All a cappella singers on the Royal Mile joined together for an impromptu performance
All a cappella singers on the Royal Mile joined together for an impromptu performance

Student a cappella singers on the madness of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Matt Pickles

Every summer student singers, actors and comedians travel to Edinburgh to cut their teeth at the Fringe Festival. This year established comedy groups Oxford Revue and Oxford Imps performed, as well as newer comedy shows such as ‘Big Brass’ and ‘No Strings’. But the largest group of Oxford students at the Fringe were there to sing a capella.

The Oxford Gargoyles, Out Of The Blue, The Oxford Alternotives, In The Pink and The Oxford Belles all took shows to Edinburgh last month. In a guest blog, Emma Fox and Daniel Overin of The Oxford Gargoyles explain the popularity of a cappella and describe their time at the Fringe:

‘A cappella at the Edinburgh Fringe has never been stronger, with collegiate and professional groups dominating the busking stages on the Royal Mile – the hub of show advertising in Edinburgh during the Fringe. With the release of the film Pitch Perfect 2 on the horizon, and the ever-increasing fame of a cappella groups such as Pentatonix, the building interest in a cappella is hardly a surprise.

'With our diverse individual styles, the collective a cappella groups gave people a wide variety of genres and sounds to choose from. While many of the groups mostly offered their own distinctive takes on pop music, our group, The Oxford Gargoyles, was one of the only groups offering an exclusively jazz a cappella show.

'Our audiences consisted of a cappella and jazz fans in equal measure (and many who are fans of both genres), as well as those who were not necessarily interested in either, but had liked what they had seen or heard from us on the Royal Mile.

'This year's Fringe was notable for the friendly relationships between all of the a cappella groups. There is certainly an element of competition between the groups when it comes to advertising, as the target audiences of each group tend to be quite similar. However, this year, the overall feeling amongst the groups was one of comradery, rather than hostility or competition.

'One of the most effective ways of advertising a show is getting up on one of the dedicated busking stages on the Royal Mile and singing a short set. Handing out flyers and busking at the same time, though, can prove a little tricky at times. We overcame this problem by taking turns to hand out one another's flyers – when one group was busking, another would hand out flyers on their behalf.

'About halfway through our run at the Fringe, All The Kings Men – an all male group from King’s College London - hosted a showcase featuring many of the different a cappella groups at the Fringe. This was a great opportunity to hear the other groups sing a short set (something we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise because many of our shows were scheduled at similar times), but also simply an enjoyable evening that saw us sharing a passion we all have in common.

'The final day of the Fringe saw positive a cappolitical relations come to a head, as the groups joined together to perform some rousing renditions of some of the best-known and best-loved a cappella arrangements that had been sung on the busking stages throughout August.

'One of the featured pieces was a Gargoyles take on Soul Bossa Nova (the theme from Austin Powers) - a catchy number, and a favourite of the Fringe. Fifty a cappella singers (some wearing kilts, others in black tie) were a sight to behold and, judging by the audience’s faces, they were having as much fun watching us as we were performing.

'The Edinburgh Fringe run is taxing for every a cappella singer but it is also tremendous fun and extremely rewarding. Delivering great show after great show might take a lot of energy but the buzz you receive from an audience screaming for an encore is incredible.

'Memories and friendships are forged within and between a cappella groups and you end up returning home absolutely shattered but eagerly awaiting next year to do it all again.'

The Oxford Gargoyles' show received a five star review from BoxDust and a four star review from Broadway Baby. Their time at the Fringe is captured in this video by Jack Solloway: