St Andrews a capella thrives at the Edinburgh Fringe

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Vice President of the a capella society, Mark Gregory, gives his report on the bubble’s singing achievements at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

You might have thought that performing alongside such acts as Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalists Out of the Blue, internationally third-best All the King’s Men and Choir of the Year section finalists The Oxford Gargoyles would cause the St Andrews a cappella contingent to pale in comparison  at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, while their contemporaries were among the most talked about acts at the Festival, our delegation was as good, if not better, than the majority of the acts from the rest of country, which is, all things considered, an exceptional achievement.

When the name ‘Alleycats’ was bantered around from group to group during day after day of flyering on the Royal Mile, one phrase stood out above all others: “Best ever.” The general consensus of this particularly golden generation of Cats was that it was the best incarnation that anyone had ever seen; from ex-members and a cappella contemporaries to simply avid fans of the group. So expectations were high as audience members took their seats in the C(+3) auditorium on Chambers Street. They did not leave disappointed.

The group always put on an exceptionally visually stimulating show, with plenty of sass and funk, not to mention their dance moves that regularly put other Bubble groups to shame. This set naturally contained a lot of this and much more, ranging from heart wrenchingly emotional numbers to fiery pop tunes via some more traditional and soulful vocals. Choreographic highlights were abundant, particularly during the mash-up of Call My Name and Say My Name, with recent graduate Phil de Winter Shaw having injected verve and energy into all the dance moves. Powerful solos abounded, with Steph Bown, Ayanna Coleman, Heather Robertson and Garrett Turner all standing out with perfectly executed numbers, alongside a smorgasbord of beatboxing presented by the indispensible Cammy Dobbie. Perhaps the set contained a few too many slow numbers, with two placed back to back at one point, and occasionally the incredible energy  of the choreography did impact on the musicality in some upbeat numbers, but these are churlish comments. Otherwise it was a must-see, five star show.

It will be sad to see the majority of the current ‘litter’ leave the group, as only six Alleycats remain into the coming academic year, but this does give all those a cappella fans out there a chance to shine – the group are already advertising for new members, and it certainly looks like an exciting time to be an Alleycat, with the Choir of the Year finals just around the corner.

Meanwhile, debuting at the Edinburgh Festival were one of the two all-female groups in the Bubble, the vivacious Accidentals, who presented a six-day run at theSpaces @ North Bridge quite early in the morning, and given their limited time to warm-up before the show, the girls demonstrated their token feistiness, ferocity and plenty of attitude, which was in stark contrast to many of the other all-female groups at the Festival and an energizing change.

The Accidentals keep things very fresh by cramming their set with several short arrangements, and it really worked, not only in maintaining the attention of the audience, but also ensured the applause came thick and fast. They are exceptionally lucky to have an incredible beatboxer in the form of Musical Director Ellie Mason; she not only leads the group professionally through the set, but also impresses with her silky solos and entertains with her sensational, if a little crazy, rap interludes. Returning to the group, despite her graduation last year, was Gemma O’Brien, whose honeyed alto combined with new AcaSoc President Grace Hardy’s pure-toned soprano on their award-winning performance of The Voice Within was utterly sensational and easily the best song of the night. Like the Alleycats, the group is blessed with talented soloists, with Anna McDonald belting out Adele’s Rollin’ In The Deep (another award-winning tune) vivaciously and the perhaps underused Catriona Till providing a softer perspective when juxtaposed against the rest of the set. It was perhaps a little unfortunate that the group lacked several of their members, as with only eight voices on stage, there were times when the backing became a little lost, and their attempts to compensate for absentees  seemed to be taking its toll on their vocals.

The future looks bright for the girls though, particularly as they will be maintaining the core of their group into the coming semester. However they too are already advertising auditions on our favourite social network sites. All in all, this was a very impressive Fringe debut for the girls, and here’s to many more years to come.

With two such acclaimed and successful performances, St Andrews a capella certainly has high standards to live up to this year.

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