Album Review: Putting It Together Again

Putting It Together Again

I confess – I have been listening to a lot of American a cappella recently. Having purchased several BOCAs, listening avidly to Christopher Diaz and Dave Brown’s Mouth Off podcast, and tuning in each week to watch NBC’s The Sing-Off, hearing the second album from All The King’s Men has made me come to realise how far British a cappella must still come to even scratch the surface of its American counterpart.

Not that I’m saying this is a bad record – on the contrary, considering the group are relative novices in the a cappella scene, this set of fifteen songs is something for the boys to be extremely proud of – as is their appearance in the VF-UK final earlier this year and their highly successful tour of the USA, from which I am sure they learnt a great deal. I really believe if they, and several of the other top British groups, continue with this fast learning process, then the gap between the UK and the US might be bridged sooner than anyone could have expected.

Having said that, in my opinion there are too many mash-ups on this album. Of the fifteen, there are only six straight covers. This says one of two things to me: on a positive note, the boys clearly have arranging potential – indeed, “Play That Funky Music/Superstition” is one of the best tracks on the album; however it also says that in order to make a song sound interesting, they add a new song in, rather than tweaking the arrangement itself. While this works in places, there are a few too many times when the boys simply stop singing one song and start singing another as part of an ‘arrangement’. While this creates a great deal of variety on the album, it’s not my opinion of how a mash-up should work and leaves a couple of the arrangements sounding a little stilted.

Their mash-up of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and Snow Patrol’s “Run” is, however, exactly how a mash-up should work. The marvellous solo from Alex Jones is like a giant, comforting bear hug, and the rest of the group drop down to a perfect volume to allow this solo to engulf you in the verses. I was delighted when the solo moved up the octave for the climax towards the end of the song – a perfect ending to a flawless arrangement. That one will be on my ‘Faves’ playlist for a long time.

While the rest of the mash-ups are good fun, particularly the “America Tribute”, the “Spice Girls Medley” and the “Bee Gees Medley”, I think the group really shines on their straight covers, which is why I think they should have more faith in their ability to cover a song and make it sound awesome. One example is the final track on the album, Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, on which Chris Jamieson’s solo is SAAAAHHHH-weet! The harmonies are slick on “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”, and the group just about does MJ’s “Thriller” justice (what a big song to cover!), but the real triumph is the a cappella classic “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Fun and energy oozes out of every corner of this song, especially the various animal noises that they make throughout the record, and I particularly like their breakdown in the middle as they all pretend to yawn and fall asleep, despite the fact it is a little corny: “Oh, come on guys!”, says the soloist, Noah Mosley, in mock despair. I’m a sucker for cheese.

All in all, I think this album is all about having fun – the boys clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, have a great deal of fun and happen to make a pretty good record in the process. There are at times some pitching issues, especially with the falsetto harmonies, but the boys do a professional job and as a result this album is very easy to listen to. While steps must be taken to reach the level of the US, this is a solid attempt to get closer to that goal.

Exclusive: Belles To Perform With Sing-Off Stars!

The Oxford Belles are planning a US Tour at some point in the academic year and could be linking up with groups such as the University of Rochester’s The Yellowjackets, who are currently performing in popular American TV Talent Show, The Sing-Off.

Gina Robinson, the President of the group, revealed that they had already made contact with several groups in the US and hope to reveal specifics to their fans in the near future.

In the meantime, the group are hoping to perform at various more regular around Oxford and the surrounding area, as well as competing in the Voice Festival UK for the fourth time.

We look forward to hearing about the Belles’ progress as much as you do!

To find the girls on Facebook, click here.

Exeter Groups Discovered on Facebook!

Our Group Directory has been updated slightly: Exeter University’s all-male group Semi-Toned, and their all-female counterparts The Sweet Nothings, have recently been discovered on Facebook, and as such their details have been updated, along with a new website and a new contact address.

Semi-Toned have recently taken on 6 new members in this year’s auditions, taking their number to eleven. We hope to see a lot more of both groups in the coming year!

To find Semi-Toned on Facebook, click here. For The Sweet Nothings, click here.

