Event Review: VF-UK 2012 Final

by John Lau

With 26 University-based groups whittled down to the 5 Finalists, the stage was set at the City of London School for Girls to determine who the best UK University-based a cappella group was and who would get the opportunity to represent the UK in New York City later in April.

The line-up for the 2012 University Competition Final, which took place on March 17th, was as follows:

THE SONS OF PITCHES
University of Birmingham
Winners of Birmingham Regional Round
2nd VF-UK
1st Final

ALL THE KING’S MEN
King’s College, London
Winners of London Regional Round
2nd VF-UK
2nd Final

HOTTUBBS
University of Bristol
Winners of Bristol Regional Round
1st VF-UK
1st Final

OUT OF THE BLUE
University of Oxford
Winners of Oxford Regional Round
4th VF-UK
4th Final

THE OTHER GUYS
University of St Andrews
Winners of St Andrews Regional Round
4th VF-UK
2nd Final

Before the sets though, we were introduced to our host for the evening, the former Swingle Singer and beatbox extraordinaire Jes Sadler, and the four judges laid with the impossible task of determining who the best group would be:

Mr Ben Parry, a former Swingle Singer and now co-Director of London Voices;
Mr Russell Scott, a music industry professional for over 30 years);
Mr Dominic Peckham, Assistant Musical Director for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and VFUK Workshop Leader;
and Ms Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, another former Swingle Singer and now in constant demand for her capabilities as a music coach, workshop presenter and adjudicator.

The nine men who make up The Sons of Pitches, clad as always in their token red boiler-suits took to the stage first, and as this was the first I had seen or heard of them, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of repertoire, but they sure did provide a highly musical three-piece set interspersed with some smiles and humour, specifically the confetti they threw at themselves towards the end of their set which resulted in one of their number being left on the stage to brush as much away before the next act.

In terms of their set, the music started with their rendition of Kimbra’s Settle Down, which when compared to the original sounded a treat to begin with, courtesy of the opening soloist Mr Hinds, which is no mean feat considering the original is sung by an American female. A sky-scraping solo worth high praise. The vocal percussion is also worthy of mention here, for despite being relatively simple, it really came through in this piece. They mixed things up a bit towards the end of the piece with some rather bouncy “Oh!” sounds which kept the song from stagnating.

With the audience suitably ‘settled down’ after the opening piece, the Sons then launched into Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. They had not sung this song in the Regional Round of the Festival, so I took this as a brave move to try an untested song for the first time in the midst of the largest UK-wide collegiate a cappella competition. As soon as they began I knew instantly they had taken the majority of the arrangement from Pentatonix’ highly successful YouTube video, and was put off straight away as I knew that would be difficult to top. And unfortunately, despite the impressive and fitting choreography, it was pretty much a like-for-like copy. Granted, they almost did the cover justice, but a cappella should be about adding a personal touch of individuality to an already existing song. The boys failed to do this.

Their final piece was described as the “Club Medley 2″, which was an impressive mash-up of various tracks such as Dynamite from Taio Cruz, You Spin My Head Round from Dead or Alive and Ke$ha’s Tik Tok, to name but three. I had heard good things of this arrangement, and I was not disappointed. This was a piece I would happily pay money for and add to my collection of songs to play while preparing for a night out. Some really sweet modulating just before the merge into You Spin My Head. Again, the rapping was impressive. I did a miss a little bit of tenor throughout most of the arrangement, which was a shame as it lead to the whole song sounding very bari-heavy. The beatbox breakdown was again impressive and very unique. I laughed heavily when the entire group pretended to wait for a bus that never came, but while amusing, it did lead to some dead air for a little too long, which may have harmed their chances. The Rory McIlroy lookalike did show us a selection of acrobatics across what remained of the stage, which the audience appreciated, and then came the sparkling finish, complete with confetti, which had to be brushed off the stage before the next act, with Jes Sadler looking on while filling in time. Eventually it was cleared and Jes suggested that it was great to see Kid Rock getting some work. All in all a solid set from the Birmingham contingent, disappointed by their middle song, but their closer was clearly well-rehearsed, professionally performed yet bursting with energy and enjoyment. A thoroughly enjoyable opening set.

From the red of the Sons to the twelve royal blue shirts of All the King’s Men. Although I wasn’t sure whether they had what it took to win the contest in only their second visit to this stage, I knew I enjoyed what little I had heard of them in my travels at the London A Cappella Festival at the start of the year, and hoped that they would have a wide repertoire than what I heard in passing with their rendition of It’s Raining Men in between concerts.

In respect of the repertoire I was not disappointed, not much anyway, as they provided three different pieces each with different tempos. To start with, they came out with their mash-up of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Edge of Glory, which provided the audience a very much appreciated act of choreography involving what I can only describe as varying hand movements in the semi-circle that the boys had formed. Musically, there was a significant improvement from what the Sons had put out before them, with a highly original arrangement filling the stage a lot more effectively. The stunning choreography did not end there though: at the point where Edge of Glory was put in the mix (which was gloriously slurred into, by the way), the Men transformed themselves from a semi-circle to a V-shape, with the soloist and head of the V pushing away the men behind him, which looked quite the sight, and was again appreciated by the audience. I really enjoyed the marked difference in tempo between Born This Way and Edge of Glory – almost a master-stroke in that they combined a fast song with a slow one to provide us with the perfect opener. Some really strong solo work too. A very impressive start from the King’s Men.

The middle piece from All The King’s Men took the tempo down completely as they swapped Lady Gaga with Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen, a Christmas Number 1 from as recently as 2008. Despite it being a song covered many, many times in the past, I preferred the ATKM version better than most I had heard, mainly because of the tubular bells effect that they introduced midway through the piece, which to my mind enhanced the rendition, as well as their reputation. Also unique were the choral descants from the second chorus. Some good volume work throughout – they made sure never to stay on the same level – and in the end a pleasant, if unspectacular middle song.

The final piece is the one I heard in London in January, but what I didn’t know at the time was that it was It’s Raining Men mashed up against Robbie Williams Let Me Entertain You, stylised as “It’s Reigning Men”. That will teach me not to judge a book by the cover that I saw all too briefly in between concerts at the London A Cappella Festival back in January. The choreography flashes were all still there enhancing the quality of the piece overall, and while the first half of the song was hilarious (especially “Tall, ginger, dark and lean,” the former two referring to the rather tall flame-haired member of the group), musically tight and included some highly unique backing sounds (I think “jing-zing-a-zing-a-jing-jing-jing” was my favourite), the second half was not quite up to the same standard, in that it didn’t quite provide me with the goosebumps that I used to feel under the Robbie Williams original when it came out all those moons ago. I must praise the boys for their choreography throughout the entire set, which was frankly phenomenal, and enhanced the output in terms of what audience saw, and I wonder whether there is a choreographic mastermind at work within All The King’s Men. A job well done, but it was a case of ‘wait and see’ as to whether they would become the first winners of this competition from outside Oxbridge.

