a perfect balance to complement the original soloist, assisting with what I originally regarded as a tenderly fragile piece of music which I believed only Aguilera herself could pull off. So this was a well-structured piece for which I can only praise arranger Ellie Mason for providing to the masses. The judges picked up on this and duly rewarded the soloists later on.

The Accidentals closed off the first set of the evening with some more RnB in the form of Beyonce’s Love On Top, which felt like a good listen for the first time. In comparison to what I heard from the Accidentals when I saw them first in the 2011 Final, this was a more tender set from them, less punchy (I’m still in raptures from the choreography in their rendition of Nelly’s Ride With Me with Misses Muir and Cottam in the 2011 Final), and as a result, I had my doubts as to whether this set was going to be enough for them to seal a third consecutive qualification for the London Final in a few days time, but only time would tell. One act down, five to go.

Next on the stage were the pioneers of collegiate a cappella at the University of St Andrews, The Alleycats, who were seeking to qualify for the London Final for the third time. Personally speaking, their choice of attire could have transported me to Oxford, the home of the former winners The Oxford Gargoyles, who may or may not have inspired the decision taken by the Alleycats to wear black dresses in the case of the women and black suits, shirts and bow ties on the young men of the group – the distinction being spanking new white trainers. But even still, they looked very smart.

Their 3-piece set commenced with a slightly more upbeat rendition of Ray Lamontagne’s You Are The Best Thing than the original. I was already impressed by the original piece from 2008, but with a smooth pair of soloists in Garrett Turner and Ayanna Coleman, this rendition was taken to another level in terms of listenability as a result of an uplifting crescendo in the chorus, which was harmonised to perfection by the remaining Alleycats.

Their second piece was a rendition of David Guetta’s Titanium rearranged like every part of the set from the original track by Brendan MacDonald, with Heather Robertson on the vocals and “Auxiliary DJ” Cameron with the box of beats. This afforded me the opportunity to appreciate the husky quality of the vocals from Heather Robertson, which provided a positive distinction from the original vocals from Sia.

The last piece from the Alleycats was another RnB-based medley featuring Britney Spears’s Till The World Ends, Usher’s DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love and Tonight from Pitbull, with not one but 2 beatboxers in the forms of Cameron Dobbie & Garrett Turner, which was made pretty memorable by the choreographic work behind the scenes done by Philip De Winter Shaw.

As the pioneers of collegiate a cappella in St Andrews, I am pretty convinced that this group received the biggest applause of the evening in advance of their set, and with their repertoire in particular, they are very easy to listen to, but whether this particular set would be sufficient to qualify them for the London Final, would remain to be seen, but by now, half of the St Andrews contingent had played their cards.

Next up on the stage was the first of 2 groups who were not based at St Andrews. With 9 male students and 5 female students, the 14-strong Choral Stimulation ensemble had the largest contingent of any group participating this evening, coming in from Glasgow University. The group was turned out in matching attire, with the women wearing silver sequined tops and black leggings and the men of the group wearing gold braces and black clothes of their own choice. Considering that I had never seen anything of this group neither on video nor live, I was expecting quite a treat as well as a varied repertoire and I don’t think they disappointed in the end.

The Glaswegian group started off with a medley inspired from Queen’s Greatest Hits, including parts of inspired hits such as Fat Bottomed Girls, Radio Gaga, Bicycle, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champions and part of Bohemian Rhapsody. The highlights in this medley were the soft tone of the soloist in Champions, which made quite a positive change from the men who normally sing this particular song to acclaim their favourite sports team winning silverware and a lovely crescendo built up in their rendition of Somebody To Love.

Their next piece mellowed things somewhat from rock’n’roll to a folk-like piece in the form of Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend, which took me back to 1997, when the Brand New Heavies produced a very good listen by way of a cover version. Although it was covered by James Taylor back in the 1970s at roundabout the same time as the original piece came out from Carole King, I had never heard of this piece being taken on by a male soloist, so I was pleasantly surprised at the result of hearing the vocal solo being taken on by Ben Langridge. These dulcet tones almost made me think it was Siedah Garrett who was singing the vocals.

