Gargoyles To Hit Hong Kong

interview by Henry Southern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

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

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight
5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts

4. Out of the Blue – Got To Get You Into My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of British 2012: 5. Jar of Hearts

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

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

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight

5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of British 2012: 6. Dancing in the Moonlight

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

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

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep

6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight

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

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

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

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

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

Best of British 2012: 8. Fields of Gold

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

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

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2

8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Up The Scale

Up The Scale features eight studio tracks and four live tracks recorded at Queen’s College, Oxford.

Apparently Euan Campbell is an arranging maestro. In his term as Musical Director of the jazzed-up Oxford Gargoyles, he has overseen possibly one of the most successful eras of the group, having reached the Grand Final of BBC’s Choir of the Year and performing to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This album is testament to the amazing strength in depth that last year’s group possessed, and with eight of the twelve tracked having been arranged by Campbell himself, a lot of the credit must go to him.

The best thing about this album is its refreshing honesty: there appears to be little to no production value at all. While a lot of American a cappella albums shove money into mixes and edits and masterings that often pull the sound unrecognisably away from the human voice, this album keeps things pure and simple, and the live tracks at the back end of the album emphasise this to great effect. While there was undoubtedly some efforts made to take the recordings up to a high quality standard, the raw talent of this group seeps through every single track and it demonstrates how much the group deserved all the accolades thrown their way this year.

That said, I prefer the studio recordings over the live numbers. That may just be down to personal taste, but you have to admit that some of the nuances within the arrangements are occasionally lost in the final four tracks on the album. That the tuning and blend is as good as it is on the studio tracks is testament to the professionalism and unerring accuracy of the group’s harmonies.

Let’s get down to the specifics: there are no bad tracks on this album. However, the over-reliance on Campbell as an arranger and on Henry de Berker as ‘Riff-King’ can cause the slightest amount of stagnation on the less original tracks. Over The Rainbow, which I remember sounded amazing when I saw them in Edinburgh, is, despite its rich texture and a superb silky solo, overshadowed by tracks which show a touch of genius: the multiple key changes in Fields of Gold, for example, coupled with the marvellous duet from Rebecca Sharp and Sasha Ockenden; the haunting introduction to It Don’t Mean A Thing, which shows the group at its close harmony best; and the majestic Dancing in the Moonlight, which incorporates Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Cheryl’s Fight For This Love and even a sample of The Darkness’ I Believe In A Thing Called Love, all of which combine to form the undoubted peak of Campbell’s arranging masterclass. Even Mr. Bojangles, which is my all time favourite jazz number, is not a highlight, because it errs only very slightly from the original, despite the ease and precision with which it is performed.

In fact, the group actually excels when they’re performing jazzed-up versions of non-Jazz tracks. Numbers such as Orange Coloured Sky and Sh-Boom are excellent, but don’t offer as much creativity and imagination as Dancing and Fields. This isn’t a call for the group to abandon their jazz roots – far from it, because nobody does jazz better than the Gargoyles. Rather, I’d love to see even more ingenuity and novelty from future generations of the group, because all the best a cappella tracks are highly original and innovative. If they can keep the soaring sopranos on top form, as they are throughout this album, and maintain the solid core they possess here, then the Gargoyles will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the coming year.

You can buy Up The Scale right here.

Album Review: She Who Dares

In The Pink’s latest album, ‘She Who Dares’, is their sixth studio album.

by John Lau

In August, when the UK collegiate a cappella world decamped to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, your fearless blog writers were anticipating at least 3 albums on which we could spend our hard earned money. We ended up with 6. One of them is the follow up to Pinkredible from the sassy ladies of Oxford’s In The Pink is the culmination of two busy years, including a visit to Berlin prior to their 2012 run at the Fringe, and is definitely a step forward from their previous efforts.

She Who Dares, the last production with Becca Nicholls as the Musical Director of the group, features a selection of the girls’ favourite renditions from the last two years, and as such credits several now-alumni of the group, including Naomi Puri, Clare Palmer and Harriet Rees, who are welcome additions to the vocals throughout the album. Surprisingly enough, though, certain members of the Oxford super-group Out of the Blue are also in the credits, being thanked for their assistance and banter, which is an encouraging step forward in terms of collaboration within the world of a cappella.

The girls open very strongly, presenting a powerful mash-up of Adele’s Rumour Has It and Duffy’s Mercy, which features two forceful solos from Becca Nicholls and Heather Catchpole, as well as a tribal-esque opening, which was a fitting call to arms from the group. Becca’s mighty solo prowess translated into the second number too, P!nk’s Perfect, which sounds just as good, if not better, than it does live, especially Suzie Merchant’s impressive beatboxing, which is a real gift for a girl group like this. The third track is even better, their award-winning arrangement of Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter, with Sara Lawson simply stunning skyscraping solo fitting perfectly into the delicately fragile piece of music, climaxing wonderfully with a lone voice at the very end – perfection. The fourth number ain’t half bad either, a mash-up of Hey, Soul Sister, Just The Way You Are and I’m Yours with flows effortlessly from one song to the other, just the way a mash-up should work – indeed, Suzie Merchant should be praised for this particular work of art. Quite extraordinary.

The rest of the album, while predominantly executed with precision and pleasantries, doesn’t quite measure up to the opening four numbers, mainly due to the lack of ‘oomph’, for lack of a better word, that comes across in the otherwise quite bombastic originals – take their renditions of One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful and Take That’s Never Forget, both of which boast huge choruses that aren’t quite done real justice here, and the latter especially definitely didn’t bring the spine-tingling sensational that the original provided back in the 90s. The rest of the tracks were amiable and refreshing enough – their cover of Elton John’s Your Song stuck quite close to the original, and as such added a touch of feminine magic to the number, while Clare Joyce’s solo on Candyman is definitely a positive sign of things to come. Save Tonight sounded fresh with a female lead vocal, and the album was rounded off perfectly with a cover of Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine, which would have made a fitting alternative title to this album.

In closing, this really is a feel good album with some remarkable beatboxing throughout, and does indicate that the group as an entity has grown and matured through the last 18 months, showing that their endeavours in Edinburgh and Berlin have not been in vain. There is definitely scope for improvement, as there is with any album, but with a fantastic beatboxer and all around musical goddess in Suzie Merchant, who recorded, edited, mixed and mastered the entire album, and some promising girls continuing the legacy of the group, the future looks bright for In The Pink.