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Home > Main > A Cappella’s For Sharing – The Heathrow Vocal Flashmob

A Cappella’s For Sharing – The Heathrow Vocal Flashmob

by Florian Städtler

>> including an interview with artistic director Shai Fishman ( <<

Some say the art of the flash mob (people gathering “spontaneously” in public places and suddenly doing something more or less spectacular) is dead, as marketing specialists of global companies have started to use this kind of event for their marketing. Others say flash mobs are the natural consequence of trends like advertising reactance, the power of YouTube and general mobility. Speaking of mobility, it might not be pure coincidence, that T-Mobile, who already successfully used a flash mob performed by hundreds of dancers at London Liverpool Street station, chose Terminal 5 of London Heathrow airport to stage for their brandnew “Welcome Home” advert.

The reason why I’m writing about it on Vocal Blog is simple: This time, the responsible advertising agency decided to start the 3-minute commercial with a sentence that sounds quite familiar to a cappella fans:  “No instruments were used in this film.” So this time the marketers had the idea of using only human voices to express the slogan of the telecommunication giant’s campaign, “Life’s For Sharing”.

Logistics were impressive, considering the fact that this shooting took place in a high security environment of an international airport. 18 hidden cameras had to be installed and a system of communication connecting the director, the film team, the singers and actors set up. After three weeks of arranging, casting and rehearsing at David Beckham’s football school, the London Soccerdome, the production included almost 300 singers and extras performing at the arrival section of Heathrow’s Terminal 5.  The shootings lasted from 6am to 9pm with one hour break for the team and included the repeated performance of the following songs:

1. Etta James – At Last

2. Mel Tormé – Comin’ Home Baby
3. Mark Morrison – Return of the Mack
4. Iggy Pop – The Passenger
5. Thin Lizzy – Boys are Back In Town
6. Kaiser Chiefs – Oh My_ God
7. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
8. Peters And Lee – Welcome Home

Jo Eteson playing the vocal violin

The ad was launched on Friday, October 29th 2010, only few days after the 15-hours shooting.  And as I’m writing this, it has been online for only 3 days…and already more than 800.000 views on YouTube.

The idea for an a cappella flash mob was created by T-Mobile and their advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Shai Fishman, L.A.-based Israeli studio wizard and creator of the a cappella extravaganza The Voca People, was hired by the production company (Smuggler) and developed the idea to find as many singers as possible who can either contribute instrumental sounds or who perfectly fit one of the lead vocals parts of the songs mentioned above. He finally found himself with the cream of the crop of English contemporary vocal music, from professional session singers to members of the best UK a cappella groups and beatboxing virtuosos.

To give you an idea, there are some of the artists who were involved: Florence AndrewsSophia Behn, Katie Birtill, Noa Bodner, Billy Boothroyd, Beverly Brown, Rachel Cameron, Bryan Chambers, Alyusha Chagrin Fraser Collins (The Magnets), Dean Collinson, David Combes, Belle “Bellatrix” Ehresmann (The Boxettes), Matt Elson, Kineret Erez, Jo Eteson (The  Swingle Singers),  Willy Eteson (Ex-Swingle Singers), Tanya Fear, Joanna Forbes-L’Estrange (Ex-Swingle Singers), Kevin Fox (Swingle Singers, Ex-Cadence), Andy Frost (The Magnets), Jo GibbJonathan Glew, Shimi Goodman, Simon Grant, Helen Hobson, Rachel Mary Holbrook, Timothy Howar, Tobias Hug (Swingle Singers), George Ikediashi, Lydia Jenkins, Alison Jiear, Neo Jessica Joshua (The Boxettes), Paul Kissaun, Alexander L’Estrange, Shona Lindsay, Iain Mackenzie, Yoga Manickam, Callum McIntosh, Emer McParland, Anouska Mond, Jake Moulton (The Housejacks), Christopher Jay (Swingle Singers), Philip Nicholl, Gemma O’Duffy, Andrew Playfoot, Lucy Bailey (Swingle Singers), Janet Ramus, Errol Reid, Yvette Riby-Williams (The Boxettes), Johanna Marshall (Ex-Swingle Singers), Jo Servi, Olive Simpson, Patrick Smyth, Laura Tebbutt, Charlie Tighe, Nebulus Tommatron, Steve Trowell (The Magnets), Clare Wheeler (Swingle Singers), Hannah Wilding Whittingham, Mark Wilshire….looking forward to your comments as this is probably only the tip of the vocal iceberg.

Jake Moulton playing the vocal jazz flute

I had the pleasure to do an interview with the mastermind behind the creation and production of this extraordinary a cappella event, Shai Fishman.

Shai Fishman

Shai, many a cappella insiders know you as the “spiritus rector” behind the extremely successful YouTube and live act “The VocaPeople”. How did you get the flash mob job?
T-mobile wanted to up the ante on their “Life’s for Sharing” campaign, after the huge success of the “Dance” video. They decided to top it with this one by adding singing to the dancing and performing it live, A Capella. They saw the VocaPeople’s “History of music in 3 minutes” video and seeing that I am the arranger and music director of the vocapeople, they decided to have me musically direct and arrange this campaign, in my style, with people actually being a full human orchestra, no instruments, no sound effect, all live, unprocessed, human vocals. I met Henry Alex Rubin, the genius director of this commercial, in LA and we  discussed bringing me to London to audition 300 of the best singers in the business and then staying for another 2 weeks, actually teaching them, as I did with the vocapeople, how to actually produce these instrument voices, in my own “special” way.

This production is part of a corporate marketing campaing. Has it been an issue to be part of a corporate marketing campaign for some of the singers?

Initially they were all made aware of the outlets for this campaign and since we have half the swingle singers, half the magnets and most of the boxettes, I’m sure they all did their homework and discussed this with their management prior to agreeing.  Plus, on a personal note, I think that what we did here definitely helps all the people involved, and promotes the groups they belong to, as well as them personally, as this was done with the at most regard to the art of A Cappella, which we all love so much.

Do you think these kind of events can help to make vocal and a cappella music more popular?
I sure hope so.  Plus, judging by about 10 million viewers we have for the vocapeople and around a million for “welcome back” already, i think it speaks for it self, doesn’t it?  This was a labor of love for everyone, from the client T-mobile, to the agency Saatchi & Saatchi and the production company Smuggler films to Henry and myself.  It was clear to everyone, doing this, how much we loved creating this and how respectful we were of the incredible amount of talent we had to work with.
Are the groups allowed to use their taking part for the group’s pr work?
I do not know, as this is dependent on their relationship with the group, but I should think so, seeing that this has the power to help promote the groups, in a big way.
This is a very real part of what they do with their groups everyday, on stage.
What was the most difficult thing musically to make this happen?
Well, Good luck trying to arrange and perform a live A Capella arrangement for 225 singers….!!  The simple logistics of it are staggering, but more than that, it’s trying to make everyone visible, audible, actually letting all this talent shine through the arrangement and still being able to have my personal trademark sound be heard and recognized.

Tobias Hug & Fraser Collins blowing their horns

What was the most thrilling moment of the production?
For me it was the first rehearsal.  I knew I had unbelievable amounts of talent to work with, but only had a chance to see a few at a time, while auditioning them and later, during my group workshops. As soon as I handed them the original arrangement and actually heard it performed by my  initial group of 25 core singers, it was clear to me that something incredible is happening here.  From that point it just got better with each rehearsal.  A few other moments come to mind: First rehearsal with the second, larger group of 75 people (which brought the amount of singers to 100) and then incorporating the 3rd group, adding 125 people, which was a huge thrill for me, conducting 225 people singing my arrangement.  Seeing it all take place in T5 and watching the people react to all this being performed live, was also a very memorable moment.  This production did bring a lot of excitement to everyone.  I’m sure a few records have been broken, doing this.

Anything more you would like the Vocal Blog readers to know about the happening?
I would like to thank my team from Fish-i ( Yossi Joseph Cohen and Kostya Vasilkov and all the people who continue to support the A Cappella community and the genre of Vocal music and thus, my work.  I think that this event shows that this genre if far from being predictable or old fashioned. I promise that, in my work, I’ll continue to surprise and create new sounds and new concepts in vocal music and continue to bring the most unexpected arrangements and song choices, performed by A Cappella artists from all over the world. I hope more companies, clients and audiences will continue to vote by clicking, coming to see shows and spreading the word about Vocal and A Cappella music.