The Glaswegian set was closed off by the group’s rendition of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida mashed up against the theme tune to Pokemon, and in a masterstroke, the group decided to hand the job of the lyrics to the individual who looked most like Chris Martin. He sounded almost as good as Chris Martin as well. This was a feelgood end to the Choral Stimulation set and I hope to see them sometime in the future. They were given a particularly rousing round of applause from the audience present on their way out, maybe in recognition of the fact that they were from outside St Andrews.

The fourth group on the stage was one I had never seen live, the second all-female group from St Andrews, The Hummingbirds, who joined the stage with their blue or green hooded tracksuit jackets. The girls started their set with their cover of Waterfalls from TLC, a tune which I didn’t think all those years ago could be improved upon, but this particular rendition sounded more upbeat than the original that I heard in the mid 1990s. The group insisted on performing the original version, which carried the rap bridge between 2 of the later verses (rather than the cleaner version which I had been brought up on via the radio all those moons ago), which I was pleased to hear – and who knows, maybe the Boxettes may have inspired the rapper in Miss Premchard? But not a bad introduction to what these Hummingbirds do live on stage.

Their next piece was the group’s cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know, which was a passable rendition of a recent piece, which featured 3 soloists in Misses Pike, Gunn and McGeough, and seemed to go down pretty well with the assembled audience.

Their closing piece was their homage to the unwanted stereotype of a female student in St Andrews. Interspersed with some chuckle moments which sounded much better than anything that our stand-up comedy group hosting us for the night came up with, were Blue’s One Love, If I Let You Go from Westlife and What Makes You Beautiful from One Direction, in a medley entitled on the set list as “Single in St Andrews – a Boyband Medley”, and the arrangement made me chuckle a fair bit, which was definitely the intended purpose of this medley.

Next on the stage, and with the least pressure I would have thought, were the debutants from the University of Aberdeen, Aberpella, who joined the stage uniformly resplendent in black, the 7 women of the group wearing different types of black dresses and the 3 males of the group wearing white shirts and black braces with their black trousers.

Their opening piece could well have been a tribal call from the African continent, for it sounded very earthy which is now the perception I carry of this group, but the Aberdonian students started their set with a combination of the well-accepted Rusted Root’s Send Me On My Way, Something’s Got A Hold On Me from Etta James and the exotically named Waka Waka from Shakira, three totally different pieces in terms of the style of music but with time, I feel that they managed to infuse these 3 pieces pretty successfully. On this piece I was particularly impressed by the vocal range of two of their soloists, Mr Chadwick and Miss Anderson in their respective solo parts.

Their second piece, which pleased the organisers to the extent that they had to tweet about it was the Fleetwood Mac classic named Dreams, last covered by The Corrs which was the first version I heard of this piece. While I find the original a good chill-out listen, I was interested to see how it would be rearranged from the original and how different it would sound as a result. The end result was pretty impressive for two reasons: I first of all felt that the soloist Elizabeth MacLean made the vocals her own with her own vocal performance and I also found a nice touch towards the end with an echo effect implemented by the rest of the group. At this stage, I would have no hesitation in acclaiming the arranger Jun Yang for the work he put in to rearrange this particular piece.

The Aberpella set was closed with their rendition of My Funny Valentine from Ella Fitzgerald, which was intertwined with what I could have sworn was the theme tune to the TV advert from the Thomson Package Holiday firm, which made it sound different, I thought, but in general terms, this was a good set put on by Aberpella in their VFUK debut and I imagine they will have taken some positives and learnt some lessons from what they heard of the other sets.

