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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Ed Fringe Guide: The Who, Where and When of A Cappella This Summer

by John Lau

The world’s largest celebration of the Arts descends on the Capital of Scotland for the best part of 4 weeks from the last day in July, and we here at UACUK cannot wait to see so much vocal talent from across the UK campus and even further afield. This article lists all 29 a cappella acts who will take to the many temporary stages that are set up across all manner of premises in Edinburgh for everyone’s delectation.

Returning for their second Fringe run, The Accidentals will be presenting their show Who Runs The World?, highlighting their Beyonce-esque fierceness – something which undoubtedly will be demonstrated in the show itself.

Dates: Monday 12 August – Saturday 17th August
Times: 19:05 – 19:55
Venue: theSpace @ Symposium Hall, EH8 9DR
Prices: £7.00 Adults, £6.00 Concessions

The Alleycats of St Andrews with all their energetic display of contemporary a cappella will return to the Edinburgh Fringe for another run:

Dates: Wednesday 31 July to Tuesday 13 August
Times: 15:30 – 16:20
Venue: C Venues, Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Prices: £9.50-£11.50 Adults, £7.50-£9.50 Concessions, £5.50-£7.50 Under 18s

All the King’s Men from King’s College London will hold a daytime show and a night time show as per last year when they successfully sold out their daytime show. Their own show in the daytime was critically acclaimed by the reviewers as full of “Professionalism and Utter Precision”, but just like last year you will do well to catch them in the daytime as they only have 6 shows, entitled Knight Fever! as listed below:

Dates: Monday 12 August – Saturday 17 August
Times: 15:10 – 15:55
Venue: theSpace @ Symposium Hall, EH8 9DR
Prices: £8.00 or £9.00 Adults, £6.00 or £7.00 Concessions

Their night time show All The King’s Men Present… is a showcase featuring some of the groups who happen to be in Edinburgh through the month of August, preparing us all for an “Aca-awesome” night (or 2) at theSpace:

Dates: Monday 12 & Wednesday 14 August
Times: 23:15 – 00:00
Venue: theSpace @ Symposium Hall, EH8 9DR
Prices: £7.00 Adults, £5.00 Concessions

The Oxford Alternotives, featuring the best Soloist in the Voice Festival UK, Miss Jessie Reeves, will return in 2013 for a fourth consecutive run with their mix of outrageous choreography and sketch comedy in the second half of the month of August:

Dates: Monday 12 August – Saturday 24 August
Times: 14:05 – 14:55
Venue: theSpace @ Symposium Hall, EH8 9DR
Prices: £7.00 or £10.00 Adults, £5.00 or £7.00 Concessions

The Oxford Gargoyles will no doubt make their new album “Musical Statues” available for sale following their shows featuring jazz, pop and Disney pieces all delivered in their beautiful black tie-style:

Dates: Wednesday 31 July – Saturday 17 August
Times: 14:20 – 15:10
Venue: C Venues, Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Prices: £9.50-£11.50 Adults, £7.50-£9.50 Concessions, £5.50-£7.50 Under 18s

In The Pink will return for their ninth year in Edinburgh with their mix of lush harmonies, lush selves, VFUK-acclaimed soloists and a toe tapping family show, prior to returning to the Chor Open Stage Festival in Berlin:

Dates: Sunday 11 August – Friday 23 August
Times: 16:30 – 17:20
Venue: C Venues, Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Prices: £9.50 – £11.50 Adults, £7.50 – £9.50 Concessions, £5.50 – £7.50 Under 18s

The Other Guys from St Andrews University will join in the festivities with a “One Night Stand” literally bringing their exquisite musicality, questionable dance moves and a selection of their favourite parodies. No better way then to bring in a Friday night really:

Date: Friday 16 August
Time: 19:30 – 21:30
Venue: Greyfriars Kirk, EH1 2QQ
Prices: £15.00 Adults, £10.00 Concessions

From one all-male a cappella group to another, the Oxford stars of Out of the Blue are the only UK Collegiate group to have a full run throughout August when they will take the stage at Assembly George Square with their boyish charm and sparkling harmonies:

Dates: Previews: 1&2 August, Saturday 3 August – Monday 26 August (not 14)
Times: 14:00 – 14:50
Venue: Assembly George Square, EH8 9LH
Prices: Previews: £5.00, £9.50 or £11.00 Adults, £8.00 or £9.50 Concessions

All the way from the University of Exeter, Semi-Toned, the Voice Festival UK Finalists in 2013, will come to Edinburgh for a 1-week run at theSpace:

Dates: Preview: Saturday 3 August, Sunday 4 August – Saturday 10 August
Times: 15:05 – 15:55
Venue: theSpace @ Symposium Hall, EH8 9DR
Prices: Preview: £4.50 Adults, £2.50 Concessions, £7.00 or £8.00 Adults, £5.00 or £6.00 Concessions

The Voice Festival UK 2013 Collegiate Champions Vive will arrive in Edinburgh for their first visit to the Fringe full of award-winning harmonies and uniquely worked covers and original pieces at North Bridge:

Dates: Friday 2 August – Thursday 8 August
Times: 18:10 – 18:55
Venue: Space Cabaret @ 54 North Bridge, EH1 2HE
Prices: £9.00 Adults, £7.00 Concessions

Over and above all the collegiate a cappellantics that have been listed here, our friends at the Voice Festival UK may also put on another showcase as a one-off event sometime in August, in much the same style as All The King’s Men have with their night time show. Please check the Voice Festival UK website for further details nearer the time. Which leads me quite nicely to the Patron of VFUK…

Mr Dominic Peckham whose day job is Assistant Musical Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, whose charges will be enthralling us all with a one-off concert full of works by Byrd, Bach and Parry to name but 3 artists from the past in their show entitled “Light and Song”:

Date: Thursday 15 August
Time: 19:30 – 21:00
Venue: St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Lothian Rd, EH1 2EP
Prices: £10.00 Adults, £6.00 Concessions

Next, the lovable Magnets will come back to Edinburgh with their show All This Time, and I can’t wait to see them again after seeing them live in August 2012. You will not miss their venue as they are booked to play in the Underbelly (the upside down purple cow on Bristo Square). You will also be pleased to know that they are here for the full month, almost like them boys from Out Of The Blue:

Dates: Previews: 1&2 August, Saturday 3 August – Monday 26 August
Times: 17:50 – 18:50
Venue: Underbelly, Bristo Square, EH8 9AL
Prices: Previews: £10.00, £14.00 or £15.00 Adults, £13.00 or £14.00 Concessions

The other groups may also interest some of you, as there are all manner of groups from far and wide, so please consider paying them a visit as you may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear of the likes of:

Aberdeen Chorus of Sweet Adelines on Saturday 17 August
Africa Entsha from Johannesburg throughout the month except Sundays
The Enkelit Singers from Finland with “Angels of the North” between 9 & 12 August
The Choir of St Andrew’s & St George’s West Church on selected nights
The British Vocal Jazz Festival at Le Monde George Street on selected evenings
The National Youth Choir of Scotland Girls Choir at St Giles’ on Saturday 24 August
Cantica Alba at St Andrew’s & St George’s West on Saturday 24 August
The St Giles’ Cathedral Choir on Friday 16 August
The Loud & Proud LGBT Choir at Greyfriars Kirk on Saturday 17 August
“Songs of the Scots” by the Linten Adie Community Choir at St Bride’s on Sunday 11 August
“The Spooky Man In History” at St Bride’s on Tuesday 20 August
The Choir of St Augustine’s Church on Lothian Road on Sunday 4 August
Vintage Twelve at St Andrew’s & St George’s West on 19 & 20 August
The Voices of Lions (not literally you understand) in different Churches between 3 & 8 August

So please come one come all and enjoy the A Cappella Festival in Edinburgh and we will see you on our travels.

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.

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

Album Review: The Other Guys’ Christmas

The Other Guys' Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys' fifth studio album.

The Other Guys’ Christmas is the first Christmas album to come out of a UK a cappella group and it the Guys’ fifth studio album.

by Carys Evans

The Other Guys have once more delivered a stylish, unique and highly commercial production, and just in time for Christmas! There is no doubt that this will make a wonderful present for pretty much anyone, but it also shows just some of the breadth of The Other Guys’ abilities.

With its over-the-top Season’s Greetings to their holiday ‘broadcast’, the album immediately gets you into the mood for Christmas, though it is immediately apparent that they have their tongue placed firmly in their cheek. It’s easy to dismiss some of the fare as quite standard – with most of the tracks being very familiar, and even very traditional – but they have worked their own spin on every one, whether it’s through changing the lyrics, such as in Carols Not From Kings, which incorporates carols with pop songs and a whole new set of wonderful, hilarious lyrics, changing the harmonies, such as in the slightly experimental-sounding Silent Night, or giving the songs a whole new beat – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’s soulful beats make it one of the best tracks on the album!

The album’s single, Christmas Gets Worse Every Year, sums up this album in one song. It sounds familiar, like all good Christmas songs should, it references other Christmas songs, with the ‘Ding Dong’s beautifully done and the nod to Hark the Herald Angels Sing emphasising these boys’ strong choral ability, but it is also an original song, with a provocative title and heartwarming lyrics. Few a cappella groups seem brave enough to sing original songs, but this shows just how much it can pay off, with Oscar Foxley’s song having received praise from the likes of Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, and even the Scottish Parliament. These boys are not afraid to take risks, whether it’s in their lyrics, their decision to do a seasonal album (which may only sell at this time of year – though I’m sure it will sell a lot!), or indeed by putting themselves out there and getting themselves on to the charts.

I hope that other groups can learn from them – it may not be the perfect album, with some over-produced vocal percussion, and a reliance on the fact that those buying the album will like Christmas songs (believe it or not, some people don’t), but it is quite unique in the university a cappella world. And for that reason alone, this should be Number One on your Christmas list.