With thirteen females and eleven males all in black with red adornments of various descriptions, the winners of the inaugural Bristol regional and the largest of any of the competing groups participating in this Final, HotTUBBS entered the stage.

Their set started with a musically successful fusion of 5 Colours In Her Hair, It’s All About You and Obviously, all McFly classics. Formed up in a closely rigid formation with girls at the front, it felt different anticipating some pieces from McFly from such a sizeable group. While it successfully entertained the audience present, it was perhaps less in-your-face on this occasion than when I heard the originals back in the days when McFly were one of the more prominent boy-bands in the UK, possibly because of the lack of choreographic surprises that the group could have put in, to perhaps make the medley more memorable. I did appreciate that they had chosen soloists for the final, a change from the Regional, which was rather refreshing, and the soloists did well. The group were the strongest when they all sang the lyrics in harmony with one another, mainly because the sheer number of them allowed the room to filled with a rich, comforting yawn of sound. A solid, well-rehearsed opener, with a sweet clashed chord to close the number.

Their second piece was perhaps more suited to the group, I imagine, as they came up with a medley of songs from the Russian-born American songwriter, Irving Berlin featuring “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Everything in America is Ragtime”. Considering my limited knowledge of the music of Irving Berlin, I thought this was a highly competent introduction to the music of the early 20th Century, with the tempo not really far away from what the public of the 1910s would have come to expect. This was a highly original and refreshing treat from HotTUBBS and although I didn’t have much by way of background knowledge of what they were capable of, I guess this showed that they can be versatile in terms of their repertoire, which is no bad thing really. Interesting that they chose to have a conductor on stage for this number, something I hadn’t seen in student a cappella before, but it did mean their timing was spot on throughout the number.

Their last piece really was ‘Back to the Future’ as they swapped the music of the early 20th Century with Lady Gaga, and their rendition of Telephone. I was pleased to see more of a choreographic show here from the choir group using their heads and hands, but while I felt that the female voice parts diluted the edgy nature of the lyrics from the original, this was probably a softer listen than the original. I enjoyed the switch to a posh-RP accent, which juxtaposed well with the following rap. This was the nearest the group got to contemporary a cappella, and they actually pulled it off pretty well. So a good showing from the HotTUBBS ensemble and I imagine they enjoyed the experience of being in the Final. Now I wonder whether it would be too much to expect this group to add Edinburgh to the list of places throughout the UK that they have already visited: surely not too far a cry from Cardiff or Manchester?

After the first and only sight of women competing in the Final, it was back to the Boys’ Show with the perennial qualifiers from the UK Capital of Collegiate A Cappella, Oxford and their finest boys from Out Of The Blue, in their fourth Final appearance. The fourteen boys took to the stage with their black and blue colours and no shoes.

Their bid to win the title in 2012 burst to life with a mash-up of The Beatles Got To Get You Into My Life mixed in with Isn’t She Lovely from Stevie Wonder. There was a very soul-like quality about this medley as a result of the two voices who were tasked with providing the vocals, Laurie Cottam’s vocals on the first half and Selali Fiamanya in the second half. I must commend Laurie’s solo in particular which was quite stunning, and his tenor belt was countered quite effectively by the soulful dulcet tones of Selali. In fact, I was so in awe of the solos on this one that it was quite difficult to pay much attention to the backing, and although it was a little repetitive, it almost needed to be in order to let the solos shine through on this number. So an upbeat start from the boys seeking to win the title for the first time since 2009.

The tempo was slowed down for the next piece, as the boys provided their rendition of Elbow’s Lippy Kids with no less than six soloists, a slow piece which I wouldn’t have known as coming from a group such as Out Of The Blue had I just let it wash over me, but if nothing else, I was pleased to see that they could rearrange a piece such as this from the original to have it sound as moving as it did, more moving than the original in fact, and credit ought to go in the end to their chief re-arranger, Nick Barstow. There was more of a choral quality in this piece than there was in the original I felt and the voice of one of the soloists even reminded me of Morten Sorensen from the Real Group of professional a cappella singers from Sweden. I really enjoyed the layered effect throughout the song, and while it wasn’t their best song of the set, it was definitely better than any of the middle songs we had seen so far, and is definitely one of those that gets better each time you listen to it.

The Blue set closed out with a piece from Jessie J, one of the judges that the group came across in Britain’s Got Talent last year, and their were covering her most recent single, Domino. In terms of the tune the original and rendition are a million miles apart as the boombastic qualities evident on the original just did not seem to materialise to any great extent in this rendition, which I found a pity, otherwise they could have been regarded as genuine contenders for the prize on offer at the end of the night. The solo was handled well and there was again some excellent choreography – while the majority of the dance moves remained largely simple, it was the human guitar that really got the crowd going, but I was in the end a little disappointed by this final song. And with that, came and went the unfamiliar elements of tonight’s Final.

The Other Guys were last up, wearing their token suits with pocket squares, and they kicked off with Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight. What I like about the The Other Guys is that they don’t take themselves too seriously – one could tell from the very beginning of this song that the boys were going to put on a memorable choreographic performance – even if it wasn’t the sleekest, shiniest choreography ever seen, it was sure to be some of the funniest. The song itself didn’t quite fill the stage as much as previous groups had done, and was definitely not as creative and original as the opening number of All the King’s Men especially, but was nevertheless solid, if a little unspectacular.

Their second song was one from their latest album, Barely Regal, and it was their cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. It’s always tough to cover an album track live, but I think the boys did well here. The arrangement was original and added several new elements, including some nice descants leading up to the climax of the songs, but while the backing did swell significantly towards the end of the piece, I felt the soloist could have put a little more power and emotion behind those last few bars. Again, solid from the guys.

