What a fantastic evening of music, energy, and enthusiasm – The Scottish A Cappella Championships proved to be a roaring success. Packed to the rafters, St Andrews’ own Younger Hall was host to nine extremely talented and committed groups of musicians. The pieces performed punched hard with varying combinations of humour, intoxicating harmonies, virtuosic soloists and infectious smiles. Best of all, by the end of the night all nine groups were laughing and smiling together, offering congratulations or insisting “we wanted you guys to win!” In spite of the fierce competition, the night brought strangers and friends together on the most charming of evenings.
First to grace the stage, St Andrews group The Vocal Bandits set the bar high for proceeding performances. Being the largest group of singers, the Bandits boasted a rich chorus of hallfilling voices, blending in and out of solos swiftly and gracefully with effortless style. And who doesn’t love a good sing-along to every 11-year-old boy’s teenage crush, Avril Lavigne?
A fun and thoroughly enjoyable performance. They were followed by another St Andrews group, The Alley Cats, who by way of striking contrast to the previous performance, opened with a slow and heartfelt arrangement of Scottish favourites The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles which ascribed the lyrics a different, potent meaning. What struck me the most about this group were the thoughtful harmonies, masterful navigation of melody lines, and an extremely amusing posh-boy mimicry in their take of Jay-Z’s rap in Crazy in Love.
The first of the Aberdeen groups, The Killer Quoins, then took to the stage, demonstrating an aptitude for both choral and pop singing styles – transitioning smoothly from Chvrches to traditional music with no problems, thanks to a range of masterful female vocalists. The choreography made their performance both visually and orally engaging; a wonderful a cappella experience. This was followed up by the debut performance of the newly-fledged Edinburgh a cappella society, Tone-Up who were undoubtedly one of the most memorable acts of the night. Simple choreography balanced with controlled and enthused singing voices injected new energy into the competition; their final song, an arrangement combining elements of punk, R&B, dubstep and chamber music, was truly inspired and was received with roars of applause.
The tone of the competition was once again transformed by the soft and heady vocals of The Hummingbirds, who entranced the audience with the gentle, sleepy timbre of their voices. The vocal blending was outstanding with supporting singers playing off against the soft and resonant voices of the soloists intuitively and with a great lyrical depth. The Hummingbirds departed, leaving a sense of ‘girl-power’ buzzing in the air, which was fiercely burnished by another all-girl St Andrews a cappella group, The Accidentals.
With their backs facing the audience, a bold symbol of their group’s rightfully earned confidence, the ladies’ powerful voices projected forth the mantras: “I am an endangered species”, “I am a woman, I am an artist” with clarity and strength over the audience’s heads. Their ubiquitous presence and infallible technical ability demanded recognition from the judges, a very hard act for Aberpella to follow. Nevertheless, the Aberdonian Posse’s first soloist spearheaded their fabulous performance. “So you’re an Other Guy? That don’t impress me much…” was his rib-achingly funny line; perhaps a needed ego-check targeting St Andrews’ a cappella group, The Other Guys. Aberpella’s overall performance was characterised by passionate soloists and a huge richness of atmosphere.
The Belles and the Beaus’ performance was a sensation like no other. From gorgeous, fluttering French to wonderfully imagined arrangements they were an absolute delight to behold. With concentrated harmonies, small, warping vowel sounds and a fine attention to the lyrical content of their pieces, The Belles and The Beaus charged their music full of emotion. The performers cast a spell on the audience which was only dissipated after the 3-second-long stunned silence hanging off of their last quiet chord, broken by uncontainable applause.
The final performance of the evening was given by the Other Guys. The singers’ first two pieces boasted a certain stillness and control, creating a sense of professionalism and unrivalled technicality. This was followed up by Outkast’s Hey Ya which was brimming with energy and movement, the kind of performance which has earned The Other Guys their reputation as one of St Andrews most highly esteemed vocal groups.
After a humorous and imaginative interlude from St Andrews’ improvisational comedy group Blind Mirth, the judges made the decision to award ‘outstanding solo’ to Stephanie Boyle, ‘outstanding percussion’ and ‘outstanding choreography’ to Tone-Up; and finally ‘outstanding arrangement’ to The Belles and The Beaus. The Belles and The Beaus, The Other Guys and The Accidentals were awarded first, second and third place respectively: £1000 richer, the visibly stunned Belles and Beaus took to the stage to give their victory encore — an undeniably excellent end to a superb evening of music.