A capp-hell-yeah!

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Fresh from a tour which took them across the US and UK, Out of the Blue, the self proclaimed
all-male vocal sensation have come a long way since their foundation in 2000 by American postgrad student Derek Smith.

This month sees the boys in blue return to their hometown, with dates booked at the New Theatre on the 11th and 12th of June. At the press preview for these shows, Cherwell witnessed the group demonstrating the talent that is the source of their success, particularly in an engaging mash-up of Coldplay’s ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ and ‘Paradise’.

One of the positives arising from Out of the Blue’s time on BGT is that the profile of a cappella music has been raised within the UK. Finding its roots in the US tradition of a cappella groups (Glee anyone?), Tommy Lyle, a fourth year chemist at Oriel, explained that the genre is considerably more popular in the US than the UK. A central part of Out of the Blue’s ethos is, therefore, an aim to raise awareness of a cappella and to make it more popular here on their home turf.

If this is the aim then Oxford are certainly at the front of the pack: the standard of a cappella
groups here is particularly high in comparison to other universities. We can boast six university-wide groups in the form of two all female ensembles, The Oxford Belles and In the Pink; two all-male groups, Out of the Blue and the newly formed The Ultrasounds; and two mixed groups, The Gargoyles and The Alternotives.

It’s fair to say that a cappella music is a pretty big thing around here, with the Oxford region of the annual Voice Festival UK competition being especially hotly contested. Oxford’s success is such that the competition has been won twice by Oxford groups (Out of the Blue in 2009 and The Oxford Gargoyles in 2010) in the four years that it has been running.

It seems that currently a cappella is only gaining in popularity and diversity as a music form. Asked about the reasons behind this, Gina Robinson of the Oxford Belles told us, ‘I think because people are interested in hearing popular songs that they know – whether they be old school floor fillers or pop classics – arranged and performed in an individual or unique way. For example, we’re currently working on a Spice Girls medley that’s been arranged in a jazzy, slow tempo style. I love a cappella because the arrangements get stuck in my head for days – I find myself singing my part (or occasionally trying to beat box) whenever our songs come on in Park End!’

The Belles are another group which is going from strength to strength, performing at numerous balls and garden parties every year, with another CD in the pipeline as well as a return to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

Oxford’s a cappella groups have become so integral to Oxford culture that it can be easy to forget that they are entirely student-run and constantly have to fight to raise money and awareness in order to allow them to keep doing what they do. There are signs, however, that this climate could change in the future.

Thanks to coverage from TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent and a cappella albums from established British bands such as The Futureheads, the profile of a cappella is steadily being raised within the UK. It would probably be too much to ask British music lovers to embrace the kind of sickly-sweet Glee-style a cappella popular in America, but, happily, there are definite signs that the UK is currently in the process of carving out its own particular brand.

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