The boys’ final song was entitled “St Andrews Girls”, and incorporated mainly Katy Perry’s California Gurls with elements of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth, One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful and the Chariots of Fire theme tune. While the pace seemed a little fast at first, the boys proved that their speciality really is parodies, with some hilariously re-written lyrics and great transitions into the other songs in the mash-up. They even rapped, proving once and for all that “white men can rap”, as if we didn’t already know that from the Sons of Pitches earlier in the night. I really enjoyed their layered finish in the Chariots of Fire theme tune, which really added to the original, and there were a few cheers (worryingly from male members of the audience) as the boys began to remove their jackets at the end. A very impressive finish, but I’m not sure the set was strong enough to win it.

While the judges were deliberating in a darkened room, our entertainment for the night came in the form of a set of 4 songs from the “Apollo5″ group who I first met at the London A Cappella Festival in January, all too briefly.

Their set could easily have transported me to a mellow place as there was something very ‘Easy Listening’ about their set which included tunes such as Java Jive, Ain’t Nobody, a medley featuring some West End Musicals and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, all of which was delivered with a laid back element to enable the judges to come to decisions in their own time. The audience was then informed that this group are now seeking a new Tenor to join their ranks. That would have ruled me out of joining this group, who not only have two gorgeous females in their number but also a commonality in terms of their existence. The group believes that with their collaborators, the Red Balloon Learner Centres, the bullied youth of this country can grow in confidence by finding their voice through singing together, which is something I personally can relate to as well, even if there was no opportunity to participate in a choir situation or even better still an a cappella group while I was in study all those moons ago. And the other reason for me not expressing interest in this vacancy, I’m a bass.

The audience were treated to a small sample of the flashmob that occurred this lunchtime and was organised by Mr Dominic Peckham and Ms Joanna Forbes L’Estrange which featured the colours of the Olympic Rings down by the South Bank of the Thames and a very apt song, Daft Punk’s Around The World.

Verdict:

Of course, this was always going to be a tough call. With four all-male groups, there was a chance that this evening might become a little same-y, but each group had their own individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as demonstrating that each of them were beginning to develop their own sense of identity. I think HotTUBBS had a difficult job to do, considering it was their debut performance at VF-UK and they were up against several perennial high achievers in the world of UK A Cappella. But they performed admirably and credit must be due to them, especially for sticking to their roots in their middle song and showing us what sort of variety the a cappella genre can bring. The Sons of Pitches were strong in their debut final, but their middle song let me down, especially given it was pretty much a straight copy of Pentatonix. They show promise though, and I’m sure they will come back stronger next year. The Other Guys finished strongly, but I think they relied too much on that last song to pull them through, and some of the other groups were more consistently musical and had more professional choreography. That left Out of the Blue and All the King’s Men, two groups which I had trouble splitting. While Out of the Blue clearly had been here before, knew exactly what they were doing and had a very, very tight set, All the King’s Men must be praised for their stage presence and utter confidence in their performance. As for which group was to win it – well let’s just say I’m glad it wasn’t me making the decision.

Awards:

Outstanding Musicality: All the King’s Men for ‘Hallelujah’
Outstanding Performance: Out of the Blue
Outstanding Arrangement: Richard Phillips of The Other Guys for ‘Skinny Love’
Outstanding Stagecraft: Sons of Pitches for ‘Club Medley 2’

WINNER:

ALL THE KING’S MEN

And so in an historic moment for the Voice Festival UK, the winners were confirmed as All the King’s Men of King’s College London, who in their second straight final had broken the stranglehold of this title being won by a group from either the Universities of Cambridge or Oxford. So to the victors, the immense spoils as well as the trophy and to the rest of us, the after-party at a small pub nearby, where the HotTUBBS group serenaded us with some more karaoke. An excellent night, and bring on next year.

Event Review: VF-UK 2012 Oxford Regional Round

On Sunday 26th February, Oxford Town Hall played host to the third Voice Festival UK 2012 University Competition Regional Round, with six groups from the University of Oxford competing for a solitary place in the final in London.

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

The Competitors:

OUT OF THE BLUE from the University of Oxford
THE OXFORD GARGOYLES from the University of Oxford
THE OXFORD BELLES from the University of Oxford
THE OXFORD ALTERNOTIVES from the University of Oxford
IN THE PINK from the University of Oxford
THE ULTRASOUNDS from the University of Oxford

The first group to grace the stage were The Oxford Alternotives. I had never heard this groups perform live before, so I was intrigued to see how they would incorporate their ‘alternative’ nature in their VF set, which can be quite restrictive. They were wearing mainly black, and kicked off with Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat. A subdued start led into the bouncy verse, and for some reason I was surprised to see a female take the lead on this song, although considering the skyscraping tenor range of the original artist perhaps I should have expected it. Some nice choreography with some good levels, which progressed in the second verse into a semi-circle with each member of the group doing some freestyle moves, some of which were rather comical, and it was a nice way of expressing the individual characters within the group. The song itself was above average without really being exceptional, and they blended into Boogie Wonderland, which incorporated a male soloist, who did well. Then came the step-clapping – I really don’t like step-clapping in a cappella, so it really frustrates me when groups do it when they could be doing something so much more impressive – especially as it went on for 40 seconds, far too long in my opinion. It was an average opener for the group, which started promisingly but didn’t quite deliver as much as I was expecting towards the end.

Their second song was a slowed down cover of Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name, and I was immediately hit by a wall of sound in the very sultry opening, with the silky voiced ladies taking the lead in the early stages. As the beatbox kicked in, the sound dropped slightly to make way for the solo, and I enjoyed the simple yet effective ‘dum’ sounds from the basses throughout most of the song, but until the group changed it up a little with I’m A Survivor it was dragging just a tad, partly due to the slow tempo of the song. The arrangement did lose its way a little towards the end, and I was glad to see them reach a climax towards the end of the song, as I feared it might not arrive, and the intricate finish was a touch of class on an arrangement which did leave me wanting a little bit more.

The group’s final song was Spandau Ballet’s Gold. Some really nice wave-like choreography at the start, and the group really filled the stage with their sound. I really liked the tone of the soloist’s voice, and there some great cheesy 90s moves in the first chorus which I highly approved of. I also particularly liked the boys miming drums on top of the girls in many of the instrumental sections, which really added to the depth of the song. In fact, the comic value of the choreography really stood out in this number, and I laughed out loud when the boys posed and shouted “Hooh” after “You’re indestructible”, and the girls followed suit the following time, much to the pleasure of the audience. The energy levels for this song were noticeably higher than the previous two, and I was thoroughly impressed by this final performance, which was definitely at a higher standard than the previous two songs. An excellent end to to a good performance, but I wasn’t sure if it was quite strong enough to stand out above the rest of tonight’s performances.

