Photo credit: Illuminations Facebook.
The auditorium of Northcott Theatre was sold-out and buzzing with excitement on Saturday night, as one of Exeter’s most-awaited A Cappella events began: the south-west quarter-finals of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, or the ICCAs. Being part of an A Cappella group myself and having seen the 2016 quarter-finals, I already knew I would be amazed once again by the impressive arrangement, vocals, harmonies, and choreography it takes to pull off a great A Cappella set.
The night began on a powerful note with the Sweet Nothings from Exeter, who performed tracks by Childish Gambino and Lana Del Ray to a lot of cheering before letting Ellie Oretti’s incredible arrangement of a medley of Madonna songs including Papa Don’t Preach and Hung Up steal their set. A well-rehearsed group with almost no notes out of tune, incredible choreography, not to mention an impressive level of ease with performing on-stage, they were memorable for every audience member.
The all-girl contemporary group were followed by Illuminations: While everyone undoubtedly enjoyed their mashup of Shut Up and Drive and Maneater, what impressed me the most was their understated cover of The Sound of Silence, with Matthew Braz’s incredible vocals.
Up next, we had two fantastic groups from Bristol: Academy A Cappella gave a strong performance, most memorably through their foot-tapping rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Sing. Pitch Fight stunned the audience with the elegant choreography in their numbers which won them the award for ‘Best Choreography’ later that night. That being said, I remained slightly underwhelmed by their overall performance, which occasionally went a little more out of tune than the other groups.
Cardiff University’s Vox followed, their performance including very enjoyable renditions of She’s So Lovely and Queen’s Who Wants to Live Forever. I personally would have liked to see a little more of a “wow-factor” in their performance in terms of energy and choreography, but they were very crowd-pleasing nonetheless.
After a short interval, the show started up again with the incredible Bristol Suspensions, who without a doubt, enthused the audience the most. While the group requested I keep their setlist secret in order to maintain an element of surprise in their future performances, it suffices to say that this 16-member group stole the show. With performances of tracks from all genres, it was clear that the audience was hoping for more once their set was over, and it’s no surprise that they won awards for Best Percussions and Best Arrangement later that evening.
The night ended on a strong note with The Bluebelles, who enchanted the audience with a beautifully harmonised cover of Kaleidoscope Heart, and a fun rendition of Coming Home Baby. However, the most entertaining and memorable song in their setlist was a cover of Megan Trainor’s All About That Bass. I never thought it would be possible to enjoy any version whatsoever of this track, however, with Hannah St.John-Smith’s sweet and jazzy arrangement combined with sassy choreography, it’s impossible not to appreciate the song more.
Typically, the twenty or so minutes the judges take to decide the winner is usually the dullest in any competition, however, in this case, the audience was treated to The Sound Hypothesis (who, frankly, deserve a write-up of their own). The barbershop quartet left the audience wanting more with their elegant and charming covers of Birth of the Blues and I Can’t Give You Anything but Love. However, soon, the three teams who would proceed to the semi-finals had to be declared: Academy A Cappella came in third place, followed by Pitch Fight, and Bristol Suspensions well-deservedly won the first-place. Even though it was disappointing to see none of the Exeter teams get through to the semi-finals, the ICCA Quarterfinals was a brilliant experience: I am already looking forward to next year’s competition!