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After two stellar nights at the London A Cappella Festival (Thursday, Friday), I was excited to get stuck into the jam-packed Saturday agenda: three full concerts, plenty more foyer performances, an improvisation workshop, a panel talk and a music education discussion group.

Improvisation Workshop

I started the day by attending one of the three vocal workshops – the topic was improvisation, taught by Pete Churchill, whose London Vocal Project choir were performing later in the day.

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from a vocal improvisation workshop, but Pete quickly explained he wouldn’t just be spending an hour teaching us to sing scat! Instead he focused on how to manipulate a melody and play around with the rhythm to create your own improvised performance versions. The core message was on keeping a rock solid sense of the beat and auralising the standard melody in your head so you could improvise freely around it with a reliable rhythmic accuracy. It definitely stretched my ears in a good way – and being reminded of the importance of rhythmic discipline is never a bad thing. His suggestion that we kick back some evening, crack open a bottle of wine and spend some quality time with our metronome was heard loud and clear!

Pete Churchill teaches with a natural ease and the kind of clear, relaxed explanations that only come of real musical mastery. The workshop was a great experience, gave me lots to go away and think more about, and made me even more excited to see the London Vocal Project later in the day.

The workshop ended just in time to catch the tail-end of Irish quartet “Rún” who perform great folky a cappella in a variety of Gaelic languages.
Run at LACF

Crossfire and Cottontown Chorus

The first concert of the day was a rich barbershop affair, opening with the BABS champion quartet Crossfire who performed four songs in classic style (though strictly they weren’t all barbershop songs!)

After leading with a light and slapstick-y performance of “Stuck in the middle with you”, they relaxed into a solemn and pretty rendition of Diana Krall’s “When I look in your eyes”. This was only topped by their beautiful finale, “Send in the clowns”.

Crossfire barbershop quartet at LACF

While the Cottontown Chorus took to the stage, Swingle Kevin attempted to assemble a barbershop quartet on the fly from the audience. The four volunteers managed a pretty decent version of the tag “The Shadow of Your Smile”, demonstrating Kevin’s point that Barbershoppers are crazy and will burst into song anywhere at the drop of a hat! As a former barbershop singer myself I can readily testify to this fact…

The Cottontown Chorus burst into action with their first number, “South Rampart Street Parade”, with an incredibly dynamic group routine – from a 50-strong choir this makes a pretty striking sight!

The Cottontown Chorus (barbershop) at LACF

They followed with a somber but powerful “Brother can you spare a dime?” and then a fantastic version of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” (cheekily dedicated to their wives and girlfriends!)

I unfortunately had to duck out a little early to set up for the ‘a cappella & music ed’ discussion group but I’m told they ended their set with a fun Mary Poppins number, “Let’s go fly a kite”:

Cottontown Chorus perform Let's go fly a kite at the London A Cappella Festival

I’ll write later about the discussion group “How to teach music… in perfect harmony” – it was densely packed with ideas and experience from some really interesting people who all came from very different music ed and singing backgrounds – so it warrants a post of its own!

The Refrains

Kings Place was noticeably more busy all day on Saturday than on the previous evenings, and this was particularly evident for the foyer performance by The Refrains. Their sound check earlier in the afternoon had clearly caught a lot of people’s attention, and the downstairs foyer filled up to hear their actual set.

The Refrains at the London A Cappella Festival (LACF)

From their first song it was clear they had an excellent bright and colourful sound to match their outfits. A gentle and lush version of Billy Joel’s “She’s always a woman to me” contrasted well with the bounce of their fun and energetic Cee Lo Green cover (“Forget You”). Definitely a group to look out for in future!

Still to come: The Global A Cappella Community panel session, music ed & a cappella discussion group, Freeplay Duo, The London Vocal Project, Euphonism, and the tremendous closing show by the Swingle Singers…