Second up were the only new group in this round, the all-male, all-medic group The Ultrasounds. I was intrigued to see how they would fare against much more experienced opposition, and was delighted to see them dressed in their scrubs – a signature look if ever I saw one. They kicked off with two club anthems, Dynamite by Taio Cruz and Barbara Streisand by Duck Sauce. The boys clearly enjoyed themselves here. Some really great high harmonies, and the soloists were solid enough. Some humorous choreography here too. Unlike a lot of the other groups, they were strongest when they had a clear soloist – the song lost a little bit of its punch during the unison chorus. Their merge into Barbara Steisand worked well, despite being more of a “stop one song and then start the next one”, and they finished really abruptly and effectively, to much applause. An impressive start from the new boys.

Their second song was Yazoo’s Only You. Nice layered effect throughout. Soloist solid, not outstanding though, and was complimented nicely by the second soloist. The boys acted the song well – the original soloist confessing his love for the second harmony soloist, while moving ever closer to him, with the second one looking ever more worried every step the first one took, and trying to edge further away from him, constantly rejecting his advances – the audience tittered away throughout. Finally, the second soloist succumbed after a lot of arm-stroking, and the group finished on a lovely soothing chord which reminded us that they weren’t just about the performance – the musicality was solid throughout.

The boys’ third song was You And Whose Army? by Radiohead. One word to describe this one – haunting. Lots of minor chords, a few clashes here and there, and it led to a really unsettling effect – which I think is what they were going for. I wasn’t massively keen on the soloist’s voice, but his tone actually fitted the song and the mood of the performance really well. The boys crescendoed to great effect towards the end (which, suitably, was when they added the most movement to the piece) and filled the stage with some more haunting melodies, this time in falsetto. I was really impressed with the arrangement here and the way the boys took it on – a very interesting and effective choice.

The boys finished with two pop classics: Could It Be Magic by Take That and Irene Cara’s Fame. You could always tell the boys would move on to Fame, as the backing was there from the very start, despite starting with the Take That song. Another strong tenor soloist here, if a little shouty at the top of his range, and the arrangement itself wasn’t all that complex, but again the boys’ energy let them get away with that. An awesome backflip just before the Fame chorus came in. The boys proceeded to have a bit of a sing-off, with one side singing Take That and the other singing Irene Cara, with the two soloists leading each side. It again did get a little bit shouty as the boys tried to out-sing each other, and the arrangement did eventually get a little messy as there was so much going on. A really good set if I’m honest here, especially from a brand new group, however that last song did seem a little rushed – clearly they were pushed to get four songs in the allotted time. Then again, there was no real weak link in their set, so I’m not sure what they would have dropped. Very impressive stuff.

Next up were In The Pink with their classic, sleek combination of black dresses tied around the waist with a pink sash. They kicked off with a mash-up of Adele’s Rumour Has It and Duffy’s Mercy. Their stamp-clapping start reminded me instantly of The Accidentals’ performance of Rollin’ In The Deep at last’s year’s final, and I knew straight-away that this song would need a powerful soloist. Thankfully, I was not disappointed – the solo was controlled and well reigned in, and stood out against the fairly simplistic backing. When they shifted to Mercy, they switched soloists, and again it was well controlled with some nice runs. I wasn’t a huge fan of the clapping and stamping, which lasted through the entire song, but the ending was clean and effective, and there was very little else to complain about in this opening number.

Next up was Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter. I was intrigued by this choice, and am a big fan of Damien Rice, and knew if this song was arranged well it could be very effective. A beautiful, crisp, clean solo which I loved. Some lovely bell tones introduced in the second verse, followed by some pretty impressive tremolos which I thought worked really well in keeping the arrangement interesting and engaging. Huge blocked chord swell into – a key change! Awesome. And the solo gets even more effortlessly higher! Really enjoyed this, although I maybe would have liked a little more volume directly after the key change, as I feel they held back at a time when they should have just gone for it. But a very impressive second song.

The girls closed with One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. Not the most musically intricate original, so I was curious to see what they would add to the song. The stand out aspect of this performance was the choreography, which was fun and amusing, and although the soloist showed some impressive range, I wasn’t that impressed with the arrangement itself. I also felt it was a little rushed. A solid finish to a solid set, but I wasn’t sure it was impressive enough to get them through.

The next group were the jazz specialists, The Oxford Gargoyles. Having impressed me at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was excited to see what they would offer this year. They opened, wearing smart black dresses and suits respectively, with You’ve Got A Friend In Me by Randy Newman, and launched instantly into a very laid back swing beat which fitted the song perfectly. The dulcet tones of the two male leads complemented each other really nicely, and I kind of wished it had lasted a little longer – but the two-lead theme continued with a couple of sopranos and thereafter the group switched soloists with consummate ease throughout the song. It was refreshing to hear something completely different at the start of their set, and while the song didn’t blow me away, it did keep me thoroughly entertained and my foot was tapping along throughout. A solid start.

Their second song was Fields of Gold by Sting, and there were some nice dynamics in the first verse with the female lead, and I enjoyed the unexpected key change when the male took over the solo. Clearly showing off their strong soloists in this set. The song really got going when the two leads combined into another duet, and the two voices, while very different, blended well together and were backed up by rising backing volume, which soared to another inspiring key change, before a glorious ritardando and some wonderful blocked harmonies, and the final thirty seconds of the song really gave me goosebumps. The song opened averagely, but improved massively as it went on, and ended up being on of the best songs I had heard all night.

The group closed with Toploader’s Dancin’ In The Moonlight, which began with a very jazzy, slow feel, but burst into life around thirty seconds in when Euan Campbell burst through the back of the group and took over with a silky solo. I really enjoyed the lead vocals, as it was very different to the original, and added an original spin on an otherwise plain arrangement. However, the group again changed it up when they introduced Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and although the very soprano did get a little pitchy at times, it was an inspired addition to the original song. They then merged into a highly original jazz take on I Believe In A Thing Called Love by The Darkness, and then went Back To The Start and began to mash-up all four songs, including Cheryl Cole’s Fight For This Love, and the group did a good job of filling the stage with different songs without it sounding too messy. Clearly the group have a great deal of musicality and skill with rearranging modern songs and giving them a classier feel, and in my opinion they were the strongest and most original group had I seen so far.