Thanks, Shai for having you on the blog.

Beatboxers Richard Lianhart, Andy Frost & Bellatrix

This is a extraordinarily long blog post – but I think the event itself deserves this exception to the “1-page rule” of blogging. If you’ve been around at Heathrow as a singer, spectator or a (real) passenger, let us know about your personal experience. If you have an opionion on a cappella pr and marketing in general, let the Vocal Blog readers know about it. And please add links and photos if you’ve got interesting footage of the London vocal flash mob.

We’ll certainly add more links, pictures and interviews with The Magnets, The Swingle Singers and The Boxettes in the days to come.

  1. Ed
    2. November 2010, 01:49 | #1

    I would be very greatfull if you could give me the name of the big man who sings the song i am the passenger by iggy pop. Thanks

  2. 2. November 2010, 06:54 | #2

    Hi Ed,

    the lead vocalist of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” was George Ikediashi.

    Best wishes


  3. 2. November 2010, 08:00 | #3

    Look at this little “behind-the-scenes” video I got from one of the singers:
    (It’s called “Filming T-Mobile Heathrow Advert”)

  4. 2. November 2010, 12:39 | #4

    We already knew that Tobi Hug is DA MAN…but here’s one more proof: The complete list of soloists and featured artists of the advert. Oh how I would love to see more of the footage, so many fantastic artists are not or hardly to be seen in the film.

    Thanks so much Tobi who posted this at

    These are the featured singers: I’ve included soloists, backing vocalists, beatboxers, vocal instrumentalists and choir singers (where possible).
    If the singers are part of an a cappella group, I’ve their included their names brackets.

    At Last:
    0.10 Solo: Alison Jiear
    0.12 Violin: Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson (Swingle Singers – SwS)
    0.23 Beatbox: Richard Lianhart
    0.33 Piano: Laura Tebutt, Florence Andrews, Sara Brimer (SwS)
    0.34 Bass: Kevin Fox (SwS)

    Comin Home Baby:
    0.38 Bass: Fraser Colin (The Magnets – Mag)
    0.39 Mute Trumpet: Tobias Hug (SwS)
    0.39 Solo: Errol Reid
    0.44 Backing Vocals: Shona Lindsay, Deryn Edwards, Emer Mc Parland

    Return of the Mack
    0.56 Beatbox & Scratching: Bellatrix (The Boxettes – Box)
    1.05 Soloists (left to right): Callum McIntosh, Steve Trowell (Mag), Iain Mackenzie
    1.07 Basses: Andrew Playfoot, Fraser Colin (Mag)

    The Passenger
    1.23 Solo: George Ikediashi
    1.25 Backing Vocals: Laura Tebutt, Florence Andrews
    1.29 Choir (first row left to right): Anoushka Mond, Tanya Fear, Lydia Jenkins, Hannah Wilding Whittingham, Olive “Molly” Simpson (ex-SwS), Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson (SwS)
    1.34 Rhythm Section: Richard Lianhart, Andy Frost (Mag), Bellatrix (Box)

    The Boys are Back in Town:
    1.40 Beatbox/Drums: Andy Frost (Mag)
    1.42 Soloists (left to right): Gemma O’Duffy, Sophia Behn, Lydia Baylis, Rachel Mary Holbrook, Katie Birtill
    1.50 Flute: Jake Moulton (The House Jacks)

    Oh My God
    1.55 Solo: Yoga Swara
    1.58 Guitar: Florence Andrews, Sara Brimer (SwS)
    2.03 Beatboxers: Richard Lianhart, Billy Boothroyd (Vocal Orchestra)

    I knew you were Waiting (For Me)
    2.06 Solo: Neo Jessica Joshua (Box)
    Solo Group 1 (left to right): Beverly ?, Laura-Beth Harris, Neo, Christopher
    Jay (SwS), Rachel Cameron
    2.11 Solo: Patrick Smyth,
    Solo Group 2: Mark Willshire, Patrick, Nicolas Dorian (Witloof Bay), Patrick ?,
    Leigh Rhianon Coggins, Jenny Harris Bede, Matt Elson

    Welcome Home
    2.27 Choir: Clare Wheeler (SwS), Lucy Bailey (SwS)
    2.43 Violin Section: Hannah Wilding Whittingham, Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson (SwS), Joanna Forbes L’Estrange (ex-SwS), Olive “Molly” Simpson (ex-SwS), Emer McParland, Sara Brimer (SwS)
    2.50 Trumpet Section: Iain Mackenzie, Tobias Hug (SwS), Shimi Goodman
    2.58 Choir: Yvette Riby-Williams (Box), Neil Thomas, Alyusha Chagrin (Box), Kineret Erez (ex-SwS), Linda ?

