Pat Silver’s a Cappella shows to see in the last week at Edfringe 2022

Innovative, entertaining, and fun – that’s a cappella at this Fringe

This year the Fringe is sporting at least 23 a cappella shows, ranging from barbershop to choral to contemporary a cappella.  My original story profiled the genre and some of the upcoming shows.  / Now at the Fringe, I had a chance to review several of the groups.  Across the board, they are all having fun and clearly have developed a sense of community within each group. Most of the university singers are not music students but have found a home for their love of singing.  Some groups are more polished than others, but all deliver a great audience experience. There is a common style with the contemporary a cappella ensembles, much dictated by the judging requirements of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), where the visual presentation and choreography carry nearly as much weight as the singing.  Think “Pitch Perfect” movies and you’ll get the picture.  In my opinion, the music should come first: sing in tune and finesse the delivery.  Then add movement to complement the songs but not distract. Some of the programs also added a loose plot line, which is entertaining but not necessary if the singing is outstanding.

First, the university groups that reached for the coveted ICCA titles.

Out of the Blue

Assembly George Square, Aug. 3 – 29

Clad in their traditional blue suits, these 13 young men from Oxford University presented a sophisticated image.  Back for their 18th year at the Fringe, they were polished and knew how to engage their audience.  Performing on microphones, they artfully blended movement with vocals without distracting from the songs.  Their arrangement of Adele’s Fire to the Rain was beautiful. The annual classic Lion Sleeps Tonight was a bit campy, complete with animal sounds and actions.  The music was strong enough that it didn’t require the silliness, but the audience enjoyed it.  A special touch was the featured “competition” between the beatboxer and a tap dancer, with both of the performers in top form.  Dramatic lighting complemented the ballads.  The group’s singing would be more solid with less dancing, as there were times that the members were out of breath.  Nevertheless, it was a very entertaining hour that earned the group a standing ovation.  Very good show.

Ages of Icons by RadioOctave

theSpace Triplex, Aug 8 – 13

“Fly Me to the Moon” launched a great show, filled with smart, jazzy arrangements and excellent singing. The theme of the show was music of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  The group is RadioOctave from University of Nottingham.  These strong singers didn’t need any gratuitous choreography to entertain, employing simple blocking that suited each piece. The rich arrangements highlighted each of the soloists well.  By producing a very focused sound and effective use of dynamics, the group handily impressed and engaged their audience.  They journeyed through the ages with “Something” by The Beatles, “I’m Still Standing”, “It’s Raining Men”, “Somebody to Love”, “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, and more.  Although the beatboxing was quite basic, the lush and full arrangements produced a big sound that made each piece come alive for the audience for a delightful hour. Excellent show.

I’ll Tell You Mine by The Oxford Belles

theSpace@Nidry Street, Aug 15 – 20

From Oxford’s all-female a cappella group, it’s a musical coming of age story. The songs have a common theme of female relationships and empowerment, a wonderful ode to strong and powerful women. Unlike many of the university groups that pepper their shows with comedy and introduction, the Belles let the songs carry the narrative.  Most of the delivery was highly dramatic, complimented by effective lighting. There were stories of betrayal, songs of defiance (“You Don’t Own Me”), and strong messaging (“Girls Rule the World”), plus songs from Beyonce, Britney and Adele, spanning seven decades of pop hits.  The individual voices were lovely, and together, their blend was powerful.  The arrangements were finely-tuned for all-female voices.  The on-stage movement was carefully crafted to support the message and style of each song, although at times there was a bit too much jumping around.  Special shout-out to the sound crew, who perfectly balanced the singers, ensuring that the leads were always clearly heard above the chorus.  The final number is the group’s anthem:  “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child sent a clear message – these smart, talented ladies are a serious force in the university a cappella scene.  Very Good Show

Aca-Pocalypse: Diamond in the Riff

theSpace Triplex, Aug 8 – 13

The 17 singers from University of Nottingham started as a small group but expanded and competed for the ICCA Championships, where they reached the UK Finals in 2022. making them one of the UK’s top 10 collegiate a cappella groups.  Singers, costumed in green and black, opened with “You and Me Were Meant to Be.”  There was a loose plot around how a group can determine what makes good a cappella, with some comedy and some drama. As the show progressed, the solos were well distributed amongst the group members.  The singers were in tune and had good dynamic control.  They had some challenges with their mics, and probably should spend more time practicing on mic.  The simple stage blocking was more effective than the ebullient jumping around, which tended to affect the quality of the singing. The stand-out moment was the stunning delivery of the hymn “Peace”, moving enough to bring the audience to tears. Very good show.

These groups are not part of the ICCA scene but have found their own place in the a cappella world.

The Magnets

Underbelly, George Square, Aug 3 – 9

Back to wow Fringe audiences, this time for just a one-week run, The Magnets can be considered the next step for the most accomplished and dedicated of the singers in university groups, as they are one of the few professional a cappella touring groups at the Fringe. This year’s show honoured legends, with hits by Queen, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, The Jackson 5 and more. Each of the singers took a lead as those band-driven hits were deftly transcribed into strong voices-only arrangements.  The how-does-he-do-that moment was the solo beatboxer.  He started by involving the audience in making the vocal percussion sounds, not an easy feat, and then progressed to a spectacular demonstration of the many sounds possible from a beatboxer.  The songs were appropriately enhanced by simple choreography.  And the energy flowed. By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet, singing and clapping along.  The group left the audience wanting more, which is the sign of a successful performance. Excellent show.

Spirit by Barnsley Youth Choir

Greyfriars Kirk, Aug 9 – 16

I only caught a bit of the group, but what I heard was fantastic. These are the top 84 singers out of the 500 in the choirs from Barnsley.  They sing pop, gospel, spirituals, world and classical. They are the highest-ranked British choir in the world rankings and quadruple European Champions.  The a cappella that I heard was well-arranged, sung in tune, and performed with such joy by these young people that it was infectious. Their conductor was Mat Wright MBE.  Very good show.

A Cut Above by Full Score Barbershop Choir 

Performed at theSpace Triplex, Aug 15–20 

One of the biggest challenges for barbershop singing is to bring young people into the fold.  Full Score Choir from Durham University is fully embracing the style, moving beyond the traditional male-oriented quarters into both large group and small ensemble singing. This is definitely not your grandfather’s barbershop group!  In snappy red suspenders and straw hats, the 18 singers of the mixed voice choir were very impressive.  They opened with “Somebody to Love”, delivered perfectly in tune with strong energy.  The program continued with a mix of quartets and large ensemble pieces.  The customized arrangements by the musical directors Ben and Louis smartly showcased the strength of the individual soloists and the ensemble work.  “Bridge Over Troubled Water” spoke to the challenges these students faced during the pandemic and the strength they derived from their music community.  Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, a traditional barbershop piece, was beautifully delivered in a gorgeous arrangement.  From Disney to musical theatre to film scores and pieces by Amy Winehouse and the Mamas and Papas, the show offered a variety of music with wide appeal.  There were no mics, no theatrics necessary (only a bit of comedy), just flawless singing in brilliantly constructed harmonies, delivered with style and strength that was highly impressive.  Excellent Show.

Pat Silver is a music producer, performer and reviewer for FringeReview.