The Oxford Belles were up next, wearing their classic black cardigans and skirts with blue tops combination, and set themselves up rather oddly on stage – it was only when they launched into their TV Medley that it became clear that they had formed a makeshift television out of people. It began with the theme from the Channel 4 news, before swiftly switching to the Simpsons’ Theme, which allowed them to show off a great sense of blend and a variety of music styles as well. This then blurred into the Go Compare song, which I find to be highly irritating, which thankfully slurred seamlessly into the Eastenders Theme, followed by the Lloyds TSB advert theme, then The Apprentice – they really mashed several different themes into this, not just three or four. I commend the girls for their originality and a high sense of musicality, and this was completely different to anything I had seen so far in the entire competition, but I did feel as though the lack of a real purpose to the song may have been the weakness here – there was nothing they really built towards until the very end – but that’s being over critical. A humorous, inspired and unique opener from the girls.

The Belles’ second song was a rendition of Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri. I first heard this song in Germany late last year and instantly thought it would be a perfect song to cover a cappella, and boy did these girls sing it well. The song built perfectly from the quiet opening through verses one and two to the bridge, and they really let themselves go towards the end, with a fantastic solo – restrained in all the right places, but superbly belted at the big moments – and some really powerful and moving blocked chords. I had goosebumps throughout the entire song, ESPECIALLY when all the girls turned around before the final chorus, and the solo was even more impressive given the deep range required at the very beginning of the song. There was no movement at all, but it would have been superfluous as the song and the soloist carried itself. Best song of the night.

The Belles closed with Michael Jackson’s Beat It. I keep saying it and I’ll keep on saying it, Michael Jackson is so difficult to cover well, because the originals are not only so good, but universally recognised, and as such it’s very difficult to live up to. So I was sort of dreading this performance, especially after such a good set so far. REALLY sweet moonwalking at the top of the song. Another really strong soloist here, and some neat choreo. Their imitation of instruments wasn’t bad, but nothing special. They merged into Smooth Criminal about halfway through, which worked well, but I wasn’t massively fond of the way they merged into the song. The energy level stayed pretty much the same throughout the song – cranked up to the max. I would have maybe liked to see the girls either build a little more from the start, or break it down more in the middle. I also feel the arrangement wasn’t that interesting, and relied too much on the energy of the song to carry it through. More positives than negatives though, and the crowd went wild after what was a thoroughly impressive set from the girls. They looked real contenders on this kind of form.

Closing the show were three-time finalists Out of the Blue. As always, I was expecting a lot from the boys in blue. Well, they weren’t actually in blue – that phrase has a catchy ring to it, so it’s a shame, really – but rather had suits with their classic Out of the Blue ties. Suave. Anyway, they opened with two tracks from two legendary artists – Got To Get You Into My Life by The Beatles and Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder. Really strong soloist on the Beatles section, and for a moment I felt like I was back in the 60s – it had that sort of feel to it. Impressive choreography too, almost flawless, which added to the high entertainment value of this number. That soloist was really rocking the money notes, although he did seem a little out of his range during the choruses, which was a blemish on an otherwise flawless lead vocal. The Isn’t She Lovely did seem a little bit random, and the arrangement was not quite up to the same standard of mash-up I have seen the boys do previously, but otherwise it was a typically impressive start from the group.

Their second song was Elbow’s Lippy Kids. I’d not heard the song before, and am not a huge fan of Elbow, so I was intrigued to see what they’d make of it. As usual, outstanding musicality from the boys, with some flawless harmonies, but for me, this song only proved that very thing – that Out of the Blue are very, very tight musically. Aside from that, I found the performance quite boring. I don’t think that was down to the arrangement (which, on the contrary, was superb) or the way it was sung; rather because the original itself was designed to be restrained and minimalistic. Maybe that’s what the boys were going for – a song to show off their obvious musical strengths, and I’m not denying the boys sung sung it tremendously beautifully; I just found it also quite dull and I felt it dragged a little. By the boys’ standards, not their best, because I think they excel in the more upbeat numbers, but the sophisticated sound throughout this song was better than most other groups of the evening.

I was hoping that their final song would be their best. It was Jessie J’s Domino. Excellent soloist again, and some wonderful and apt choreography – especially the domino effect and the human guitar, which was a crowd pleaser if ever I saw one. The arrangement itself, however, seemed rather ordinary, until one of the boys started singing “Ooh Baby Baby” – first one, then two, then the whole group joined in, much to the crowd’s delight, before dropping seamlessly back into the original song and the excellent final chorus, which was ended superbly and effectively when the entire group dropped out to leave the soloist singing the final line with just the right amount of vibrato. All in all a very good set from the boys, but I’m always left wanting a little bit more whenever I see them. Tough reputation to live up to? Perhaps.

Verdict:

I felt it was a pretty close call between the Oxford Belles and Out of the Blue. While The Ultrasounds were mightily impressive in their debut outing, I just think Out of the Blue had a touch more musicality to their performance. I do think the Oxford Belles really raised their game this evening and I could have seen them snatching a place in the final, especially due to their middle song, which was the best song of the night, in my opinion. The Gargoyles were the dark horses, as they are highly original and different to the rest of the groups, and therefore always stand out, while the Alternotives were perhaps unable to fully express their ‘alternative’ nature in such a short space of time. In The Pink were solid, but hadn’t quite done enough to stand out ahead of the rest.

Awards:

Outstanding Musicality: The Oxford Gargoyles
Outstanding Performance: The Ultrasounds
Outstanding Arrangement by a Friend of the Group: Samuel Parsons for ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, performed by In The Pink
Outstanding Soloist: Sophie Giles of The Oxford Belles for ‘Jar of Hearts’
-Highly Recommended Soloist: Laurie Cottam of Out of the Blue for ‘Got To Get You Into My Life/Isn’t She Lovely?’
Outstanding Vocal Percussion: Alexander Deng of The Ultrasounds
Outstanding Choreography: The Oxford Alternotives

WINNER:

OUT OF THE BLUE

And so Out of the Blue made it four out of four finals, overcoming some very stiff competition along the way. Some very encouraging performances from all the groups, solidifying Oxford as the home of UK University A Cappella.

Techtonics & Friends Set to Bring A Cappella-Fest to ICU Metric

The Techtonics have once again organised a huge a cappella evening at the Imperial College Union Metric, with groups from London, Cambridge and even the US joining the Vocal Marathon participants for what is sure to be an a cappella sensation not to be missed.