The final act on stage was The Other Guys, who were seeking to qualify for the London Final for the first time in 3 years. At the same time, there could have been more than an element of pressure placed on the 10 sets of shoulders, as they perhaps had more to lose of a reputation than the other competing groups present this evening, as a result of going into this event as the favourites to progress to London in 6 days time and also the spotlight that had been placed on them following the fame achieved for their trademark tune “Royal Romance”. The Other Guys were turned out in their own suits of various hues, but easily distinguishable with a burgundy-coloured handkerchief in each of their outer suit-jacket pockets.

The final set of the evening started with their rendition of Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight where the soloist’s part was taken by Matthew Pattie, an auspicious start from the Other Guys and one that bode well for the rest of the set.

The next piece however, took down the tempo somewhat dramatically with something from their album “Barely Regal” – their version of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love, which pitted Ted Haxby on the melancholic-sounding solo which I will admit has grown on me since I first heard of it on my first album review. It may sound good when played out as an MP3 file, but I felt that watching this piece being performed live adds a different dimension. Musically, as well as Ted’s solo, I was also impressed with upbeat quality on the harmony in the background which counterbalanced the melancholy sound of the lyrics.

The final piece of the night was the St Andrews version of Katy Perry’s California Gurlz, which was well-received by the audience and sung by Andrew Pattie with all the replacement lyrics thrown in such as doing something on the Old Course and Burberry-donning girls of North East Fife. In a final pitch to the judges, they also exemplified their keenness to get to London by starting a race to get to the home of the Olympic Games 2012 set against the backdrop of a past Olympic theme tune, Chariots of Fire, but if their show of fitness in slow-motion is anything to go by, I am glad that they are not representing Team GB, as we in the UK are after as many gold medals as we can get at these London Olympics. With the choreography aspect thrown into the song and the set, the end product was thoroughly entertaining. Well done Miss Renton for the power of work that you put in to make the difference.

And so with the last group having played their cards, it was now down to the 3 judges to figure out who would get another piece of gold (in the form of a certificate), to confirm who would be going to London in less than a week’s time to contest the University Final.

After a passable interval of “Mock The Week” played out on the stage with the comedic ensemble known as Blind Mirth, the workshop result from earlier in the day was played out with Joanna Forbes L’Estrange leading those who participated in the afternoon workshop. After introducing the 4 large sections of this mega-group (Vocal Percussionists, Basses, the Scatters and the Female backing vocalists), we were treated to their rendition of Jessie J’s “Domino”. I have recently heard that Jessie J is now a judge in a music-based TV programme, I wonder whether there is any chance of her becoming a judge in the Voice Festival UK 2013? Before the workshop result was played out though “Happy Birthday” was sung to one of the organisers who was spending her birthday running around the Younger Hall ensuring all the preparations were in order for this evening. Happy Birthday Cherith Graham and it was great to make your acquaintance on this occasion.

Awards:

Outstanding Performance: The Other Guys
Outstanding Soloists: Grace Hardy and Vicki Robertson of The Accidentals for ‘The Voice Within’
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Cammy Dobbie of The Alleycats
Outstanding Choreography: Philip de Winter Shaw of The Alleycats

WINNER:

THE OTHER GUYS

There was some confusion over the identity of the winner of this regional heat, caused by the questionable decision to have two of the MCs announce who the winner on the night was, but in the end The Other Guys completed the line up for the Final that was to be held in less than a week’s time in the City of London School for Girls, and not The Alleycats as one of our hosts had announced.

The Other Guys Complete London Line-Up

In the final Regional Round of the Voice Festival UK in St Andrews earlier this evening, The Other Guys, the group more commonly known as the men behind the YouTube hit ‘Royal Romance’, became the final group to reach the final in London next week, and ensured that there would be no all-female representative at the highest level of this year’s competition.

The guys fought off stiff competition from former finalists The Alleycats and The Accidentals, as well as The Hummingbirds, Choral Stimulation and debutants Aberpella.

The guys will join Out of the Blue, All The King’s Men, HotTUBBS and The Sons of Pitches in the final next weekend.

A full review of the tonight’s show will be available next week.