Album Review: Barely Regal

by John Lau

Barely Regal by The Other Guys

I must admit, I was slightly apprehensive when I was asked to compile a review of the current offering from Some Other Guys up at St Andrews – apart from being invited by one of their number to be a contributor on this very blog, I have had no other contact with any of The Other Guys, nor have I ever seen them perform live or heard much of their material prior to this album – I do not usually go for all-male groups. However, I went in with an open mind, and even just looking at the track list and starting to listen to the first of the ten musical numbers that comprise the album, I knew that my opinion of all-male a cappella was about to be changed.

In general terms, this album is a pretty faultless production from the eleven male students at the University of St Andrews, which is quite unsurprising considering they enlisted the services of Overboard for the purposes of mixing and editing and also Diovoce for mastering the album, both of whom are based across the pond.

Although it is Track #4 on the album, I cannot start anywhere else other than the cover of Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance”, the video of which went ‘viral’ after it was rearranged in time for the Royal Wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William in April 2011, who coincidentally (or ironically, dependant on one’s point of view) met at the same university as the Guys. While it did attract some much deserved publicity for the group, including breakfast appearances on both sides of the Atlantic and concerts at their own University and Fettes College in Edinburgh, it did not quite reach the public domain quite as much as Out of the Blue’s credible performance on Britain’s Got Talent later in the year, although perhaps deserved to. The track itself brings a smile to my face, just as it did when I first saw the video on Five News whilst channel hopping one evening in April.

As far as repertoires go, it appears that These Other Guys have a rather wide range of artists whose works have been rearranged from the originals: witness back in the day artists such as Stealers Wheel whose track “Stuck In The Middle” was written all those moons ago, and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”, through to recent tracks from Mrs Russell Brand and Cee Lo, but the personal favourites here are the relative mellowness of “Skinny Love” and the Guys reworking of “Gangsta’s Paradise” to become “Golfer’s Paradise” in their own little homage to the town that has bought all eleven Guys together; I just had to laugh when I heard the latter. I would also like to highly commend the entire group for penning the lyrics to “The Lazy Student Song”, as it took me back to my own days of studying between 1998 and 2003 – I had quite a few days when I didn’t ‘feel like doing anything’ back then.

I must also credit The Guys for donating much of the album’s profits to the charity fund set up in honour of Will and Kate at St Andrews University – it is a grand gesture in the modern day financial times, where every last penny is so valuable.

Barely Regal is an offering that has put The Other Guys on a pedestal in terms of status, but whether they can further capitalise on the success of the video and this album in the future, especially when up against the growing reputation of several other collegiate groups in Scotland and the rest of the UK, remains to be seen.

As a stand alone record, however, this album is well worth the second listen. Or a third. Or a twentieth.

Audition Review Special: The Ups and Downs of Collegiate A Cappella

With the audition process for the coming term all but over, we here at The UK University A Cappella Blog decided to speak to the main men (and women) behind four of the most popular collegiate a cappella groups in the UK about how their auditions went.

Sharing a coffee with us were Miranda Essex, President of In The Pink, Jasmine Davies from The Fitz Sirens, Gina Robinson from The Oxford Belles and Benjamin Chadwick from The Techtonics.

UACUK: Hi everyone!

BC: Hi Mark!
ME: Hi.

UACUK: So – your auditions are all over. Let’s start with the facts: how many left each of your respective groups, and how many did you recruit this autumn?

ME: Nine girls left us this year – quite a large number, considering the size of the group. To compensate, we took on eleven new girls, and we’re excited to see what the new-look In The Pink sounds like!
JD: For us it was a little complicated: three Sirens have returned this year from years abroad, while six have left, either through graduation or for their own years abroad. We took on three brand new girls, taking our numbers this year to eleven.
GR: This year we had a big changeover. Seven girls left the group, and we recruited ten! This is more than we would normally take, but one of our girls is leaving at the end of this term, and we felt it would be prudent to overcompensate, and no-one turns up for every single gig!
BC: One of last year’s group left this year, but we have stretched numbers to the max and taken on six new members.

UACUK: It seems like you’ve all taken several more members on than usual – was the quality of auditionee particularly good this year?

BC: Definitely. We had a record number of people audition for us – over fourty – and taking on six members was partly because the quality was so good.
JD: I can’t really comment, considering I only joined the group last year, but many of the auditionees this year were immensely talented and it was extremely hard to choose. The musical experience of many auditionees was simply amazing.
ME: The standard was higher for us as well, hence we took on a few extra people as we couldn’t decide between them!
GR: The standard of auditions was probably about the same for us this year, but there was more interest, and this was probably due to better publicity – both due to our efforts in promoting the auditions and the growing reputation of the group both in Oxford and the rest of the UK.