The Techtonics are joined by fellow Imperial College groups The Imperielles and, in their first public outing, The Scopes, as well as Voice Festival UK 2012 Winners and 3rd placed group at the resulting ICCAs All the King’s Men from King’s College. Also joining them are the King’s Chix, also from King’s College, and award-winning group The Refrains, who competed this year in the inaugural VF-UK Community Competition. If that wasn’t enough, a new group, The Dynamics, will be making their public debut as well.

But even more excitingly, the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, will be kicking off their world tour that very evening.

It really is a show not to be missed. For more information about the event, check about the Facebook Event Page. To buy tickets, click here.

Out of the Blue Set For Unprecedented New Theatre Gigs

It’s rather difficult to get hold of Out of the Blue these days. Ever since they took a cappella to the masses and wowed audiences and judges alike in last year’s season of Britain’s Got Talent, they have barely had time to stop and breathe, as their already impressive fanbase trebled and gig requests flew in from all corners of the globe. I was delighted, then, when I was approached by their Business Manager and staunch if reluctant bass Dominic Stockbridge, who allowed me to delve a little deeper into the UK’s biggest collegiate a cappella group.

“I would give so much to be a minor third higher,” Dom opens, perhaps lamenting the fact that a cappella solos are rarely suited for similarly-voiced males like him, but allowing his passion and enthusiasm to shine through his words nevertheless. Dominic has been a member of the group since 2010, and as such has been able to enjoy the group’s significant rise in popularity in the past couple of years. But it wasn’t always that way. The group was formed in 2000 by an American called Derek Smith. “He had been a member of a cappella groups in the Ivy League, and wanted to help the culture proliferate over here,” Dominic explains to me. “Out of the Blue wasn’t the first group in the UK by any means, but it arrived on the scene just as a cappella began to gain some sort of recognition and started to excel in a niche market.”

So how exactly did they get to this point? “It’s a mixture of extremely hard work and, in all honesty, luck. We all feel a responsibility to the group and give a lot of time and effort into making everything worthwhile, not just for ourselves but for future members who will benefit from the groundwork we have helped to lay.” Indeed, the effort that the boys put in within the first ten years of the group’s existence has been quite astonishing. Tours of the UK and the US have been conducted successfully and regularly; TV and Radio invitations have been graciously accepted several times; and performances in front of famous guests, including David Cameron, have not been rare. And let’s not forget, they are still the most successful British group with regard to competitions, having finished as runners-up in the ICCAs twice, in 2006 and 2009. Hardly experiences to be sniffed at.

Out of the Blue showing off their favourite pose. Photo credit: Alex Beckett

It’s a wonder how a group with such an inconsistent membership can remain at such a consistently high level of performance. “The group has a large turnover due to its busy schedule and the all-consuming nature of the Oxford academic life – when I joined the group, I was one of eleven new members, with only four remaining from the previous year. But I think it helps us to stay fresh, because the group is always working with new voices, new ideas, and a new dynamic.” Clearly, the boys in blue know how to deal with the ever-revolving door of arrivals and departures in collegiate a cappella – four Voice Festival finals in four years is testament to their ability to create fresh, high quality a cappella year upon year. There is some level of consistency though: “Our president, a sixth-year architecture post-grad is currently in his fifth year in the group.” Kudos for that. “I’m leaving at the end of this year, because it’s struck me that finals are going to hit like a train,” Dominic explains with a heavy heart.

And then came perhaps the real breakthrough, not just for the group, but for a cappella as a genre too: Britain’s Got Talent. “It was very much a ‘why not?’ moment for us. Our President at the time, Dave Brennan, put it to us, and we discussed it as a group. Obviously we had our reservations, but in the end we decided to give it a go and see what came about.” I wondered if I was successfully hiding the veiled jealousy that was bubbling over as he spoke about the audition process for the prime-time TV show. “We got in touch with the program, got an audition slot in December, and it sort of went from there. Within a few weeks we were asked back to the Hammersmith Apollo to perform in front of the judges, and while we were in America, we found out that we’d made the semi-finals.”

It was with a sense of looming inevitably that I asked the next question: were they disappointed not to have made it to the final? “Yes, obviously. As with any competitive environment, it’s a shame not to go all the way, but most of us had exams in the following week so in a sense we were extremely relieved!” Contained within that vague disappointment was a lingering sense of pride, though: “We were quite proud of having just been ‘Out of the Blue’. Looking at a lot of the acts we were up against, they all had some gimmick or another: a massive backing choir; crazy, colourful outfits; or insane dance routines. Apart from the show giving us brand new jackets, all the creative input was our own, so even though we went out, we went out on our own terms, which is something.” An admirable sentiment, and something which I myself aspire to.

The boys rocking out on Britain’s Got Talent

Of course, the lasting impression the boys have from the show was simply that they had a great deal of fun. “It was surreal experience after surreal experience, but we’re all glad to have done it. It’s the kind of one-off thing that you’ll tell your kids about, that’s for sure!” When asked about his own personal favourite moment, Dominic recounts a tale which had allowed him to get behind the camera for once: “As part of the montage clip played on the show before our semi-final performance, there is a shot of the whole group cycling down a very stereotypically Oxford street in our suits. Needless to say, this never happens in real life! As I don’t have a bike, I was allowed to direct the shot in the most embarrassingly cliched possible way. There’s something quite rewarding knowing that I contributed towards mildly humiliating all of my colleagues in front of ten million people.” His final thoughts on the whole process almost made me want to apply myself: “It was all just hilariously good fun, and we’d never have changed it for the world.”

The repercussions of the boys’ national exposure on live television are still reverberating around the rest of the UK. “We hope Britain’s Got Talent helped put the British A Cappella scene even more firmly on the map at a time when it’s becoming increasingly exciting.” Indeed, with a record number of participants in an ever-expanding Voice Festival UK this year, it’s clear to see the boys had some sort of impact on the popularity of the genre throughout the UK. Either that, or this blog is a lot more popular than I thought.

The post-BGT era was a pretty manic one for Out of the Blue. “In July, we ended up doing performing at the Santander University Festival in Spain, which was a real honour. We got to perform alongside some really amazing musicians from around the world in a beautiful corner of northern Spain. Needless to say, much sangria was consumed.” Then, in August, the boys took to Edinburgh for the eighth time, where their 336-seater show ended up being the biggest selling student show ever at the Fringe Festival. “Then, in September, we went to the South of France for a private engagement – as you do.” Such exotic gigs have become so close to second nature for group members that I understood Dominic’s nonchalance when talking about their second visit to the mainland in as many months.

