Photographed: University of Exeter’s Semi-Toned.
Even as I was entering Northcott Theatre that evening to watch the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, I was anticipating being blown away by the sheer talent and coordination it takes to pull off entire songs using just vocal chords, and I was definitely not disappointed. Seven university A Cappella groups from the UK were set to perform that evening, and the top four would make it to the semi-finals in London.
The Bluebelles, Exeter’s newest all-female A Cappella group opened the show with a very sweet, jazz-influenced mashup of Beyonce’s Love On Top and Cole Porter’s You’re The Top, and continued their set with similarly light tracks, finishing strong with a flawless performance of Lollipop, made all the more fun with the girls adding percussions to the song with their feet.
Up next was Oxford University’s very well-known, all-male group, Out Of The Blue, who were also introduced as the “top A Cappella group in the U.K by a number of championships”. Following this introduction, I was slightly underwhelmed by their performance- while their arrangements and their choreography kept the audience hooked, what put me off their set was the lack of control the group seemed to have over their microphones. Their dance moves were sometimes given so much importance that it caused some solo lines to be sung a little breathlessly, and when they weren’t moving around as much, their voices came across so loud as to almost be painful. While they may not have been at the top of their game, no-one can deny that their arrangements, which included The Weekend and Sam Smith, were very enjoyable.
Exeter’s mixed contemporary A Cappella group, Illuminations took to the stage next, and entertained with light-hearted mashups such as Meghan Trainor’s Lips Are Moving with Cee Lo Green’s Forget You. However, what really stood out in their performance was their powerful, low-key rendition of The Call by Regina Spektor, which also deservedly won Izzie Ballantine Dykes the award for “Best Soloist” later that night.
University of Bath’s Aquapella started off with an intense, melancholy performance of Biffy Clyro’s Machines, and then had the audience in splits three minutes later with their soloist, Leo Diebel’s cheeky dance moves during their arrangement of Stromae’s Tous Les Mêmes. They finished with a beautiful, choral arrangement of Hozier’s Take Me To Church, and had, overall, one of the strongest sets of the night.
Sweet Nothings, the other all-female A Capella group from Exeter were next: One element which consistently amazed me during their performance was Alison Sinclair’s beatboxing. By their last song, a lively mashup of Lady Gaga’s Telephone and Just Dance, I could see multiple audience members nearly headbanging to the beat: It’s no surprise that she won the special award for “Outstanding Vocal Percussion” later that night! The Bristol Suspensions from the University of Bristol had some of the best mashups, including I Want You Back by Jackson 5 with Iggy Azalea ft. Jennifer Hudson’s Trouble, and Sam Smith’s Stay With Me with Echosmith’s Cool Kids and Calvin Harris’s Summer. Another one of their great mashups, Madness/Magic eventually took the award for “Outstanding Arrangement”.
The final group of the night was University of Exeter’s very popular Semi-Toned- The first word that comes to mind when thinking of their set is, “well-rehearsed”- It was nearly impossible to find one false note in their performance. Their four-song setlist, which consisted of Stevie Wonder, Frank Ocean, Amy Winehouse and Fleetwood Mac was performed without any breaks for applause, unlike the other groups, which on the one hand was mildly confusing (there were those awkward moments when some audience members would just begin clapping), but on the other hand was also quite impressive.
After a brief interval following seven outstanding performances, the results were declared- with Out of the Blue coming in fourth place, Bristol Suspensions coming in third, and Aquapella winning second place, the winner of the ICCA Quarterfinals was Semi-Toned! The victorious group then gave an encore performance of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, which was as “pitch-perfect” as ever, and earned a well-deserved standing ovation. Overall, a night worth remembering!