UACUK: Clearly making new members feel welcome and comfortable is very important. How do you intend to do this in the coming weeks?

JD: The Sirens are a very friendly group and we place a lot of emphasis on socialising. We go out for dinner a lot – occasionally we’ve been known to literally ‘sing for our supper’, or, preferably, for free drinks! We’ll be doing those kinds of things again this year.
ME: Yeah, I think socialising is really important. We sometimes have ‘crew dates’, nights where we meet up with male groups, like the rugby team or Out of the Blue.
BC: We’re sometimes adventurous enough to have a meal out, but usually we just go out for drinks regularly. It’s important to spend a lot of time outside the rehearsal room.
GR: We actually have a changeover meal every year, as well as an initiation, so that the new Belles feel included straight away.
JD: In previous years, we’ve even gone on holiday together or on busking road-trips to London, which have been such a good laugh.
BC: Yeah, we’ve going to the Peak District for a weekend of singing, walking and general frivolity at the end of October. Hopefully that’ll help the new guys to get to know the old guys, and vice versa.

UACUK: What about musically? How to you incorporate the new members quickly into the group blend?

GR: We place a lot of emphasis on learning your parts outside of rehearsal. Obviously the new Belles are taught their parts during rehearsals by the older members, but they do have to go and learn them in their own time.
BC: I think the blend is a lot better when people know each other well.
JD: Obviously it takes a while to get the blend exactly right, but we make sure to do a few smaller gigs before things like the Voice Festival come along.

UACUK: How does the group dynamic change from year to year?

BC: I wouldn’t say it varies much – we have always been a group of friends and while we try really hard to sing and perform well, our main priority is to have fun. As I said before, to sing together well, it’s really important that we all get on well and know each other.
GR: I’d say the group becomes closest during the Fringe run at the end of the year, and while each year the group is slightly different, we try to maintain a core from year to year, so as to maintain the Belles tradition and dynamic.
JD: Yeah I think tradition is very important. As the oldest a cappella choir in Cambridge, there’s been a lot of traditions handed down over the years. Our songs are a collection of arrangements written by Sirens over the past twenty years, and our iconic black gloves have ensured the vintage style of the Sirens has prevailed. With regard to the group dynamic, I think it does change year after year – that’s inevitable – but we never lose our fun side. Part of being a Siren is not just having a beautiful voice but also being part of a group that gets on really well, and that’s been so important in ensuring our continued success.
ME: Yeah, I feel the same really. The dynamic does change as you lose and gain members, but the most important thing is chemistry on and off stage.

UACUK: Well it’s been great to speak to you all. Thanks for joining me and sharing your thoughts! I look forward to seeing what you get up to during the year!

BC: Thank you, Mark.
GR: Glad to help!

Want to know more about the groups in this interview? Check out their Facebook pages: The Techtonics, The Oxford Belles, The Fitz Sirens and In The Pink.

The Accidentals vs Glee and YouTube: VOTE NOW!

The Accidentals of the University of St Andrews need your votes!

New York Magazine has been running a competition for the past few months on their website, entitled “Glee vs YouTube”, in which they compare Glee’s cover version of Adele’s “Rollin’ In The Deep” to several YouTube videos doing the same thing, including that of The Accidentals at the Voice Festival UK Final in March this year.

The Accidentals are thus facing stiff competition from both Glee’s cover of the song, and several other YouTube acts.

To visit the website and vote for your favourite cover of the song, click here.

Exclusive: Sirens To Sing To Royals?

The Fitz Sirens could be on the verge of securing two highly prestigious performances in the coming year, according to a source very much involved in the group.

The group could potentially be giving performances in both The House of Lords and to members of the Royal Family next year, according to group member Jasmine Davies.

As well as widening the reputation of collegiate a cappella, this could potentially allow the Sirens to gain a foothold in London and secure the group even larger gigs in the future.

We hope the girls are able to secure these prestigious concerts and wish them all the best for the coming year. Watch this space for the latest news about the Sirens.

The Fitz Sirens on Facebook.