“Then we had our annual UK tour at Christmas time – our American members were thrilled at the ‘Englishness’ of the Peak District.” Add to this the annual Voice Festival participation and numerous Oxford-based gigs which make up the bulk of the group’s yearly calendar, and it’s not surprising that it has easily been the “most ridiculous” year of Dominic’s life. “We were in California over Easter, too,” he continues, barely stopping to catch his breath – much like the group themselves, I’m inclined to suggest. “We had a great time: singing at Google; doing some draft recording at Dreamworks; recording some CD tracks with the legendary Bill Hare; and singing with some extraordinarily good American collegiate groups.” The West Coast is renowned for its a cappella – and given that it is the home of three-time ICCA Champions the SoCal VoCals, along with many other nationally recognised groups, it’s not hard to understand why. “It was really great to sing with legendary groups such as UC Berkeley Men’s Octet.”

Out of the Blue are set to perform two nights at Oxford’s New Theatre for the first time in their history

But no matter how far across the globe they travel, or to how many people they perform, one constant remains fixed in the Out of the Blue calendar each and every year – their end-of-year concert at Oxford’s New Theatre. And this year, it’s bigger than ever. “It’s a 1800-seater venue, and as such the night is always such good fun, and there’s a real buzz around the place each time we perform there. But for the past few years we’ve sold out, and so we made the decision this year to do two nights instead of one. It’s ambitious, but the fact we sold out at the Fringe last year makes us feel confident.” Ambitious indeed – in fact, no other student act of any type has ever attempted anything of this size, and so to pull it off would really be an achievement. But Dominic remained adamant that it wasn’t just about the reputation of Out of the Blue themselves: “Yes, we’re obviously keen to make the most of the Britain’s Got Talent publicity, but it’s more about showing that there is more to student a cappella than what people may have seen in those two brief performances on live television. It’s about showing that British A Cappella is a thing, and that it’s here to stay.” It’s obvious that promoting a cappella as a genre genuinely matters to the group. Indeed, the international success of All the King’s Men at this year’s ICCAs and the strong positive reaction to The Other Guys’ latest YouTube video have both contributed to the increasing wave of popularity that is sweeping the country. Not only that, but the boys themselves have been offering free a cappella workshops in state schools all across the country for a few years now. “During our show on the 12th, a load of Oxford schoolkids, who will have had a workshop with us in the afternoon, will be getting up on stage with us and attempting a cappella themselves!” Clearly the boys have the interests of a cappella close at heart.

Of course, the boys won’t be stopping there. With a live CD release just around the corner, and some of the aforementioned recordings with Bill Hare set to feature on a new studio album at the beginning of August (just in time for the ninth visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I might add), there really is no rest for the wicked. “We’re hoping to top last year’s Edinburgh run!” Dominic tells me with enthusiasm, while keeping the important details tightly guarded under lock and key. And after that? “We’re going to Japan for 11 days.” Casual. Clearly the Out of the Blue juggernaut shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

“Then, in December, we might – the key word here being ‘might’ – be going to Singapore, but that’s very much a plan still in the works right now. Sadly I will be buried in books by that point,” he concludes with an air of resignation.

Despite all this, it will be Dominic’s final words that will stick with me for the longest. In amongst the tales of embarrassing group members on national television, recording tracks with a cappella legends and jetting off to areas of the world blessed with finer weather than we in the UK could ever dream of, an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the group comes through his departing statement, which I will not tarnish with my comparatively clumsy editing:

“In general, I just feel very lucky. I went for Out of the Blue simply because I like singing, but have never had the conventional ‘Oxford choral’ background. It still baffles me that I got in, and I’m constantly surprised by how much we’ve done, and how much the past two years have been shaped by it. I don’t think I’ll actually know how important it was to me until I no longer have it. It’s just been awesome. I’ve met some amazing people, and I feel so privileged. I just hope that the same sense of genuine enthusiasm and enjoyment reaches our audiences. They deserve it.”

 

Out of the Blue are performing at Oxford’s New Theatre at 7.30pm on June 11/12. Tickets are £16/£10 and can be purchased here. There will also be a preview and drinks reception on 29 May at 7pm at the Grove Auditorium, Magdalen College, Oxford. To RSVP, contact Patrick Lee at 07530 857411 or patrick.lee@wolfson.ox.ac.uk.

 

You can find the boys on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or visit their Official Website.

St Andrews Girls: The Reaction

Just two days after its release, The Other Guys’ new charity single in aid of Breast Cancer Care has already amassed 40,000 views on the popular video sharing site, YouTube, as well as finishing their first day in the Top 10 Most Liked Music Videos. The video is now the 40th Most Liked Music Video this week alone, despite its very recent release.

While the media reaction has not been quite as strong as that of their previous YouTube hit, Royal Romance (which is now pushing 740,000 views after a significant boost due to their latest release), there has been a lot of positive press for the video, particularly in the bloggersphere and on Twitter.

Colin Montgomerie, a self confessed fan of the group, released a statement declaring his support for the group and the charity: “I am a huge fan of The Other Guys and their work. They have been fantastic in supporting my own charity the Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, and I wish them every success and support for their new single, in aid of Breast Cancer Care.”

Celebrities Lemar and Arlene Phillips also tweeted their support for the group. Lemar said “Good job guys,” while Arlene Phillips called the video “Brilliant”.

Jules Knight, alumni of the group and current member of classical quartet Blake, claimed that “Blake officially endorse The Other Guys. Legends.”

Dawn Porter, journalist and presenter of Balls of Steel, said that she “love[d] it” and believed “Katy Perry would love it” as well.

The group also received statements of support from Tatler, Barbour and Hunter Boots, the latter two of which were prominently featured in both the lyrics and the video itself.

As yet, no larger press organisations have picked up the story, and time will tell if the video is to be as successful as Royal Romance, but it appears the boys have once again produced another YouTube hit.

The Other Guys Release Charity Single for Breast Cancer Care

The University of St Andrews’ The Other Guys, perhaps most famed for their Royal Romance parody, released onto YouTube just over a year ago to coincide with the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, today released a follow up charity single in aid of Breast Cancer Care, entitled St Andrews Girls.

The song, which is based largely on Katy Perry’s California Gurls, incorporates music from One Direction, Belinda Carlisle and the Chariots of Fire theme tune, and was first performed live at the St Andrews Regional Round of the Voice Festival UK back in March, a song integral to their winning performance.

