The Unofficial Edinburgh A Cappella Festival Report
by John Buchanan Lau, originally written and submitted on September 6th (apologies to not let you read this earlier)
There was a time when I did not look forward to the world’s largest Festival of the Arts being held every August in my city of Edinburgh, but I embraced it in the year 2007 when a friend of mine, who was a member of a collegiate a cappella group from Oxford University in England at the time, brought his annual show up to my town and to be honest I have never looked back since, not only in the context of arts and cultural things but more importantly, for the whole concept of vocal music.
In the subsequent years, my love for anything related to vocal music, choral music and a cappella music has exploded into one of the largest loves of my life, to the extent that I now have no hesitation in trying to unearth the gigs taking place involving all manner of groups when the world appears to come to Edinburgh every August.
In August 2012, I was delighted to take in no less than 14 different a cappella gigs, and some of them even twice (for one cannot get enough of a good thing), and while the maturity of groups can vary from young girls in high school, through collegiate a cappella groups to groups of collegiate alumnae who wish to continue a good thing to established acts who have provided the entertainment on a scheduled flight between Finland and China and undertaken world tours, there really is something to please the most avid a cappella fan in Edinburgh every August. This is particularly so the case amongst the young, where the “Chacapella” group of high school girls from London were joined at the 3 gigs they had on their first Edinburgh run by the crème de la crème of the UK Collegiate a cappella scene. And even the “Out Of The Blue” collegiate group from Oxford University managed to sell-out their 500-seat venue in Edinburgh every day in their 27-show run.
Of the 7 or so non-collegiate a cappella gigs I had the pleasure of going to, the majority of them were formed of individual members who have recently graduated from the collegiate a cappella scene
First up was the VOCAL ORCHESTRA group of 7 talented beatboxers from London brought together by the Beatbox extraordinaire Shlomo to reproduce a varied selection of tunes from rap to opera and everything In between. A treat in more ways than one, this was a most colourful show, for all 7 members of the group were clad in a variety of bright colours and the vocal output was a sound to behold, or so I thought at the time. I also quite enjoyed the time-machine sequence they put on towards the end of a most entertaining hour when they took the audience back with tunes such as Vivaldi’s “4 Seasons” and the Beatles.
Those of us who watch the US Serial drama programme “Scrubs”, will be aware of the group named THE BLANKS or “Ted’s Group” who enjoy singing a cappella music as well as put on sketch shows in reality. So I was surprised to see this group in one of the bigger venues available here in Edinburgh. In addition, the group has been on the go in reality for much longer than the “Scrubs” series. So here we had an a cappella sketch show (an alien concept to me) with different twists and turns along the way to having them sign an imaginary contract that would have them sing on the moon or some other planetary location. To their credit, most of their set list is based on their own stuff that they have written and they even produced their own rendition of Lazslo Bane’s theme tune to Scrubs which sounded great as well.
The first of the non-collegiate a cappella gigs I was looking forward to was THE MAGNETS who at the time I was destined to see them had yet to be confirmed as appearing at the London A Cappella Festival 2013, with their show named “Homegrown” which was an a cappella celebration of British music through the years, hence the title, which made sense as it was being held at the same time as the London 2012 Olympics. With a packed full house at the venue, it is fair to say that the 6 men of the Magnets had the crowd in raptures with the world premiere of their new tour show which they shall take across the world in September, with all of their individual pieces being met with overwhelming approval in the 750-capacity venue. The end of the hour was extended when they asked for audience participation in selecting what the final mash-up piece was going to look and sound like. As a result of this spot of improvisation that they put on at the end, I cannot wait to see them in the London A Cappella Festival in January 2013.
There was no let-up in the pace of this particular evening as I had booked tickets to see the Magnets and the best thing to come out of Finland, FORK on the same night. About this time last year, I had decided to take a chance on these Scandinavians and I was glad I did at the time. 12 months on, and on my second sighting of them in the space of 8 months this year, they still sounded a treat and unlike the previous 2 occasions, they actually had us on our feet dancing in the Spiegeltent in George Square with one of their later pieces, which was something to behold. Great fun, and I look forward to the follow-up album to “Pink Noise Live”.
After overdosing on no less than 7 collegiate a cappella gigs in the space of 6 days, my next non-Collegiate gig in August 2012 was with a group to whom I had been introduced to the night before in the Voice Festival UK Showcase, where they were the solitary non-Collegiate group present, as they were formed of alumnae from the University of York.
In one of the last gigs in their short debut run in Edinburgh, the BLOSSOM STREET SINGERS now based in London, a professional choir formed of 8 recent York graduates, provided the audience present at Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth’s nearest church to her Edinburgh Palace with a varied set list of Jazz, Pop and even Classical pieces which was most appreciated by the audience present.
The last of the non-Collegiate a cappella groups that I saw in August was the largest choir I had ever seen anywhere, called “Inspiration”, a community choir formed of no less than 250 members in Newcastle & Leeds, whose set list is exclusively formed of music designed to inspire people. In their first visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, they held their one-off concert as a fundraiser to a charity dealing with injured Armed Forces personnel, with uplifting renditions such as “You Raise Me Up” and the UK Christmas Number 1 single “Wherever You Are” which left many people in tears (if you have heard it, you’ll know why).
So, that was the 6 non-Collegiate a cappella gigs that I had the pleasure of acquiring tickets and time for in August 2012, but of course, not a fully exhaustive list of all the a cappella available on show in Edinburgh, after all in the Fringe alone there were approximately 2600 shows overall to look at, including a cappella shows from an African ensemble named “Soweto Entsha” from South Africa which regrettably I did not find the time for in 2012 and even acts from Australia, so really a cappella from all corners of the world.
Now that I’ve concluded my observations of what I saw in Edinburgh in August 2012, all that I need to wait for now is the official London A Cappella Festival 2013.
Note by Vocal Blog founder Florian Städtler: The first time I met the author of this article, was in the lobby of a London hotel at 7:30am. We had our running shoes on and were joined by 4 other London A Cappella Festival 2012 visitors who one hour later had conquered one of the few “mountains” in England’s capital, Primrose Hill. We went down in history as the first London Vocal Jog and as a little thank you for joining this mad enterprise as well as writing this article, John will get one of Acappellazone’s brandnew aca-shirts. Those guys have found a great way to provide you all with a cappella themed shirts printed by spreadshirt (www.spreadshirt.co.uk). Go check this out – we are looking forward to John’s picture with his t-shirt very soon!