    FSt/Vocal Blog

  5. 2. November 2010, 17:58 | #5

    A really, really exciting blog post, Florian! Thanks so much for sharing all of this incredible information about this really remarkable work! You’re the best!


  6. 2. November 2010, 20:43 | #6

    This blog is a very good example of what a real network can do: Some of the singers who made a cappella history at Heathrow asked me, why they didn’t see me during the day of the shooting. Well, it’s easy: I wasn’t there…but many of my friends were involved and after a few Skype sessions with members of The Swingles & The Magnets + an amazingly quick response to my interview request by artistic director Shai Fishman it now feels as if I had been there.

    Thanks to all of you who helped to SHARE this unique event.
    I love you! And I really think the internet is a cool thing making the network technically possible.

    Let’s all use this film to show the world what vocal/acappella/beatbox artists can do and create new opportunities for all people who sing in groups and work to help this art form flourish.

    Vocal Blog

  7. 2. November 2010, 23:13 | #7

    And here are some more rehearsal, backstage, wrap party etc. albums showing an exceptional UK vocal community meeting of almost three weeks:

    >> album by Christopher Jay:!/album.php?aid=556099&id=707320653

    >> album by Noa Bodner:!/album.php?aid=556974&id=701210499

    Have you got more – thanks for posting a link here!

    Vocal Blog

    >> wrap party album by Willy Eteson:

  8. 3. November 2010, 23:15 | #8

    My new facebook friend Olive Simpson, also member of the great Swingles family, allowed me to post another link to 111 more photos in her “Flash Mob Album” – enjoy sharing the pictures.


    More pictures? Feel free to post them as comments here anytime
    Vocal Blog

  9. 4. November 2010, 06:59 | #9

    And now it’s Shai Fishman, artistic director of the vocal flash mob, adding an album of great pictures to facebook:


    Thanks, Shai – keep on doing the good a cappella work!

  10. 5. November 2010, 09:11 | #11

    Another album of flash mob camp pictures, this time by Jo Gibb. Check it out at


  11. 13. November 2010, 18:15 | #12

    And here’s the official Making-of video:


  12. 17. November 2010, 09:00 | #13

    The first (?) parody “Life’s for Shrieking”, I particularly like the falsetto shriek of “The Passenger”:


  13. Tricia
    1. Dezember 2010, 23:06 | #14

    I wish there were a CD of the singers doing this, doing the full songs. They are so good!
    A joy!

  14. 2. Dezember 2010, 13:31 | #15

    Hi Tricia,

    if you want those singers (at least some of them) sing whole songs (well, not exactly those featured in the flash mob, but great songs anyway), check out the following websites and you will be amazed:

    Best, FSt/Florian

  15. 10. Dezember 2010, 07:51 | #16

    Congratulations to T-Mobile on the success of the video – but more to the artists directly. It was quite a feat to put all of that together and produce something that had as much of an emotional impact on the people both in the terminal, and online (just by judging the comments on YouTube).

    Many have asked if there were be a studio version of this recording released. Judging from variations in the recording, and the audio quality in various portions of the YouTube version that some was dubbed in from a studio version. Not sure if T-Mobile and/or the other groups would be interested in releasing it as a single (w/out the T-Mobile advert jingle at the end). Take the proceeds and donate to a charitable cause or something…but in looking at the immense positive response – strike while the iron is hot and release the single on iTunes!

  16. 4. Januar 2011, 22:56 | #17

    Here’s a link to a great article by The A Cappella Blog, discussing viral a cappella videos. I’ve also saved all the links at the Vocal Blog Facebook group, where you can find a whole lot of videos, pics and stories. Have a look at the discussion page and add your ideas and comments.


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