The video is released in conjunction with an audio download, available at their official website for £1, with the option to donate additional money towards the charity the group are raising for, Breast Cancer Care. The charity this year celebrates its 40th anniversary, and the group has experienced first-hand how cancer can affect individuals and their families. Through the video they hope to help people through that difficult time.

The video portrays a more intimate side to the group, with several ‘casual’ group shots interspersed with more deliberately staged scenes, complete with token suspect dance moves, the usual suit and shirt outfit combination, and a cameo from a pineapple which appears to have no relevance to anything whatsoever.

Whether the video will have the same success as its predecessor remains to be seen, particularly as much of the humour is based significantly around St Andrews-based in-jokes, but the guys have nevertheless once again produced a hilarious and entertaining video which further emphasises their reputation as the “Lonely Island of A Cappella”, a title given to them by Nick Girard of Overboard.

To watch the video, click here. To buy the single, visit their website.

In The Pink Take On Berlin

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the Business Manager of In The Pink and a friend of the Blog, Miranda Essex, and was delighted to hear that her group were planning to embark upon a tour in my second favourite country, Germany. More specifically, the capital, Berlin. Upon hearing this news I arranged an interview immediately, and the following is the abridged version of our twenty-minute Skype session.

UACUK: Firstly let’s talk about the past year for the group. I last spoke to you after the audition period – how have things been progressing since then?

ME: The year has been really good. We’ve been just trying to get as many gigs and as much coverage as possible: we’ve set up a new Facebook page, we’ve been endlessly promoting the YouTube channel, we’ve been gigging around and outside of Oxford…

UACUK: So tell me a little more about this trip to Berlin – how did that come about?

ME: We actually met this German couple in Edinburgh last summer, who were really friendly and took quite a lot of interest in the group. Since then, we’ve sustained the relationship with them – Becca [Nicholls, the Musical Director of the group] has been keeping in touch with them regularly, and when we were busking in London last week, they happened to be there too! They came to watch us, which enabled us to link up again.

UACUK: When did they offer you a chance to perform over there?

The Chor Open Stage Line-Up [9 June, 2pm-midnight), click here for a larger version

ME: The couple, Horst and Manuela, are both singers themselves and they’re organising a one-day festival in Berlin in June, called Chor Open Stage Berlin, which they told us about and invited us to perform. We’re doing a twenty-five minute set at around half nine on a Saturday evening, which is ideal, and the festival itself will be really well equipped: great lighting, a comprehensive sound system… Everything you need to give the best performance you can, so we’re really excited about it.

UACUK: What are your other plans during the trip?

ME: We have a gig in Cottbus with a German group called PopKon the day before the festival – we’re basically performing in the first half and they’re doing the second half, and then we’ll be collaborating on a couple of numbers at the end, which will be a great experience. And then on the Sunday we’re doing a tour of Berlin, and basically I want to just busk at some interesting locations around Berlin, so that we’re not just seeing the city but also hopefully gaining some international fans as well! We’re definitely gonna take some photos and maybe record some of the busking too – Berlin is amazing city so there’s a lot of scope for some iconic photos and videos.

UACUK: Is this the first time the group has been to Germany?

ME: Yes. I think it’s quite an unusual place to go for UK groups. In saying that, I basically mean it’s not America. Germany isn’t that well known for its a cappella, so we’re excited to maybe introduce something a little bit new to the masses over there.

UACUK: Have you toured anywhere else before?

ME: I’m not entirely sure. I only joined the group last year, and unfortunately we weren’t as active as we have been this year. As for previous years, I really couldn’t tell you. But not in recent memory, so I think it’s a big step forward for the group.

UACUK: I assume you’re doing the Edinburgh Fringe again this year. What are your plans in the months leading up to that?

ME: The plan is to try and get as much publicity as possible during that time. We’re hoping to sing at May Morning at 6am as the sun rises and hopefully record and upload a video of that, among other things. At the Fringe itself we’ll be there from August 12th-27th and we’ll be performing in C -1, which is a fantastic and big venue, so we’re really excited for that.

UACUK: Any plans for a CD on the horizon?

ME: We’re actually recording a CD right now, which should be ready by the end of term. I’d say we’ve recorded about 70% of it at this stage, we’re now just finalising the last couple of tracks and then we’re all set for a big publicity drive to get it out to our fans and beyond. I’ve actually just done an internship at a PR company, so I’m very keen to start using some of the things I’ve learnt to benefit the sales of this album!

UACUK: Excellent news! It sounds like you’ve got a busy time coming up. On a slightly unrelated topic, I must thank you for your input on the post regarding all-female a cappella that I wrote back in March. Your views were much appreciated.

ME: I was thinking about that the other day actually. I think it’s interesting – I agreed with the majority of your points, as some of them were fairly valid – but looking back, it’s quite interesting to re-read the reactions of some of the girls, including me, which were very sensitive and almost like “Ooh that’s really mean!”, and then I thought: That’s the reason why all-female a cappella struggles. It’s lack of confidence and sense of humour. I was speaking with Dom Stockbridge [Out of the Blue’s Business Manager], and we were discussing that with a cappella, you have to be willing to really go for it, be confident and be funny, and I think girls often struggle to have such a strong, commanding stage presence as guys do.

UACUK: In America they’re facing a similar problem, in that of the seven competing groups in the ICCA Finals, not one of them was an all-female group. Do you think the lack of high-quality American counterparts makes it more difficult for British groups too?

ME: Maybe. I remember watching Delilah on the latest season of The Sing-Off, and they were incredible. Their cover of Grenade by Bruno Mars was unreal. And I think what made them stand out is that they really had an group identity nailed down – that kind of cool, sassy, attractive, fiery spirit within the group. So I think more girl groups should try and find their own identity and maybe they will stand out a lot more.

UACUK: Do you think all-female groups can benefit from the views expressed in the blog and the resulting discussion?

ME: Absolutely. I’ve looked at the post and the opinions and taken them on board. If you look at Out of the Blue, the way the group is run is almost like a business. But you have to consider not only the group as a whole, but also the individuals and their other commitments – in any group you’ll find people in their final year who won’t be able to put as much time into the group as they otherwise would, and it makes it difficult for a group to rehearse as an entity if it is missing key members. You have to strike the right balance.

UACUK: Thanks for talking to us Miranda, and good luck with the tour!

ME: My pleasure.

For more information about the Chor Open Stage event, or to buy tickets, click here.